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Not really working when you work at home

I have noticed an attitude that kind of concerns me and I haven’t
figured out how to gracefully handle. My friends and acquaintances
think that my time can be called on freely when I am working on
jewelry at home. I also work part-time in a children’s clinic (I am
a pharmacist) and people seem to respect that time more–“Oh, you
are working.” But when I’m working on jewelry, even though I am
trying to make that a part (or preferrably 100%) of my living, they
think I am free to help with this or that. How have you handled

J. Sue Ellington

    But when I'm working on jewelry, even though I am trying to
make that a part (or preferrably 100%) of my living, they think I
am free to help with this or that.  How have you handled this? 

Argh. I deal with this constantly. My friends and family
constantly call to chat or ask favors of me during my busiest times
of the day. I finally stopped answering the phone unless I want to
talk at that time. That’s why there are such things as voice mail and
answering machines. I check messages and return calls when I take
breaks. If I’m expecting a certain call, I check the caller ID when
it rings, and I don’t pick up unless it’s that call. If you can’t
stand to listen to a phone ring and not answer it, shut off the

A few family members refuse to call before dropping in to visit
unannounced. I finally had to tell them that just because I work from
home and can flex my schedule doesn’t mean that I’m always available.
I do have things that must be done at certain times, and there are
things that can’t be interrupted (like investing flasks, or pouring
silver). If they knock and I can’t answer the door, oh well–they
should have set up a time to visit when they knew I wasn’t busy.

–Kathy Johnson
Feathered Gems Pet Motif Jewelry

j. sue,

i have the same problem! while my husband also works at home and we
often interrupt each other, we do also understand that when we say
"i’m working" that means don’t interrupt. period.

for others, friends and other family, they seem to think we’re on
perpetual vacation (we live on the beach in costa rica, which
doesn’t help that image). they expect us to take a week off when
they come to visit and there is someone visiting once or twice a
month. that doesn’t leave a lot of time to get anything done. and
then i often find their feelings are hurt if we tell them we have to

i know their perceptions would be different if we worked in an
office, and i have yet to find a good way to explain that it’s not
that i don’t want to see them, but i have a job! and it’s the only
one that pays my rent!

i can only tell you what i’m trying to do, and it’s new to me, so i
can’t tell you how well it’s going to work: even though i could work
any hours i feel like, i’ve gone back to a standard eight to five
work day, monday through friday. when people ask what i’m doing, i
tell them i’m working. i figure that eventually it will sink in,
that even though i’m at home, i’m working a “real” work week and
perhaps they can fit this into their perceptions of “work” and
recognize my job for what it is. a job.

good luck! i’m interested to see what other listers have to say.

I have found that my own attitude toward my work at home will affect
other people’s attitude. If you project a serious attitude, they
will respect that. Some people will always consider your work with a
hobby because of the fact that they know you are a pharmacist but
does it really matter what they think?

If possible, set certain hours and certain days as your studio time
and then say “No, I’m sorry but that conflicts with my work time in
the studio.” Be consistent with the word “No.”

Eventually people will learn your schedule and [mostly] stop asking
you to do things during those hours. We moved to a small farm
community after I had worked for 8 years as a goldsmith in a custom
jelwelry store but when I set up a studio at home, I became fair
game for all sorts of requests of my time. Believe me I have learned
this lesson the hard way. Your attitude is the key.

Highland Goldsmith
NW Oregon

Hello, J. Sue - -

I totally understand. My husband and I both work from home. And for a
time people did feel they could simply drop by, or keep him on the
phone chatting when he was working. It took a few times of people
walking in and us not being available ( being on a work phone call
and unable to break free) for people to get the message that they
needed to call ahead and make sure we were available BEFORE dropping

There are several different methods you can employ - it all depends
on the people involved, and to what degree you already talk to them
about your work schedule. And how direct you want to be, and what
your patterns have been in the past.

I think that most people are not aware when they are intruding
unless you tell them. If they drop by, it is up to you to either tell
them then, "oh I’d love to see you, but I’m working right now, could
we do tea on Saturday? Or to tell them about it when you are not
working - sometimes I have used the “other people” example. Like
telling someone how you feel when FEDEX drops by and you are
mid-design. Gives you a chance to explain how it impacts you without
hurting the listener’s feelings. Another method is to contact people
who have been dropping by and tell them your schedule has gotten
hectic, you do want to see them, but you now really need to schedule
those things around your work. Seasoning it wil a few “I knew you
would understand” can work for people who tend to complain and get
manipulative. Some people would say that is enabling, and to be
direct. It really is up to you. We tried the pre-emptive strike
method - which did sort of come off like complaining about the
commitments. Things like telling them off hours - say on a weekend -
describing the hectic pace of working at home and also trying to get
things done on the house. What worked better was to be direct, but
pleasant. - Such as:

If they ask for your help during a time when you are working, you
can either, tell them that as you are working, you are not available
this time, maybe next time. OR tell them yes, and when you see them
let them know you will not be as available in the future since you
will now be working weekdays. It is up to you - if you want to
explain that it is about work/jewelry-making or not . But if you do
not, you will be asked. You do not have to explain, you can simply
say you are working, or working towards your new career so you can
get out of the rat race. Up to you…

If you encourage people to understand your situation, the likelihood
your time will be respected will increase. There are many ways to say
"no" - that will sound more like “not this time”, or “not at the
moment” and stil let people know you are there for them and enjoy
their company. You have to hold your ground nicely when people look
put off by it, they will eventually get the message. If you have been
saying “yes” to everything, people will have to adjust to a few
"no"'s . Takes longer with some people, and can take practice on your

The respect with which YOU give your work and time is the respect
you will get from others… But you have to tell them, or they
won’t know! :slight_smile:

Best to you,
Mary Beth

I had to get caller I.D. in order to fend off neighbors and family
who would call so many times a day I couldn’t work, very handy
service. Unfortunately you can’t turn off the phone if you are in
business. Another tactic I use is “I have a deadline on an order that
has to ship to a gallery by the end of the week” or something
similar. Sometimes it’s even true, although what is usually true is
that I am trying to build stock for the next show. People who work in
an office often don’t get the “work ahead” mentality.


I think, unfortunately, that there is a subconscious distinction
drawn between working for someone for pay and working for yourself on
something artistic. Even if you were working for yourself, but with
something like automechanics or as a freelance architect or
something, there would be a difference. I can remember, after I tried
my hand at teaching 12-13 year olds math only to discover it was
definitely NOT for me, my mother saying that it was one thing to do
the jewelry as a hobby, but… Her attitude has mellowed over the
years as she has seen my work improve and turn into something unique,
but I’m sure she still does not see it as a very viable course of
’work’. I even see it in myself. It’s harder for me to put a value
on my ‘time’ when doing jewerlry than when doing, say, macintosh
tech work. It’s a hard attitude for me to overcome internally, so I
can only imagine it would be hard for people on the outside to
overcome the attitude. I think, unfortunately, that there is an
attitude in general that ‘artists’ are goofing off, not really
working…and there are some that one wonders what they do with their
time, but one can say that with some people in just about any field.

Jeanne Rhodes Moen
Kristiansand, Norway

When working at home, I simply left a message on my answer machine
saying “I am in my studio working- leave your message and I’ll call
when I take a break”. that solved the situation for me. Then I
turned the ringer off and when I took a break, checked for messages
and returned the necessary ones. No need to be interrupted
constantly. But I think turning the ringer off was the real trick.
That way I never heard it ring so it didn’t interrupt my


The failure of other people to understand that just because you
happen to be at home doesn’t mean you are busy working will no doubt
change as more and more people work at home. I first started working
at home over 30 years ago before my son was born, and at that time it
was very uncommon. My neighbours considered me very stand-offish and
aloof, even snobbish, because I did not join in the daily gossipy
coffee sessions or the all-girls-together shopping trips. They just
could not come to grips with the fact that I was working, and I made
few friends.

These days, my husband and I both work from home and my son spends
several days a week doing so as well. All our friends and family
know that, although we can be flexible, Monday-to-Friday is work time
and never assume we are available. And they also understand that if
we do take time off we have to make it up in the evenings or at

Answering machines, email, voice mail - we take advantage of them.
We have two phone lines, one for work and one for home, and the
latter gets ignored if it’s not convenient.

We wouldn’t go back to outside working for anything, even though it
means that we often work longer hours and much harder than someone
in a ‘normal’ job.


My friends and acquaintances think that my time can be called on
freely when I am working on jewelry at home ... But when I'm
working on jewelry, even though I am trying to make that a part (or
preferrably 100%) of my living, they think I am free to help with
this or that.  How have you handled this? 

You have to disabuse them of that notion.

How do they interrupt you? Presumably, you’re willing to help but
not at the drop of a hat?

If they stop in unannounced, ask them not to do this. Do you work
(on your jewelry) regular or irregular hours? If you generally work
regular hours, let them know what your work hours are. Do they call
and want to chat? You don’t have to answer the phone, but if you
choose to, chat for 2 or 3 minutes, then let them know you must get
back to work and ask if you can call them back later. Tell them
that, though you really enjoy making jewelry it’s also work and you
need to be able to get your work done.

I’ve rarely had to do this but when I have, I just tell it like it
is and act as though I’ve got business to do, and the message gets
across without complication. I know a lot of people who work
independently, though, so that might help.

Christine in Littleton, Massachusetts
No one deserves lung cancer.

Dear All, I am reading with great interest all the replies this
subject has brought.

I am bemused because I have the direct opposite problem. I welcome
diversion. It is so easy for me to become distracted, not complete
jobs on hand, not only by phone calls, but by personal visits.

I love what my hands have done, but I seem to “do” in a structured
situation, classes, workshops, week long seminars. Left to my own
devices and time, oh I don’t know if procrastination is a strong
enough word. Damn lazy is more like it.

What do those with similar inclinations do to overcome them? I know
I talk the talk but do not walk the walk. Terrie

Another thought, parental influences. I have been working diligently
with another artist whose work is spectacular, but whose parents do
not believe it is for “real.”

A dutiful adult/child with a conscience and a parental tape
circulating deep within their cerebellum, seems to be always
influenced negatively towards their exquisite abilities. I don’t
want to appear sexist, but I see it more in women.

Being disobedient to parents sage wisdom is not easy to overcome in
good conscience. Another dilemma. Terrie (yes I still hear mine)

A problem I have related to working at home is that I don’t want to
have everyone know I work at home for security reasons. What is a
good response when a potential customer asks where do you work?

Thanks, Marta

The books by Barbara Brabec address this and have some good

The first step, I think, is to treat our own time with respect.
When someone asks if we can do something during our work hours, we
have to say, “I’m sorry, I’m working then, but I could meet with you
after work, at 5 pm.” After a certain amount of time being
consistent with this, friends and family will get the message.

Another trick that might help is to have a second phone line
installed for your business, and to not answer your house phone
during business hours. Only answer the business phone. Because
you’re not home, you’re at work.

How much of what’s happening is because of messages you’re sending
without meaning to? When you work at home you have to do things for
yourself to get yourself mentally “at work.” I once read about a
guy who would get dressed, have breakfast, go out to the garage, get
in the car, drive around the block, park the car on the street, and
go in the house to get to work.

What other ways can you communicate to people that you’re serious
about this business? Do they see any tangible results of your
efforts – like invites to shows, things like that?

Elaine Luther
Chicago area, Illinois, USA
Metalsmith, Certified PMC Instructor
Studio 925; established 1992

As more people become familiar with telecommuting I think the idea
of people like us working from home will be better accepted. Most
people would understand if you had a job with Dell or some other
high tech company and you worked from home so don’t feel bad about
asserting yourself. Communication is key.

Just be careful who hears that you make jewelry from home and remind
people of the security situation that you’re in. There are people
out there who would see you as a tempting target. When my mailman,
fedex or ups get too nosy I tell them that I repair parts for
medical equipment (that’s why I get all those packages and catalogs
from tools and jewelry supply companies). To my freinds I always
make them wait for “parts” to come in, even if I have them in stock,
or make it bay hand, so that, as far as they know, there is nothing
here in the shop. I’ve stuffed my huge safe with shipping supplies,
flasks and molds (keeping only a very small locked area for my
stock) and tell my freinds, who are in awe of my safe, that it’s
really just a huge white elephant and inconvenient.


Oh boy, do I remember that. Some days the phone would ring and I’d
nearly shout “What do you want?” But I didn’t - for way too long
that is. You will have to act as professionally as you do at the
clinic, where friends and neighbors would not be visiting or calling
you. Hang up a sign on the door: Working Hours Are ____ Do Not
Disturb Please. On your answering machine do the same, leaving a
way for them to alert if it’s a genuine emergency. In other words,
get tough, learn to say NO and mean it. It won’t take all that long
to convince your friends you are serious about what you do and need
uninterrupted time to do it in. Just tell them that. If there is a
dunderhead who doesn’t get it, suggest he pay for your “lost” time
and chat away. Explain that you NEED the $$. That should take care
of it. All with a Big Smile !


I just say with a big smile and laugh, quit bugging me I’m working
here. Smile, wink. It take a couple time for some people, but in
the long run it works.

Hi All;

How about a sign on your door saying “Like my low prices? Help keep
them that way by not wasting my time” . . or “Wanna watch? That’ll
be an additional $20 an hour please " . . . just kidding. Actually,
this problem was getting out of hand for me, and I have an office and
a shop away from home. It wasn’t friends and family, it was my
accounts. After I got caller ID and voice mail, and got on the NY
"don’t call” list which kept most of the solicitor’s from bugging me,
things got better somewhat. But it’s still eating a lot of my time
when accounts call continuously with questions about jobs in
progress. A couple of my long distance accounts I actually enjoy
chatting with, and with those folks I just put on the head set and
continue working away while I talk, setting aside stuff that requires
intense concentration and picking up some grunt work. But a couple
of the local guys are taking up a lot of my time simply because their
sales staff won’t bother to look through my price list, or calculate
the date that a job is scheduled to be delivered (5 in shop business
days for repairs, 7-10 if materials need to be ordered, and 10-15
business days on custom jobs depending on complexity). One local guy
I took on, the arraingement supposedly temporary, likes to drop in
unannounced and go over his two or three repairs. I won’t set up a
pickup-delivery date for him, because he doesn’t have enough work to
be an account and I’d like him to take his two chain repairs and one
ring sizing a month to somebody else. I have one guy who actually
pays me by the hour while he goes over his books and I do a couple
last minute jobs for him, but he can’t seem to stick with a regular
pickup-delivery date. I’m thinking seriously that I’m going to
have to simply institute a policy that I am only available for
questions or consultation during specific, limited times of day.
I’ll have the head set on and a couple no-brainers to work on going
all the while. My helpers only work part time, so often I don’t have
them there to filter the non-essential interuptions. I’m getting
some good ideas from you folks, thanks.

David L. Huffman

David - we have a local seamstress who had the same problem, with
people wanting fittings at all times, so that she could never get the
work done! She finally put up a sign in her door, and has set aside
certain days as “fitting days”. You can pick up finished work
anytime, but she is only interrupted for fittings on those days.
This leaves her the other days to work steadily.

You might try something similar, but instead of days set certain
hours as “consulting hours”. Whatever fits your schedule best. Just
let everyone know what they are, and that if they call during other
times they may leave a message, which you will return during your
"consulting hours" - or whatever you want to call them.

Good luck!
Beth in SC

When my sons were younger I was very involved as a volunteer on the
Parent Council in their school. One morning I dashed into the school
to drop something off and after talking to the Principal for a few
minutes, said, “Well I"ve got to get back to work”. “Work?”, he said,
“I thought you made jewellery?”

After I set him straight, I headed back to work in my studio.