How to Get People to Go Away


Image by Kevin Marks at Flickr, via Wikimedia

I’m terrible at returning phone calls and emails. Most people say they are bad at it, but I think I am worse than they are (partly because I’m just trying to one-up them, but partly because I really think that). I guess it wouldn’t be such a big deal if people didn’t seem to take it so personally when I ignore them. But it seems like every person I intend to reply to but neglect gets offended. And then I feel bad.

I do want to talk to them. Most of them. It’s just that I need a lot of alone time or my brain doesn’t work right. I know it sounds like a cliché. But the fact is, even two worthwhile phone calls a day with two good friends or clients feels like a little stressful to me. And forget about scheduling two meetings a day, whether they’re professional or not.

I used to think I was just selfish, and a bad friend/sister/daughter/niece/networker and all the other things I do. But it’s my belief that these days, nobody gets enough time alone, without being pulled in multiple directions by responsibilities and relationships.

I think we’re all overbooked.

Here are a few schemes we can use to get people to go away or leave us alone:

  • Read.
  • Pretend to read.
  • Listen to headphones.
  • Pretend to listen to headphones (while we’re really listening to someone’s conversation).
  • Pretend to be asleep.
  • Hide. Anywhere. Just hide.
  • Take the seat on the bus or train farthest away from anyone else.
  • Say our cell phone is cutting out.
  • Pretend to be on our phones at our desks.

My friend Paula, who blogs at Afford Anything, is very big on the concept of “mental capacity.” There are only so many things our brains are designed to do in the space of a moment. And that number is not high. I think it’s four.* If we try to juggle more than four things in our minds at once, something inevitably gets dropped. We have a daily allotment of mental capacity, too.

I have extremely limited mental capacity.

So some messages go overlooked. “It only takes two minutes to answer an email or return a call. Can’t you just take two minutes?”

No. It does not take two minutes. Unless I have a form reply, I think about every email I write. They’re like small poems I agonize over for a few minutes. I used to think I’d get over this, and I have to an extent. But I still I fact check. I re-read them to make sure I don’t sound sarcastic or stupide or confusing, and make sure there are no spelling or grammar errors, because not all clients are cool with email typos from their contracted writer. I make sure I’m not sending it to the wrong person. Then I hit send and worry about whether I forgot to mention something.

I’ve just maxed out part of my daily allotment of mental capacity.

Here are some more creative–and probably more effective–tactics to get people to go away. Some will get people to leave us alone a little more, and others will help us create peace in our lives so we don’t have the constant, subconscious sense that we’re about to be drawn and quartered by various things/people that need attention.

  • Create a space for peace in our everyday lives. Like meditation. This is something I talk a lot about, but haven’t been doing regularly. Maybe if I give my mind space to clear, it’ll be more willing to play well with others the rest of the day.
  • Stop multi-tasking.
  • Stop answering emails and sending them after 6 p.m.
  • Do not work at all at least one day on the weekend.
  • Schedule three or four times a day you will check and send emails. Do not answer emails outside of those hours.
  • Plan meals ahead of time. That way we don’t waste so much mental capacity–and sometimes a lot of time–deciding on something healthy to have for dinner and trying to cook it.
  • Journaling every morning. The times when I’ve felt most centered and ready to take on the day were when I journaled regularly. I also didn’t forget to do as many things, and was better at prioritizing.
  • Stop letting people talk at you for hour-long stretches about their personal problems.
  • Use less social media.

In conclusion, part of the reason I want people to go away is because I’ve always been a loner. But the other part I can certainly adjust. It has to do with how I’ve structured my life to be so full and distracting that I don’t have enough mental capacity left over to interact with the people who make it all worthwhile. And that’s just not acceptable.


* But hey, maybe I’m wrong. What was I saying about limited mental capacity?


L. Marrick is a historical fantasy writer and freelance copywriter. She waxes poetic about swords and the Renaissance Faire at her author blog. She looks all professional-like at her copywriting site. She eats too much chocolate and still doesn’t believe downward dog is supposed to be a restful yoga pose. You can connect with her at either of her websites.

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