Every day, I make myself approachable and available (i.e, no headphones) between 8:15am - 1:30pm for questions, discussions, desk meetings, etc. and don't mind being interrupted then.

I get the majority of my work done in the afternoon by listening to music between 1:30pm and 5pm, which helps me focus and is usually a visual cue to show that I'm concentrating.

However, the minute I start listening to music, my colleague starts talking to me. It's like she bottles up her questions and observations and waits for me to put my headphones on. The general (albeit, unwritten) rule here is; if someone's 'wired in' then they're busy, but she doesn't seem to get that.

We're allowed to listen to music at work, but she's been here for 20+ years now so I imagine she's stuck in her ways a little bit. It probably never used to be acceptable, but it is now... so what can I do (or say) to get her to stop interrupting me when I'm wired in?

  • 11
    tell her politely?
    – eirikdaude
    Commented May 16, 2018 at 8:42
  • "Can you not interrupt me when I'm wired in please?" sounds quite stand-offish to me. I've tried the jokey (but not a joke) "I'm sure you wait until I'm listening to music, haha" approach, but it's just not hitting home.
    – dvniel
    Commented May 16, 2018 at 9:08
  • Do you have a door? If so, use it. A sign: "Meetings / conferences: 8:15-1:30. Dev Time: 1:30 - 5 PM (No interruptions, please)." Commented May 16, 2018 at 15:49
  • 2
    before wiring in, could you let her know you're going to be unavailable the rest of the day for questions, and ask if she needs anything? It is more direct than "I'm sure you wait until I'm listening to music, haha" but not as stand-offish as "Can you not interrupt me when I'm wired in please?" , and gives her a chance to ask her questions in a timely manner. As it is more direct, hopefully she will pick up on it. Commented May 17, 2018 at 6:43

5 Answers 5


Sounds like you have a well-established routine that your colleague either isn't aware of or is deliberately ignoring. Assuming you can't just directly tell her to wait until later, there are a couple of things to try:

Try making your routine more obvious to your colleagues. Do you have - for example - a shared Outlook calendar? You could always mark yourself as busy for your afternoons.

An alternative, which I've had to do a few times, is ask her if she needs anything before you get into the zone. A friendly but firm offer to help would surely be appreciated. "I've got to get into the zone and get on with my work in the afternoon. Is there anything you might need me for now? Because I really cannot be disturbed later." If she still tries to butt in, you will have to politely emphasise that you're not available until tomorrow morning (and refer to the calendar if need be).

With enough time, she will surely recognise this routine and start leaving you be in the afternoon.


It seems a bit of a coincidence that she's waiting until you wire up before engaging with you.

Try to engage her in conversation before you wire up, passively making sure she's got no questions for you.

This may be little onerous to seek her out and have a conversation the same time every day. However, if you get into a little routine of speaking with her earlier in the day, she might get the hint and seek you earlier.

  • 1
    @MisterPositive see edit history of the answer :) was originally other option mentioned
    – Sabine
    Commented May 16, 2018 at 13:18

Ignore her first few attempts at interaction, then unplug and say something like

Sorry, I was in the zone

Every time she disrupts you, make her try +=1 before you acknowledge her.


Do you know in hotels when you have those 'do not disturb' signs hanging on the door? Also, in Brazil, some all-you-can-eat restaurants have a 'Serve Me'/'I'm fine for now' signs. This could be a possible course of action. I feel your pain specially if you are a developer, since concentration plays a huge role in programming.

Look at that beautiful polite card

Could you use something like this? Politely explain what that sign is meant to mean and then suggest a better way for your colleague to get in contact with you (should it be by e-mail? Or should you set up a scheduled time for him/her talk to you?).


First of all, you're trying to focus on your work, so there is nothing wrong on telling someone else to wait until you finish what you're doing. A polite "Sorry, I'm really busy right now, could you please ask me later/tomorrow morning?" should suffice. Repeat this until she understands when she should bother you and when she shouldn't.

Alternatively, try to shift her towards other means of communication, for example emails. This way, you can take your time and reply her whenever you see fit.

If all else fails, tell her explicitly that you're available for questions in the morning and shouldn't be disturbed in the afternoon. Again, you're working, and if something is hurting your productivity it's in your best interest to deal with it in clear and concise terms.

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