One morning a while back my husband started doing the dishes at 6 AM – bless him.
But the water running, dishes clanging, and his steady coughing/sniffling from week-long allergies – it was all giving me a headache. I was writing at the kitchen table close to the sink that morning. All the noises circulating in my head were like a tornado, damaging every thought in its path, sucking up my good ideas into a black vortex in my brain where I’d never retrieve them again.
After almost fifteen minutes of this – which felt like 1500 minutes in the moment- the water stopped. He closed the dishwasher and wiped his hands off. He was finished, and a rainbow of peace and quiet ensued. I could hear my soothing music and thoughts once again.
After a few minutes to get back on track, I inwardly smiled, kept my head down, and resumed flying over the keyboard. The words flowed onto the page freely once again.
Until my husband rested his hands on the counter and started talking. Not like a “have fun writing” type of thing, after which he leaves me to it.
No, it was more like the comment that starts off a conversation. And he did. “Tiger is supposed to tee of later today, but I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with my morning.”
“He’s playing so well. You know how long I’ve waited for this?”
I looked at him and smiled for a short pause before I answered, “I know – it’s very exciting.”
“Okay I’ll stop.” He pushed off the counter and circled the small kitchen before herding our dogs down the stairs.
But not even 30 seconds later, he yelled from downstairs. “No they’re playing now! Tiger is about to tee off this morning because of the rain in Pittsburgh!”
If he wasn’t so excited about Tiger Woods playing well – he tied with Rory McLroy the first day OMG – and if he wasn’t so stoked to be reliving his early twenties, the glory days before Tiger disappeared from the golf scene, I would’ve probably asked him to stop talking to me. As politely as one could ask such a thing, because that was my only time to write, after all.
But I didn’t say anything that morning because I love him, and he was so excited. As excited as I would be if Friends came back with new episodes, so I tried to be understanding.
But I need complete silence when I write, aside from the soft music on my phone that’s turned almost completely down because even a notch higher would be distracting – that’s how easily distracted I am sometimes. Other times, I turn off the music completely.
This is why it’s so important for me to have total silence around me and why a quiet environment is more productive when I’m writing. When I’m writing, I’m in this creative state where ideas are flowing down a stream, but when my husband starts chatting or my dogs start barking, that stream gets interrupted by a giant tree that mostly stops the flow.
And it’s difficult and time-consuming to get that large tree trunk up and out of the way to resume that smooth train of thought. To get back to where I was going with this character’s inner monologue or why the characters are bickering in the first place.
I heard on the radio last week about a study that showed it takes an average of 25 minutes to regain focus on a task once distracted while you’re at work.
Although it doesn’t take me that long, it does take a few minutes. And I only have an hour in the mornings, so a few minutes can be a big deal.
Now, this isn’t a common occurrence with my husband and me in the mornings. That morning was special since Tiger was involved. But there have been other times when he has unintentionally distracted me from my thoughts while writing.
As nervous as I was to confront my husband about this, I took deep breaths and brought it up in a way he would understand. I explained that I needed quiet time without distractions, not because I don’t enjoy talking all things golf and Tiger Woods, but because it’s how I work. I laid out my process and asked him directly for what I needed: silence. This way, I could make my hour in the mornings the most productive it could be.
And in return, he respected this. He respects my process and the boundaries I need in order to accomplish my goals. He respects me.
Although I almost didn’t bring it up with him for fear he’d be offended or think me selfish, it’s done me a lot of good in the mornings. I now get a full hour to myslef, which has proven to be super helpful. I’m able to get around 1200 words in most days now, when I’m not revising.
Of course, I’ve also moved into the office since then – that’s what it’s there for after all. I just wasn’t using it at the time because papers and books and knickknacks filled the desk to where you couldn’t even see it.
But for sake of compromise and common sense, I cleared it off and now hole up in there for writing sessions.
The point is this: don’t be afraid to ask your significant other, roommates, friends, family, whomever, for boundaries. Don’t be afraid to ask them for space in order to be productive and efficient in moving closer to your goals.
It’s okay to do so.
As a person who has always been a people-pleaser, like feels guilty for every sarcastic comment meant as a joke and uses “LOL” in every text so people know I’m only kidding, let me say that last line again: it’s OKAY to ask others for quiet time to write, work out, practice piano, or whatever this involves for you.
Setting boundaries for productivity can make all the difference. Uninterrupted time to write or work on yourself can be the difference between getting a lot done or not getting anything done at all. Ask for what it is you need to create the kind of space you need to be productive. If you need quiet, ask for it. If you need help, ask for it. If you need them to disappear for 30 minutes, ask them. Of course, I suggest asking nicely!
If those around you want what’s best for you (and I hope they do), they’ll understand and respect your boundaries.
So do yourself a favor and have the conversation.