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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

The 5 Most Annoying Ways Co-workers Waste Your Time (and How to Put an End to It)

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“So, anyway, that’s what happened. I can promise you one thing, I’m never asking Brian to help me move again,” concluded my co-worker, clearly out of breath from the seemingly endless story she had just recounted to me.

How did I get stuck listening to this? All I did was ask her how her weekend went. Little did I know, I was in for an epic monologue about how her boyfriend, Brian—despite having a pickup truck—was, “Like, totally useless on her moving day, even though she had been telling him about it for weeks. Like, didn’t he understand how important this was to her?”

All I could do was stand there in horror, just waiting for her to either finish emotionally processing her horrifying weekend memory or to run out of air—whichever came first.

Sound familiar? Let’s face it—co-workers can be awesome. But, they can also be major time sucks.

From divulging all of the gory details of a far-too-personal story (by the way, thanks for nothin’, Brian) to trapping you in one of those dreaded never-ending email chains, we’ve all fantasized about how much we’d get accomplished if we were able to work completely alone.

So, in no specific order, here are the biggest offenders—plus how to stop them in their tracks.

1. Dropping by Your Desk Repeatedly

Rest assured, this far too lengthy moving conversation wasn’t the first time I’d heard of trouble brewing in paradise for my co-worker and that good for nothin’ Brian. Why? Well, because she frequently stopped by my desk unannounced to vent about it.

If she wasn’t having boyfriend troubles? She’d drop by to talk about the weather, or her upcoming birthday, or the staff meeting that morning, or even to just ask a seemingly innocent, “What are you doing?”

My response was always that I was working (uh, duh), much like she should’ve been. But, even my sarcasm couldn’t deter her. She’d stay parked there—leaning against the very cubicle wall that was designed to keep distractions out—rambling on and on.

How to Put an End to It

As Muse editor Stacey Lastoe suggests in an article about shutting down conversations, you have two options: Be super obvious (or oblivious depending on how you look at it), and pop your headphones in when the offender approaches, or straight-up say that you’re slammed with work and unfortunately can’t talk right now.

2. Sending You Endless Emails

Your inbox often makes you feel like you’re stuck in the Twilight Zone—you can’t look away for more than two seconds without a new message arriving.

Sure, a few of them are important. But, the rest of them? They’re totally unnecessary notes from your colleagues discussing the project you’re all working on. Your team members continue to send short, one-line responses back and forth, even though it’d be so much easier and more efficient (not to mention less distracting!) for them to talk things through via instant message or—gasp!—in person.

But, nope. You’re stuck dealing with this—all for a conversation that has somehow segued into a heated debate about who makes the better guacamole.

How to Put an End to It

It’s time to train your co-workers to send you less email. No, this doesn’t involve bribing them with treats (although, that certainly wouldn’t hurt). If you’re stuck in that never-ending chain, gently suggest that they take that conversation elsewhere. And, moving forward, respond with definitive statements—rather than more questions—so that you can keep the conversations as concise as possible.

3. Inviting You to Unnecessary Meetings

When your colleague sent you a calendar invite for an upcoming meeting, you simply assumed it was relevant and important. So when that set time rolls around, you head into the conference room and take a seat.

The conversation gets rolling, and suddenly feel like you did when you somehow stumbled into the wrong classroom on the first day of school. You have no idea what is being discussed. Wait, who even are these people?

It quickly dawns on you that this is a meeting you definitely don’t need to be at. But, for some reason, your colleague was passing out invites like Valentine’s Day cards in elementary school—everybody gets one! Lucky you.

How to Put an End to It

Like it or not, your co-workers will likely continue to invite you to things you don’t really need to be at unless you speak up. Hey, at least you’re apparently enjoyable to be around? So, knowing that, it’s up to you to be proactive in determining whether or not you really need to be there.

Do so by asking yourself and your colleagues a few key questions, such as, “Is there an agenda?” and “Am I prepared to contribute to this discussion in a meaningful way?” (You can find more questions in this handy flow chart.)

4. Asking You Questions (That’ve Already Been Answered)

Do we have this holiday off? Is this week payday, or is it next week? How many sick days do we get? Am I allowed to use the color printer for personal use?

We’ve all had those co-workers who seem to treat us like we’re quite literally the employee handbook. While you’re flattered to be thought of as the all-knowing expert on anything and everything company-related, the fact that you need to repeatedly answer questions that have already been addressed elsewhere can quickly become frustrating—not to mention, it eats up major chunks of your time.

How to Put an End to It

Throw the employee handbook at him. Just kidding, don’t do that—unless lawsuits are your thing (which I certainly hope they’re not). Instead, the next time your colleague approaches you with a question that’s already been answered, kindly refer him to where he can find that for himself. Hopefully before too long, he’ll get the hint.

5. Failing to Adequately Prepare

You and your colleague have a meeting planned so that you can talk over the project you’re working on together. When you sit down and whip out your well-prepared notes, you soon realize that she’s done absolutely nothing to get ready for this conversation—except, apparently, go through the Starbucks drive-through.

You’re left doing most of the talking (ahem, work), while she gives you blank stares, nods along, and sucks down her iced chai latte.

How to Put an End to It

Think there’s no polite way to tell someone that she’s a colossal waste of your time? Think again. As Muse writer, Rich Moy, explains in his piece on what to say when a co-worker is wasting your time, you just need to flip the script and use “you” language—rather than pointing fingers.

Take a cue from his story and try saying something like, “I’m excited that we’re working on this together. But, maybe we should regroup after we both have had some time to adequately prepare.”

Did I miss any major ways that co-workers waste your time? Go ahead and vent to me on Twitter!