I work out of a couple offices, although I would get more work done if I were at home or in a closed office, for a real estate office.

I get bombarded with a constant influx of projects that I compile on my own task list to maintain my own sanity and time management. I usually tell people 3-5 business day turnaround (not including weekends!) (it also varies per project). Some projects take precedence over others and I of course work on those first. Recently I have been swamped with not only projects but meetings, interruptions, etc etc that I feel as if I go backwards instead of forwards.

Agents tend to hover over my desk, even when I am on the phone or meeting with an actual person to say "where's my "this"?!" Seriously though... is there a nice way to say I'M BUSY without sounding like a jerk. I tell people "I'm working on it and they just stare and then stomp off."

I just want to design and not deal with the diva drama.

Any advice is appreciated.

  • Welcome to GDSE Tararara! I'm not exactly sure how your question pertains to Graphic Design (or any of the tags you've added to the question.) Are you looking to design a sign? Find the right English words to say? Either way I don't feel like it's on topic to this Q&A forum. Please read over which topics qualify as on-topic
    – Johannes
    Jan 20 '15 at 23:31
  • There's nothing you can do. Real Estate agents are insufferable. :/
    – DA.
    Jan 20 '15 at 23:54
  • @Johannes I think this is an excellent GD question, actually. It's about the business of GD. I'll work up an answer.
    – DA.
    Jan 20 '15 at 23:55

There's a lot of writing on this topic. Here is but one article that I think has a nice, succinnt title:

Maker's Schedule, Manager's Schedule

The point being that those that are tasked with producing something tangible--especially creatives such as designers and coders--they need uninterrupted work time. Unlike management, where a lot of their job is constant meetings, designers need to have time to focus and really get into their project.

Many years ago I was at a conference and got to hear Clement Mok respond to a question on how his company billed clients. He stated (paraphrasing) that they bill on 4 hour increments, but would prefer 8. While that was about billing, his point was that you need to devote a chunk of solid time to produce creative work. 8 half hours divided up by 8 half hour meetings in one day won't allow you to produce nearly the amount nor quality of work that a solid block of 4 hours uninterrupted can.

To answer your specific question:

What is a nice way to say I'M BUSY

Don't bother with 'nice'. You're busy. You need to get work done. They need to respect that. How to get to that point is going to depend a lot on the specifics of your workplace and the relationship you have with your manager.

Some ideas that might help:

  • insist that you have an office and then a policy of 'come on in if the door is open, do not knock if it's closed'
  • have in-office hours to attend meetings and out-of-office hours to actually get work done
  • say "I'm heading out to get work done" and mean it. If you're not making headway due to distractions announce that you're heading to the coffee shop for 4 hours to knock out some work.
  • if you have an in-house shared calendar, block off work time. This reduces the likelihood of your work time getting chopped up into small chunks with meetings sporadically throughout the day.
  • 3
    Blocking the calendar tends to be the most successful in my experience. It lets people who DO need to bother you know when it's appropriate to do so easily. I also encourage you to try and make this time consistent. With what I had to do effectively 8 - 12 was my open office time. (because that's when I did email triage and other disruptive tasks) after 12 the rule was "if you bring an issue to me after 12 it better be on fire" (IE don't interrupt my get stuff done time unless it's an absolute emergency) Jan 22 '15 at 18:05

It might help to have a whiteboard near your desk which lists the projects you are working on along with an expected completion date. You could even have a little star next to the item you are currently on. Make sure it's visible from outside of your desk area and that you keep it updated.

When someone walks up to your desk, just point at the board and otherwise ignore them. Pretty soon they'll be trained to just eyeball the board without even speaking to you.


I understand your frustration with having your progress interrupted by people who want to ask about your progress. However, the solution to that is not getting across to them that you have stuff to do and shouldn't be interrupted. The solution to that is enabling them to get their answers without interrupting you.

You say you're keeping some sort of task list. My guess is that it is in priority order or includes a priority column, and that it includes a status and perhaps even a due date. Put that somewhere they can all see it. When they ask "Where is my this?" remind them where they can find the answer. This might be something electronic, but if your colleagues are not online people, it could be a piece of paper taped up on the wall. You can just point the interrupter to that and carry on with your meeting or whatever.

They are not going to get less worried about their important deliverables because you manage to tell them to leave you alone. They are going to get less worried when they get more information. Be transparent and public, and the interruptions should go down.


Take control over some of their expectations know that in some way they will always want everything yesterday. A lot of this is communication. Use the tools you have available: email, project software, voice mail, etc.

Here are some things to consider:

  • Ask when they need it. You may be surprised that they'll give you longer than you may think. Push back if you think it is unrealistic and they can't justify the urgency.
  • Give a due date/time as soon as possible and let them know when that will be. It is simple, let me look at my list and I'll get back with you before lunch.
  • Let them know if you're going to be late.
  • If you need additional information or are waiting on someone else, let them know the status. Maybe they can help. Maybe not.
  • Remind those that interrupt you about the due date. Be consistent. Also feel free to let them know that the more you're interrupted the more likely everybody's requests are going to get delayed.

I know this sounds like more work and it is. I've bought a few homes and prefer an agent that pushes everybody to get things done so the close is on time. That's how everyone gets paid including you.

Nobody at the airport wants their flight delayed, but if it is going to be delayed, they need to know how long. Imaging if your company told you your paycheck would arrive some time next week.


I think first you need to adjust your attitude. It is not diva drama to want to know the status of projects you have been given which are important to their ability to do their jobs. You are clearly a roadblock right now and they have a right to want to get it cleared.

So first you need to adjust your workflow so that statuses are given in a timely manner. You need a way for them to check status without bothering you as often and you need a way to set priorities and you need to tell people when their priority has been lowered and what the new expected date is.

They bug you because you are not communicating well. Communication is a large part of your job, as important, if not more important, than the design work. Telling people you are working on something when you clearly are not is part of what make them angry. Tell them the truth - "There are six projects ahead of yours and I expect I will be able to start it on Wednesday of next week." A daily email to all with a list of the projects and the status and expected completion is something you should probably do first thing every day.

Real estate agents by the nature of their work are not in the office at all times, so it is natural that they need to check with you when they get a few minutes in the office before going out to show houses. Resenting the interruptions is simply counterproductive. It is the nature of the business you are supporting.

If you start giving them better information and have something that they can look at to see what projects are being worked in what order and the expected start and end dates of their projects, they will bother you less. But they will never stop bothering you altogether as you are holding them up and they need to get the things you are doing for them. They are your clients and you need to start treating them as such.

  • 1
    I'm not a fan of the 'adjust your attitude' POV. There seems to be a lot of that on this site. The OP is a designer--not a project manager. Seems to me the company she works for needs to adjust their expectations of the role they hired for. Sending out a status is certainly a good idea, but again, that's taking time away from someone that is supposedly hired to CREATE rather than MANAGE.
    – DA.
    Jan 21 '15 at 16:29
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    @Da, I wasn't a fan of what you wrote eitehr. She is failing at one of her main tasks, communication. She doesn't need more time alone, she needs to understand the industry she works for. Yes she will be less productive if not left alone. But hey I am a developer and I have to do these types of things too and yes they impact my productivity developing but that is not the only thing I am hired to do and designing in not her only task.
    – HLGEM
    Jan 21 '15 at 16:53
  • I disagree that the failing is in her lap. The question doesn't have anything to do with the particular industry (that being real estate) but rather the fact that people that are hired to produce creative product can't be interrupted throughout the day and still expected to produce creative product. As for being a developer, I assume that you report to a manager. Sounds like she doesn't have a manger to report to, but instead has dozens of 'managers' that she has to answer to. Sounds more like an org chart problem than a problem with her attitude. I do think your status report is a good idea.
    – DA.
    Jan 21 '15 at 17:01

I know you said you work out of multiple offices, this is something I have zero experience with but here's things I have learnt about avoiding interruptions for knowlege workers.

If you have a 'team leader', 'supervisor' or some person who is not necessarily your boss but is in a co-ordinating position, you can ask your department manager if the modus operandi can be changed so all new work MUST go through the team leader. It needs to be done in such a way that talking to team members is entirely non-productive. You supervisor needs to have a method of giving you said work without distracting you, such as adding it to a list on a whiteboard as mentioned by Chris Lively or a database. Physically handing a piece of paper over to you is incorrect.

To help prevent people interrupting for updates, I have in the past stolen Scrum-ban from 'software' types to manage my tasks It works pretty well for group organisation, anyone outside the group can interpret it.

Don't be too hard on customer-facing types. Pestering is their way of getting things done, it has always worked for them because people enable it. Have a read about operant conditioning and good luck with 'extinction bursts'. These links are about rats and dogs mainly, it applies perfectly well to humans though.