Inspiratus Interruptus

I have a home office. I love it. There’s no commute. I can get a couple of hours of work in while most people are still asleep. I have a secretary named “Joe,” a gofer named “Joe,” and a personal manservant named “Joe” who makes me coffee and breakfast and lunch. What a team we are. We all get along just fine. I don’t have anyone hassling me about “Rrrrr, rrrr, rrrr, your billable hours are down, rrrr rrrr rrr, what about rrrr, rrrr, and why are you on the internet again, rrrr?” Yep, it’s a sweet deal. I can do my big boy job, write a bit, do my big boy job, lather, rinse, repeat.

The only problem I have (for purposes of this discussion) is having to deal with non-work, non-personal interruptions. I have my office line and my home line in the same room. I have been getting a lot of calls on my home line because I will be turning 65 in a few short months. Yes, I know, I know, you wouldn’t expect someone of my countenance, libido, and good cheer to be that old but it is so. Here is a warning: when you are about to turn 65, everyone starts calling you to 1) tell you what’s what about Medicare and 2) sell you the exact policy that you need. I began acquiring all sorts of new imaginary friends, such as “Medigo,” “WhatsMedicare,” “Medsuppins,” “Marketplace,” and the alluring, mysterious “Name Not Found.” Ignoring them didn’t help because the phone would ring four times before sending the call to voicemail. That’s a distraction, even when you are screening your calls. And we haven’t even talked about the fine folks from the help desk at Windows Security who have detected a ‘wiwus” on my computer, or the guy who is willing to give me a free vacation if I’ll just watch a short demonstration video, or the woman who keeps calling me to ask if I’m interested in my cable company’s latest product. Uh huh. The “do not call” list?” It’s pretty much a joke. Muting the ring isn’t an option for me, either, as I have a daughter in college and a granddaughter in grade school, both of whom need me at unexpected times.

My life was changed for the better, however, when I came across an article in a newsletter from the Community Senior Center which my wife belongs to (and, no, I’m not a member. That stuff is for old people). The article touted a gentleman by the name of Aaron Foss, the designer of a called “NoMoRoBo.” Foss is GIVING this thing away. No strings, no deposits, no nothing. It’s a true public service. What it does is block robo calls — those things that dial five thousand numbers at a time — and telemarketers. You go to the “nomorobo” website, watch the very short video, click on “get started now” button, fill in the blanks, and within a day or so you’ll see results. Your phone rings once, gives a little purr, and “pfttt”…the annoying caller doesn’t even have a chance to leave a voicemail. They are gone. “Nomorobo” doesn’t work with every landline phone service, or every cell phone service provider, but it works with mine, and they’re adding more and more constantly. Oh. Oh. And. It supposedly will not block or divert political fundraisers or surveys, but I’ve had several blocked already (“Poll_Quest,” to name but one). “Nomorobo” constantly learns new numbers to block and you don’t have to do a thing, other than write your next bestseller without interruption (other than for that initial ring). And every time the phone rings once and disconnects during dinner, my wife and I look at each other, and smile.

Authors, readers, doctors (Hi Steve!) and all who fight the good fight on all fronts each day: try this out. I have absolutely no interest in this, financial or otherwise. It is free and it does work and no one puts your name or number on a mailing list, either. And Aaron Foss? I’d stand in front of a tank for him.

Having shared this marvelous invention with you, I want something in return (Aaron Foss, I am not). Please tell us: what devices do you use to give yourself privacy, and to keep yourself from being interrupted? And what is your favorite personal story that concerns dealing with telemarketers, solicitors, and the like?

35 thoughts on “Inspiratus Interruptus

  1. I live in Mexico, and robocalls are few and far between (the telephone company is one because I use cable for telephone, cable and Internet). One of the many advantages.

    Other than when I have guests, I’m the one who creates my interruptions: the dishes, the washing, walking the dog, shopping. I mean, those things simply must be done, right?

    So I save those errands for the afternoon. Mostly.

    • Glad that works for you, Sheryl, it might be something to try, for sure. And yes, life sure does get in the way, doesn’t it? Thanks!

  2. I, too, have a home office, but no land lines in the house. My cell phone doesn’t ring that often, and when it does, it is usually my wife or one of my doctor’s offices reminding me of an upcoming appointment. I may get two or three calls in a week. Most of my interruptions come from my dog, whose urges to go for walks to check her pee-mail usually come at inopportune times. But, I need the excercise.

    But it sounds like there will be a special place in Heaven for people like Aaron Foss, along with whoever invented the insulin pen and burt ends barbeque.

    • That’s a great list of things/people to be thankful for, Dave. And a huge tip of the fedora goes out to you for the “peemail” term. I had never heard that. Classic!!! But we expect no less from you. Thanks so much!

  3. Years ago I used to get constant calls on the old landline from my cable company, pitching services. They always called around dinnertime, of course. I was paying for their basic service, the lowest monthly package. So I got yet another call one evening, and the guy read his script, offering me a set of new channels for only X dollars more a month.

    I said, “Wait a second. I’m willing to pay you XX dollars for fewer channels.”

    Pause. “I’m sorry, you said what?”

    “I will pay you XX per month, but I want you to give me fewer channels. I find there are too many choices and it’s stressing me out. Can you do this for me?”

    Long pause. “I’m really not sure what you’re asking, sir. What we’re offering you is–”

    “I know what you’re offering. And it’s causing me more stress. Can you find out if I can get fewer channels for XX more a month?”

    “Um, I’m not sure we can do that.”

    “Well, when you can, call me back. Have to eat dinner now. Buh-bye.”

    I felt a little guilty afterward. The poor guy was just doing his job. But maybe I gave him a story to tell when he finally got out of sales and into a dry martini.

    • Jim…that’s a classic. I get those calls as well, and get rid of them by telling them that I’m glad they called because I’ve actually been thinking of cutting my service. They always come back eventually, however. Thanks for sharing that great story. I’m looking closely at that new service Hulu is implementing with the thought of cutting the cord permanently.

  4. Not a solicitor, but he’s just as annoying. We have this petulant neighbor who has an obsessive personality and basically, doesn’t care who he bothers as long as he gets his way. My husband fishes with him on occasion. Why, I have no idea. Guys need their buddies, I suppose. Anyway, this guy calls our house constantly. If we’re screening calls, he’ll let it ring till the voicemail picks up. Then he’ll hang up and redial. Over and over he’ll continue till we’re annoyed enough to answer. Five times in a row he did this last week, and that’s not unusual for him. So we bought a new phone with the blocking feature. You just dial in the number you want to block, and voila! You don’t hear a thing, not even one ring. It’s amazing!

    The funny part is, after calling for days, our neighbor approached my husband in the driveway and asked if our phone was broken. On his end, it starts to ring and gets cut off. My husband looked him square in the eye and said, “You’ve been blocked. Through your many, constant calls, you’ve abused the privilege.”

    Love that blocking feature!

    • Sue, I’ve got a number of people like that in my life, professional and personal. What with voice mail, caller ID, cell phones and the like some folks think that you’re available at all times and develop a false sense of entitlement. Hope you’ve gotten rid of that pest for good…if not, next time your husband takes him out fishing, maybe the nautical equivalent of a hunting accident could occur. Just kidding, of course. Thanks as always for stopping by.

  5. I live in Austria and we currently get 5-6 calls a week, usually in the evening. But the caller always assumes I’m Austrian and therefore speak German.
    So I haul out my Texas twang, and give ’em a little: Hi, how y’all doin’? How’s yer mom and them? What about them Cowboys, huh?
    I have yet to hear any reply other than ‘click’.
    But I have been curious as to whether they call the IT staff and tell them the robocaller is up the duff.

    • That’s terrific, Stephen! There have been times where I have pretended to be hard of hearing and thus unable to understand what they’re saying (other times, alas, I’m not pretending). I can usually outlast them. I love your solution, however. Thanks!

  6. Every since we switched from Comcast cable to ATT U-verse, life has changed. With ATT, the phone number comes up on the TV screen and we can chose not to answer. (The ultimate couch potato caller ID…)

    Here’s my pest story: A couple months back, someone kept calling me at 6 p.m. every night…I answered once, found out they were selling something, then told them to take me off their call list. They didn’t. Like clockwork, the calls kept coming at 6 p.m. Finally, I got mad, answered the phone and blew a police whistle into the receiver. The calls have stopped.

    Another thing that seems to work: When someone asks for so-and-so, you tell them to hang on you’ll go get them, then you set the phone down and go back to whatever you were doing. This takes about 3 times before they catch on and give up.

    • I like that U-Verse feature as well, Kris, though nothing gets between me and my installment of Banshee. Thanks for the reminder!

  7. I. HATE. PHONES. Period. I have to be on the phone all day at work. Delivering bad news. It’s one of the worst devices ever invented. I’d rather people go back to sending messages by Pony Express, that way we can filter out the garbage (and 99% of phone calls rate as garbage).

    I was recently forced to give up my stupid phone and take a smart phone and I still can’t figure out how to use 70% of it nor do I want to. The nomorobo sounds great, but then I’d have to figure out how to download it on my phone.

    My way of dealing with my phone is simple. The volume is ALWAYS off. I check it periodically to see if someone relevant has called, but otherwise, I ignore it. My family is more apt to contact me through FB and that’s fine with me.

    • BK, one point of clarification…if nomorobo works with your cellular provider, nothing is uploaded/downloaded to your phone (I get confused sometimes as to which is which). That is part of the beauty of it. As far as the new technology goes, I enjoy using it, but there are times that I have to turn everything off for an hour or so and take a break. I definitely take your point. Thanks!

  8. To ax interruptions, I have implemented the advice of Gary Keller, author of The One Thing, a fantastic book on productivity. The nucleus of Keller’s philosophy is that in any life’s calling, there is an essential core activity (our “One Thing”) as well as myriad other activities, which can range from necessary-but-non-core tasks (such as admin stuff) to time-sinks (such as Facebook.)

    My “One Thing” is the actual act of putting words on the screen. Keller’s suggests—and I have found it to be true—that spending four dedicated hours a day on my One Thing will yield exponentially more results than spending full-but-interrupted workdays.

    That circles back to Joe’s question: How do you minimize interruptions? Keller’s advice is to create a One Thing “bunker.” This means intentionally creating a space and time in which no interruptions are even possible. For me, this has worked beautifully!

    To create my bunker, I…

    – Close the doors to my office
    – Put my cell phone in airplane mode
    – Sign out of iMessaging and Safari
    – Set the timer on my phone for one hour

    Then I sit in front of my Mac and doggedly put words on the screen. Once each hour, I take a break, check for messages and respond if they are urgent. I do this for four hours a day, including the breaks.

    Now here’s the fun part: When there are people in the house—especially young adult children—I also put sticky notes on my office doors that say:

    “Bunker Time. Next human contact at 1:17pm” (Or whatever the time will be at the end of an hour.)

    It took me a couple of weeks to train our adult kids on this boundary. My youngest, 20 at the time, would crack the office door, poke his head in and ask dire questions such as, “Is there anything to eat?”

    To which I would smile and reply, “That question will be answered at 1:17.”

    “Could you just tell me what’s—”

    “That question will be answered at 1:17.”


    “That question will be answered at 1:17.”

    “GAWD!” Door shuts.

    Before employing the “bunker” method, I hadn’t realized how much others interrupt me and worse, how much I interrupt myself. What I’ve discovered in my bunker is a kind of zen state for writing. There’s a real peace to settling in, knowing I can immerse myself in my story world completely undisturbed—even by my own Writers’ ADD!

    • Thanks for the book title tip, Lynn. I’ve put in a request for it at the library. Can never get too many ideas for improving the way you work.

  9. You know, Lynn, I have THE ONE THING on my must read list and I need to bump it to the top. Thanks for sharing that terrific advice. I’ve done something similar in the past, particularly when my younger daughter was in pre-school and was asking for something every few minutes. I limited her to one request per hour. It gave me room and she learned that delayed gratification was not the end of the world, something that has held her in excellent stead. Thanks so much for the reminder, and for sharing.

    • Hi, Joe! Keller’s book changed my life. Just so you know going in, the philosophy is so simple that IMHO, he had to put in a lot of stats and studies to expand the essential advice and method to book length. In this expanded material, however, there are some very interesting ideas—such as the science of dominos, of all things—which have surprising bearing on our little enterprise of writing. Still, you can alternate reading and skimming and get the important stuff in an afternoon or maybe two. Blessings 🙂

  10. Great stuff, Joe! And so true. I used to have the copy machine in my (very small) office, and my DH never quite understood why, if he was perfectly quiet and didn’t speak to me when he came in to use it, it was still a frustrating interruption. I finally said “You know how when we’re on a long road trip and we have to stop for gas, you get peeved because we have to slow down, find a station, get off the Interstate, fill up, get back on the Interstate and get back up to speed?”
    He got it then. I guess it’s all in putting things in terms somebody will understand.

    And I have a call blocker that doesn’t even let it ring once, will block entire area codes yet still let in specific numbers. Best $ I ever spent.

    • Justine, that’s terrific that you get proactive. The best money I ever spent like that was on a five dollar “No Soliciting” sign for the front door. It’s too bad we have to go to these lengths to be left alone. Thanks!

      • I hope people are better at honoring your “No Soliciting” sign then they are mine.


        • Bk, I am blessed to live in a municipality that closely regulates door-to-door solicitations and takes violation complaints seriously. If yours does not, and you find yourself face to face with a violator, simply turn around in the doorway and holler, “Honey, we’ve got another one who can’t read. Bring me my shotgun, please!” Word will get around. It really will. Good luck!

          • Once years ago, when I was a pastor in a not-so-good neighborhood, I paid a visit (by request) of a church member who had been in the hospital. The very official looking sign on his front door gave me pause. It read, “CAUTION, POISONOUS SNAKES – U.S. Government Department of Agriculture Research Facility. Entry prohibited without proper authorization and supervision.”
            Inside I asked him about it. He told me I was the first person to knock on his door in five years. Of course there was no research and no snakes.

            • I love it. Snakes wouldn’t keep me away, but a spider warning would do the job. Thanks again, Dave!

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  12. Joe,

    You’re always good for discovering something new and helpful. I’m almost 65 too and the Medicare peddlers won’t leave me alone. Does anyone know–do they go away after you reach the magic birthday? Probably not, b/c there’s always another reason to pester us. Going to give nomorobo a try.

    My favorite robocaller is the male with the deep bass voice whose greeting is, “Hi, my name is Barbara.” Never found out what he or she is selling, cuz I hang up immediately, but at least with a chuckle instead of my normal curse.

    • Debbie, I know that guy! He calls himself “Angel” when he calls here and he’s from a investment firm that regularly loots state pension funds under the justification of being “social conscious.” As my departed grandmother would have said, “Ba fungu!” Hope you have much success with “nomorobo.” And no, the calls won’t stop when you hit 65, they’ll get WORSE. They try to sell you everything from oceanfront property in Nebraska to credit cards issued by The East Bank of the Mississippi! Beware! And thanks for stopping by!

  13. To limit distraction, my husband made a writer’s corner for me in his tiny machine shop. For two hours a morning I am sequestered on an old, brown, vinyl, school bus bench pulled up to a plastic folding table. Staring at the black metal dust encrusting the lubricated parts of dormant drill presses, grinders, sanders, and vices will cause anyone’s mind to create an alternate world to escape to.

    • Randi, your husband sounds like a keeper. Your writing space — though not the setting — sounds just a bit like what Tabitha King set up for Stephen after his almost fatal accident some years ago. Hope that you have similar results! Thanks for sharing.

  14. Do you folks know who’s calling? Very often it’s a mom who is working two jobs–the telemarketing job and a retail clerk job–so that her children can eat. Sometimes, it’s a Veteran or a senior who can’t do much else except talk on the phone. I ran across a man, a young attorney, Joe, who was telemarketing so that he could pay off the deductibles on a quarter-million dollar operation his wife had to have for an aneurysm. He had to work Saturday and Sunday mornings and four week nights, trying to help keep his telemarketing room going so he could keep his job.

    Now the reason I know all of this is because I wrote an article about who telemarketers and other low-wage workers are.

    So, I’d like for you all to give some thought before going gleefully on your various ways as you trying to figure out how to dump the telemarketer on his head. In some instances, the guy or gal who is calling you at dinner time may live a time zone or two away, and is barely holding on to his or her sanity because, if they don’t make their quota, they may well not be able to make the rent or buy groceries. I ran across one young mother whose husband also worked two jobs. She told me that she was a telemarketer because it was the only job that accommodated her husbands part time job as a hotel night auditor.

    My article opened my eyes. And, like you, I may be annoyed with telemarketer calls at odd hours, but I know that someone is calling me who would rather be at home with his or her children and husband.

    The lives of quiet desperation are still with us. The people who live them are often stuck with them. Some are stuck with them because they may lose their so much if they don’t have them.

    Perhaps you might listen to that ring with your heart. That would be a good thing.

    • Jim, I totally sympathize with your point but I have very little time to call my own and while it would be nice to take the entire world’s burdens upon my shoulders, it just isn’t realistic.

  15. Jim, we’re going to have to agree to disagree on this one. From my perspective, I don’t really care who is calling. I have the right within certain parameters to be left alone. No one is arguing or suggesting here that the folks calling be locked up, shunned, or subject to stoning. We’re simply finding a way to ignore and/or deter them. Is there a way to separate the wheat from the chaff, to take the call from the unfortunate who is desperately heading off bankruptcy and ignore/deter the Windows Scammer or — the new one — the guy who purports to be from the U.S. Attorney’s Office who terrifies the senior citizen into wiring money to an account in order to avoid arrest? No. There isn’t and there isn’t much we can do about that. About all I can control effectively is what is in front of me, and as far as compassion goes…I have plenty of it, but I control my distribution by practicing emotional triage. Some folks can’t be helped; some can.
    I do appreciate you stopping by, as always, as well as your comments, which provide something to think about, certainly. Thanks!

  16. I live in Australia and luckily our ‘do not call’ register is pretty effective. We still get a few calls as charities are exempt, which means all other nuisance calls are scammers or at least a little shady.

    I like to get a little creative when I answer and start calling them Mabel (regardless of gender) and talking to them like they’re my closest friend by filling them in on my imaginary day or I start singing something like ‘You Are My Sunshine.’ They hang up a lot faster when I sing. I guess they don’t appreciate my talent.

    • Maybe they don’t appreciate your talent, Mara, but I bet in that place and setting you would give Adele a run for her money. Thanks!

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