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Stop People from Wasting Your Time at Work

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How to Stop People from Wasting Your Time at Work

By Michelle Yozzo Drake

"No time left for you...on my way to better things...no time left for you..."

Remember that song "No Time" by The Guess Who?

"No time, no time, no time, no time...I got, got, got, got no time...I got, got, got, got no time..."

Or maybe I'm just date-stamping myself here.

Regardless, that song inevitably runs through my head whenever I'm swamped with work and one of my colleagues decides it's the best possible time to interrupt me and regale me with stories about their lives, their workload, their kids, their car trouble, their plans for the weekend...

Don't get me wrong: I'm the proverbial social butterfly. I love chatting with people, getting to know them, swapping stories and advice, and sharing laughs. But there is a time and a place, and it is not when I'm knee-deep in projects in my office. Sometimes even I have a hard time dealing with people who are wasting my time.

Apparently, I'm not the only one...

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Chris in Commack, New York wrote and asked me:

Dear Michelle,

I must have a "Waste My Time" sticker on my forehead because every morning at work, there's a guy in my office who comes and plops down in my chair in my office and proceeds to tell me about everything that's wrong in his life and about how much work he has to do and how he never has any time. I'm not sure if he's just totally clueless or if he realizes that he's taking my time.

What can I do to stop this guy from continually wasting my day?

Well, Chris, there are a lot of little tricks you can try. One of the first things that you can do is understand that you have control of your own office space. Just say "no" to the interruption. Now, that might sound kind of harsh, but there are ways that you can say no that actually someone might thank you for. Try saying, "I would really love to talk to you, but right now I'm on a tight schedule. How about we continue this conversation over lunch?" That's "no." That's "get out of my face." But it's done in a way that people don't get offended. Who could get offended at a lunch invite, right?

Another thing that I like to do is to keep an extra pile of papers in the chair in my office. If you try that, the next time your co-worker comes to plop in on that chair, there's no place for him to sit. And if he asks if it's okay to move it, you can tell him, "I'm right in the middle of a big project, and those papers need to stay where they are or the whole thing is going to be disorganized." You can also try keeping a pen in your hand and continue writing as he comes in, only nodding or giving minimal response to his interaction.

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People who waste your time ignore your boundaries. You need to be able to set strong boundaries to protect your time and to protect your productivity at your job. You want to do it in a way that doesn't offend. If you find that he is really usurping your time, then you should tell him, "If I take the time right now - as much as I would love to chat - it's going to make me late for my next appointment, and you know how I hate to be late." Those types of things are really going to help you be able to manage when other people waste your time.

Letting people overstep our boundaries often has to do with our inability to be comfortable with confronting people. It's hard, especially when it's someone that you like. And a lot of times those people who are chatty will have more of a tendency to waste your time and are going to be people who are pretty well-liked in the office. They're great people to be around, fun to be at a party with. But you know what? Work isn't a party, and time is a commodity so you need to keep them in check. Now, it doesn't mean that you completely ignore them. Give them a little bit of time. Five minutes here and there, and then make sure that you then go and initiate some time with them at lunch. They won't feel so offended when you shut them down in your office.

Finally, you also can put a sign out if you're right in the middle of something and you really can't be interrupted.

I hope these suggestions help. Good luck, Chris!


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I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestioned ability of a man to elevate his life by conscious endeavor. Henry David Thoreau