Stalking. No, not that kind.

I think I am being stalked.

I don’t mean proper, illegal stalking – although obviously that doesn’t sound like a barrel of laughs either.

No, I mean that stalking that seems to happen on social media where everything must happen right-now-immediately because someone knows you are online and therefore how dare you not have responded to their email about next Friday night right away?

I can’t be the only person to have noticed this.

So many of us now work flexible hours, from home. We’re online at irregular hours, and flexible working often means blending of the work and home identity – we’re using the same account to update clients and update our friends on the progress of the new kitchen, or our discovery that the entire Twilight Saga is actually just a rip-off of Buffy (which it so is, incidentally).

That’s great in some respects. I really, really love my job. I really like the people I work with, for the most part. I like helping people, and I genuinely, hand on heart don’t mind answering questions, or providing information, if I have it. I’m chatty by  nature and often I enjoy catching up with people on social media, especially if I’m home alone.

But I do miss having some boundaries. On a typical evening I might finish work around 6.30pm and put Flea to bed. If I’m home online, I might think about popping onto Facebook and looking at some photos from my best friend’s recent trip to the UK.

Big mistake. 

Someone spots you’re online because you liked a photo.

There’s a question in a forum, and you get the notification you’ve been tagged. You ignore it. Five minutes later there’s a Facebook message, “Hey, I tagged you..” 

You keep ignoring it.

Then there’s a Tweet. To the company account. Then the personal account.

You know it’s only a matter of time before someone is standing outside your bedroom window on a ladder holding up a hand-made sign that reads, “Hey, have you got a minute?” 

I joke, but sometimes – well, sometimes it sucks up one side and down the other.

It’s not just work – I get it with my best friend, too. He’ll send an email at 7pm and if I haven’t replied within three hours, I get a huffy text complaining that I’m ignoring his emails.

I feel hounded.

And I get sucked in. I’m pathologically unable to ignore a question on the Internet if I know the answer. It’s a horrible, horrible character flaw. And one that has led me to leave several online groups recently, because I know myself well enough to know I just can’t ignore them when I’m being asked for information on them.

I’d like to think people understand if I’m online at 9pm, I’m not working. But I don’t think they do.

Ghandi style, I’m trying to be the change I want to see in the world – so I’ve updated my Outlook settings so that emails I write late at night won’t be sent until the next morning. I don’t want to be THAT person to anyone else.

But I’m genuinely at a loss as to how best to deal with the intrusion into my own downtime.

Do I create a set of duplicate social media accounts so that work people don’t know I’m online after hours? It’s a lot of hassle, but might work…

Or do I get more assertive and reply to people with a cheery, “I’ll get back to you in the morning when I’m in the office”?

What do you do, when it happens to you? 


[Picture credit: Flickr/Chase_Elliot]


Sally is a full-time blogger and founder of the Tots100, Trips100, Foodies100 and HIBS100 communities, along with the MAD Blog Awards. She spends a bit too much time on the Internet. She’s also a very happy Mum to Flea, the world’s coolest ten year old.

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  1. Sarah
    6th September 2012 / 9:28 pm

    I’m so with you. I’ve said often (in the real world) that I’m too tired to go out / become involved in some online discussion etc yet, once in bed I’ve sent one tweet to a friend. This then elicits a barrage of ‘oh – I thought you were in bed / oh – I thought you were too tired’ type texts that just make me feel grrrrrrrr. It’s my life. I’m not really living it online (that’s only part of my life!) but the bits I do show online are not the only part of me. Have thought about totally removing myself from all social networks yet….I get business through them and I do like to have a ‘virtual’ persona. It’s when the virtual and the real collide that I get a massive headache.

    • 6th September 2012 / 9:39 pm

      Yes, I do EXACTLY that. I see something funny, Tweet it, and it’s like opening the gates of Hell, sometimes 😉

      I think though Twitter is a fickle mistress. I should really have a no-tweet after 5pm policy.

  2. 6th September 2012 / 8:53 pm

    You are too bloody nice.

    Because you are so accessible people presume this is your life not your job.

    Either hire an online bodyguard to field your tweets, FB and emails or just politely reply I will sort when working or in office.

    Give it a couple of weeks or so and people will know what to expect from you.

    Jane recently posted..why me? ~ NorthernmumMy Profile

    • 6th September 2012 / 9:35 pm

      Thanks lovely – I think you’ve nailed it with “they think it’s your life not your job”.

      I think that’s a very human thing – nobody goes into the bank and sees Carol, they see the bank teller. But thanks for saying it, and understanding it – made me feel better 🙂

  3. seasiderclare
    6th September 2012 / 8:56 pm

    Well said! I do notice that you are so in demand and I guess the lines are just so blurred as what you do for a job is our down time. No excuse though, nobody should be quite so demanding of your time.
    I had a call from my boss late at night a few months back – he started by saying “I didn’t think you’d mind me calling so late as I saw you were on Twitter!” erm…

    • 6th September 2012 / 9:36 pm

      It’s definitely not just a ‘blogger’ issue – I think it’s modern life, so to speak. As you say people who work in offices are now visible to their colleagues, hence calls like yours – it’s just so RUDE! I hope you told your boss what you thought!

  4. Vic
    6th September 2012 / 9:09 pm

    What Jane said! I was going to hassle you in this comment but clearly you’re not online for work so I’ll wait until the morning. x

    • 6th September 2012 / 9:37 pm

      Thanks, I look forward to being bothered in the morning 🙂

  5. Dan Thornton
    6th September 2012 / 9:14 pm

    Select Incognito Mode or ‘Appear Offline’, and problem solved 😉

    I think setting clear office hours helps, and taking time offline when not working, and not in that ‘just winding down from work for 20 minutes’ phase.

    But then again, it’s the cost of working flexible hours too – every benefit has to come with some costs. I like working later in the day, but I know that means I’ll be dealing with business stuff at 7pm, or catching up on a task list at 9pm. Alternatively it means I get to commute 2 minutes from bedroom to home office to start work, and I can nip out for lunch when I fancy it etc…

    Also auto-replies can help – the ‘I’ve received your email and will reply during office hours which are xx-xx, unless it’s a personal message in which case I’ll try and respond sooner. If I don’t, it’s because I hated you anyway’

    • 6th September 2012 / 9:37 pm

      I sort of love your auto-reply a bit more than is proper.

  6. 6th September 2012 / 9:18 pm

    I agree with Jane. You are too nice. People won’t go mad, if you tell them to contact you in the morning. They want to enjoy their evenings and so do you and Flea. It’s not fair that people feel that they can take advantage of you just because they see you are online. Make sure that they know you are in work modus until let’s say 5pm and inform everyone that everything else will have to wait.

    • 6th September 2012 / 9:38 pm

      You’d hope people wouldn’t go mad, but they do! I just need to be a bit more assertive about it, though, and people will probably follow my lead. It’s now occurring to me this is basically the whiniest blog post EVER.

  7. 6th September 2012 / 10:03 pm

    Well, some of what I do has an evening element to it as I monitor an e-group for volunteers who tend to post when kids are in bed and they are not at work. It’s often the best time to get in touch with them.

    I find having different email addresses for different things really helps too. I just close down the work one and not look at it when I’m having downtime. And there are times when I just don’t reply to emails. You have to do it for the sake of your sanity.
    Kate recently posted..Preston – a city in cake!My Profile

    • 9th September 2012 / 7:29 pm

      Yes, I should probably split out my email accounts. Do you use multiple accounts in webmail or an email client?

  8. Frugal Queen
    7th September 2012 / 5:54 am

    Just switch it off when you want to. Have an internet fast once a week, or when ever you like and have none of it.

    • 9th September 2012 / 7:29 pm

      Great advice as ever, thanks 🙂

  9. Emma
    7th September 2012 / 7:31 am

    Dam! Busted! Do you know how long it took me to make that ladder out of my old maternity clothes?!!

    • 9th September 2012 / 7:29 pm

      It was a GREAT ladder.

  10. 7th September 2012 / 8:43 am

    Be strong and ignore. (I’ll make a blog badge later with the motto on it and send it to you – please be sure to acknowledge receipt straight away.)
    Midlife Singlemum recently posted..Rosh Hashana Countdown #9My Profile

    • 9th September 2012 / 7:28 pm

      I have failed utterly in this by not responding to your comment until Sunday night, haven’t I?

  11. 7th September 2012 / 8:51 am

    Yes, I think you just have to say you’ll deal with it in the morning, during office hours. People probably just don’t realise that they are interfering with your leisure time. People work such odd hours these days. I often have work time in the evening because it’s the only time I can fit it in, and I don’t mind dealing with work things during this period. But others do. Just point out that you’ll be all theirs once work time kicks in, and they might get the message. Hopefully.
    Troubles Mum recently posted..Loveliest Blogger in TownMy Profile

    • 9th September 2012 / 7:28 pm

      Yes. “In the morning” is my new mantra 🙂

  12. 7th September 2012 / 4:46 pm

    It must be very difficult when your work and leisure activities are so tightly connected, and when many of the people you work with are working in the evenings when you’re trying not to. I may bitch about my working hours at times, but at least my “day job” is offline and unconnected and when I switch the laptop and mobile phone off, they’re off.

    I think changing your Outlook settings for a delayed send is a great idea! Maybe I should do that with my work account too, as I was sat there exchanging emails with a contact at 10pm last night :\

    You seem pretty good at switching off from social media when you have to during the day, maybe try to get better at ignoring things when you’re trying to relax in the evenings?

    Well, unless I want to talk to you, obviously!!
    geekmummy recently posted..Still me, just biggerMy Profile

    • 9th September 2012 / 7:27 pm

      Yes, often during the day it’s easier to ignore the background noise – in the evening I am often on the computer for personal reasons, though, and it’s hard to ignore background noise. I need to train myself NOT to “just take a look at” Twitter!

      • 11th September 2012 / 10:49 am

        It’s difficult isn’t it? I seem to have got into a blogging routine of sitting at the computer after dinner, checking Facebook and Twitter, writing a paragraph, checking Facebook and Twitter again, and so on. If you find the secret to switching off and concentrating please let me know!
        geekmummy recently posted..5:2 Diet Week 5 and Meal Planning MondayMy Profile

    • 9th September 2012 / 7:26 pm

      Cunning 😉

  13. Becky Arber
    7th September 2012 / 10:01 pm

    I don’t have this but hubs does. As a photographer he always owes people albums and wedding pictures. Yes I know it’s the biggest day in their life blah… blah… but it’s at the point where if I tag him in a photo on f’book his clients comment on it saying “oh, you’re out having fun are you? Where is my album?”
    Back off I say. And chill out people.
    p.s. I expect you to reply to this before I see you tweeting on twitter 😉

    • 9th September 2012 / 7:26 pm

      Ah yes, back off is on the tip of my tongue some days – but I’m at least as much to blame for responding!

  14. 8th September 2012 / 10:03 pm

    When it happens I’ll let you know how I dealt with it 😉
    In the meantime, I think it’s a fair point. I didn’t realise quite how much your time is demanded by others. It would wear me out, and everyone needs a break.
    I totally get your point on the Facebook groups. I try to ignore notifications, but my finger twitches on the mouse and before I know it it’s teatime!
    Actually Mummy… recently posted..Things to do on a beachMy Profile

    • 9th September 2012 / 7:26 pm

      I think it’s a common issue – I don’t think I’m exception in having clients who assume if I’m online, I’m available to them. Perhaps if you work in an office it’s less of an issue but for creatives and freelancers, I think it can be a really tricky balance.

  15. 9th September 2012 / 7:02 pm

    eeeek some people are very impatient! Maybe you should state when your ‘office hours’ are and refuse to answer anything outside those hours..

    I wonder if people were less stressed when they couldn’t access work e-mail from home?
    Emma @mummymummymum recently posted..52 Photo’s – 10th SeptemberMy Profile

    • 9th September 2012 / 7:25 pm

      I definitely think people were less stressed before the invention of ’email everywhere’!