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Fending Off a Colleague Who Keeps Wasting Your Time


Here is an excerpt from an article written by Dorie Clark for Harvard Business Review and the HBR Blog Network. To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, obtain subscription information, and receive HBR email alerts, please click here.

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No one intends for their communication to be a burden; it’s not like people leave voicemails with the express purpose of distracting you from your most important work. And yet far too often that’s the result. You receive their missives with dread because each one entails more time expended and new obligations that you’ve been dragooned into.

It’s not malice that leads some people to overtax your inbox or waste your time. Certainly, corporations vary when it comes to assumptions about when and how often colleagues should be CC’d on emails or invited to meetings, for instance. But some of your colleagues may simply be less busy — or less efficient — than you are, and their insistence on stopping by your desk to chat or bombarding you with needless information about projects you’re working on together can quickly deaden your productivity.

If you have colleagues that are needlessly demanding too much of your time, here are four strategies you can use to deflect — politely — the entreaties of the less productive.

Clarify the premise of the request. A colleague sends you a note: Let’s have lunch on Thursday; there’s a lot to catch up on. How do you respond? If they’re a friend and you’d like to see them, fantastic. But before saying yes, especially if you suspect that they have a tendency to treat your time as an infinite resource, it pays to understand what they’re really asking. You might assume they want to discuss the status of a project you’re collaborating on. But they may have purely social intentions, or want to ask your advice about an unrelated matter. You could write back, “I need to confirm some plans on Thursday, so I’ll get back to you ASAP. Just so I’m clear, what would you like to talk about?” Their answer will help you make a good decision about whether you’d really like to allocate your time to them, rather than feeling misled afterward if you misread their intentions.

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Here is a direct link to the complete article.

Dorie Clark is the author of Reinventing You (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013) and Stand Out, which was named the #1 Leadership Book of 2015 by Inc. magazine. A former presidential campaign spokeswoman, she is a frequent contributor to the Harvard Business Review, Forbes, and Entrepreneur, and the World Economic Forum blog. Recognized as a “branding expert” by the Associated Press, Fortune, and Inc. magazine, Clark is a marketing strategy consultant and speaker for clients including Google, Microsoft, Yale University, Fidelity, and the World Bank.

To learn more about her and her work, please click here.


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