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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Productivity

3 Signs You Have a Reputation for Wasting People's Time (and You Don't Even Know It)

You pride yourself on being punctual. You always leave a cushion in case there’s traffic. And yes, sometimes you arrive so far in advance of meetings—and social get-togethers—that you have to kill some time so as to not be awkwardly early.

And as someone so very aware of time, you consider other people’s schedules, too. You’d never dream of being the person who texts that she’s “five minutes away,” when she’s actually just leaving her apartment, nor would you change meeting times around, forcing a contact to rearrange his whole afternoon. And while those basics are appreciated, it’s possible to be punctual and still be labeled a time waster.

How so? Because even if you keep every 30-minute meeting to a half-hour, people will feel like their time is being wasted if they don’t accomplish what they’d planned to.

Here are the signs you’re (unknowingly) being a time waster—and what you can do about it:

1. Your Networking Contacts Aren’t Staying in Touch

Do people say, “let’s stay in touch” and then seem to dodge your calls and emails? You know you’re not supposed to let your network grow cold—but you also don’t want to cross over to sending threatening or ominous emails about getting together. So, why won’t this person respond?

Here’s what could be happening: If you spend so much time gabbing that you never have time to discuss anything of professional substance, the nature of your relationship will change. Mentors usually like to know what’s going on in their mentee’s careers and how they can help; that fellow conference attendee who works the same job in the same industry probably wants to talk some shop. So, if you spend the entire time talking about your upcoming vacation plans, your contact may say, “let’s get coffee again sometime,” and never follow up.

The Fix

To salvage this situation, the next time you get in touch, reach out with a specific, career-oriented idea, question, or article. Pass along something relevant—and succinct—and have a productive exchange over email before you ask to meet up again. Then, for future meetups, try to limit personal updates to the first third of your time together.

2. Your Co-workers Are Always Redirecting the Conversation

It’s awesome that you actually like your co-workers. It’s even better that you have a good rapport with them. And it’s great that they inspire you to brainstorm.

However, during meetings, have you found that you often spend so long discussing items one and two that you never get to the rest of the agenda? Or maybe you’ve noticed that mid-point, when you stop to breathe, someone jumps in, says that’s a great idea, and immediately suggests moving on to the next item?

As someone who thinks—and talks—at a million miles a minute, I too have had to work on this. I know that you’re not trying to steamroll your colleagues: You’re just excited. Here are a few things I do when I think I may have fallen into hogging the conversation.

The Fix

For starters, unless you’re giving a presentation, your talk time shouldn’t outweigh that of any of your colleagues. Just like you want to avoid being the first (or last) person to leave a party, try to avoid talking the most. If you chimed in a lot on one point, back off a bit on the next few.

What if you’ve already spoken (a lot), but now you have a brilliant idea? Often, you can avoid this feeling by reading the agenda in advance of the meeting. If you have strong opinions on the third item, focus on being a good listener for the first two points and save your floor time. If there was no agenda, ask yourself if your idea could wait. If a decision is going to be made, by all means, share your thoughts. But if you could just as easily follow up over email, let your colleagues speak so that everyone can be heard and cover the topics they’d hoped to. (Bonus: Many times a colleague will have the same idea or question you had, so it’ll still come up!)

3. Your Boss Is Micromanaging You

Maybe your boss is a classic micromanager and wants to see everyone’s work before it goes anywhere. But if you get the feeling that he seems to be helicopter parenting you more than your co-workers, there might be more to it. Especially if he does things like provide feedback on how you can trim down every email or wants a run through before you present in any meeting.

Sure, you could keep bucking the system and continue to send your manager five paragraph essays to cut to three line emails—and 22 slides for her to trim to 15. Or, you could beat her to the punch and do it yourself.

The Fix

One way to start is to ask yourself what the vital points are. Let’s put it another way: If you wrote a tweet about this email, what would it say? You can keep that five paragraph email in a Word doc, or that long presentation under a different name, but run through it yourself and cut any lines that are there simply because they “sound good,” as well as those that only provide unnecessary context.

Remember, this is not the only email you ever get to send. If someone wants more information, they’ll often ask. In the meantime, you won’t be seen as the person who send time-wasting emails (that probably won’t be read anyhow), and your boss will stop asking to be CCed on everything. Translation: Everybody wins!

Even if you’ve developed a reputation as a time waster, you can take steps to change how you’re seen. Your contacts, colleagues, and manager will thank you—and more readily ask for your opinion.

Photo of garbage and an alarm clock courtesy of Shutterstock.