Joe Lavin

February 27, 2007

Do Not Disturb the Hat


Recently, I was killing time at a productivity web site (It's the guilt-free way to procrastinate!) when I came across this advice on how to let co-workers know when not to disturb you:

"Pick a hat or scarf or something and wear it whenever you're "in the zone." Educate your coworkers and customers that if you have that article of clothing on, then they should turn around."

The advice comes from blogger Meri Williams (located at http://blog.geekmanager.co.uk), and while it's a nice concept, I'm not sure that it would work really well for me.

"Hey, I've got the purple scarf on. You know what that means!"

Still, it shows exactly how much effort we need to make these days in order to have some quiet time at work. No matter how much you try to block out the world in order to really concentrate on a project, there is always someone looking to talk with you. In today's hectic pace, we apparently need to go hat shopping just to find some way to get people to go away. And really who has the time for hat shopping? I tried to go last week, but sadly nobody would leave me alone long enough.

Then again, perhaps, Williams is onto something. Somebody just gave me a copy of the new retro-themed magazine Classic Style whose cover excitedly proclaims the "Return of the Hat," so it makes sense. Apparently, the hat is back. (Who knew?) I'm thinking of getting myself a nice fedora for the next time I have to check the payroll.

Unfortunately, the whole concept of "educating co-workers" makes it sound as if you're training animals, though in some offices that might be a propos. (BAD co-worker! BAD!") Perhaps a system where you dole out treats to co-workers who don't bother you might work better. (Then again, they'd probably wind up coming to your desk for the treats, and that would just defeat the purpose.)

I'm also not entirely sure that it's good to include customers in the discussion. Is it really good business to train your customers to leave if you're wearing a certain piece of clothing? You don't want your customers going to your competitor just because you were wearing a hat.

Over at Lifehacker.com, there was a discussion on this topic, and it seemed that the most popular suggestion was a much simpler one; just buy a pair of headphones. The bigger, the better. It doesn't even matter if the music is on. As long as it looks like you're listening to music, people often will leave you alone. While a simple pair of iPod earbuds won't usually scare people away, a giant pair of headphones works perfectly. Basically, if you look like you just got in from spinning records at a club all night, then people will generally stay away.

The other popular suggestion was to make a sign, though this doesn't seem nearly complex enough to work. Are people really going to pay attention to a homemade sign? Much better are the "Do Not Disturb" signs from hotels. Considering how ineffective these seem to be in the hotel-setting, you wouldn't expect people to heed them at all, but I've seen them work surprisingly well at the office. Of course, it helps if you have a door to hang it on. Those in a cubicle may not be so lucky.

One person at Lifehacker jokingly (I think) suggested putting police tape across the entrance to your cubicle, which seems a bit extreme. Still, it's the perfect symbol to say that you're just too busy to talk. Either that or to say, "If you dare bother me right now, I may commit a crime against you, which is why I've put this police tape up." Note: ignore this advice if you happen to work in a police station, as it might confuse matters.

Luckily, I now have my own office, but itís still easy to get interrupted. I can close my door, but people still knock. I find that closing the office door, turning off the light, hiding under your desk, and pulling your new hat down over your eyes generally works best, although as a business professional you can really only do that a few times a day.


©2007 Joe Lavin

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