If you work in a traditional office, it is likely that you deal with a lot of traffic in and out your door that is little more than distractions. Here are a few tips for keeping distracting people out of your office.
- Don’t have a place for them to sit — If you have a chair, put a stack of books or papers on it. You can also keep a folding chair behind some furniture for the times you need it. It is much more difficult to get someone to leave once they have found a seat.
- Stand and come out from behind your desk — If you conduct your conversation standing, it will likely be much shorter. This is a good thing to do before you know if they have something valuable or if they are just coming in to shoot the breeze. If you want them to stay, pull out a chair and return to your seat.
- Meet them at the door — If you know someone is coming in to distract you, meet them at the door and suggest that they “walk with you” while you talk. You can head on an errand or to the restroom. If you are subtle, you might even be able to walk them back to their desk and then head back to your own office.
- Uncomfortable chair — I have heard of people who cut the front legs of their guest chair off by a few inches so it leaned forward. They didn’t know why they were uncomfortable, but people stopped staying in his office for more than a few minutes and conversations were quick and to the point.
- Take notes — When someone comes in, you will likely keep them much more focused if you pull out a pen and paper and take notes on what they are saying. They are unlikely to gossip or chit chat, if they see you are writing everything down.
Do you have any suggestions to add to this list. What other techniques have worked well for you?
Originally published July 19, 2007.
Neil Kelty says
Close your door. :)
Great suggestions though, although for many people I think the “chair” suggestion would be the hardest to implement.
Monica Ricci says
Great post today and one that doesn’t relate to me personally because my office is in my home, but in the corporate world I know it can be a problem. One thing you can do (although it takes some stones to do this) is to actually NOT look up right away when someone comes in to your space. Oooh it’s tough at first, but just don’t look up from what you’re doing for five to ten seconds. This sends a very clear message that says, “I’m focused on what I’m doing”.
Then, once you DO look up to acknowledge them, you’ve already set the tone and they know you’re in the middle of something important, so people are likely to be more cognizant of that. If they seem clueless, you can also simple communicate it to them, by saying, “I’m right in the middle of some stuff, but I can give you 30 seconds, what’s up?”
Mark Shead says
@Neil – Trying to cut the legs off your side chair could violate some type of corporate policy. :) Closing the door can be a good strategy when used sparingly. For example, I would usually leave my door open and just close it when I need intense concentration. That way the closed door meant something because people knew it wasn’t usually closed.
@Monica – Good suggestion about not looking up right away. Sometimes it is even more difficult to deal with people distracting you at home because they are most likely family. :)
When I’m truly not in the mood to be disturbed, I’ll put on my headphones (I have no door on my cube). That’s a signal that somebody has to come right over and tap me on the shoulder. If I want them to make it quick, I’ll hold the headphones off my ears but still near to my head, as if to say “Make it quick.”
To really drive the message home, answer their question and then motion like you’re going to put your headphones back on, before they have a chance to respond. It starts to border on rude, so careful with it. but it does prevent people from saying “Oh, ok.” “And now here’s a completely different sentence because I like to hear myself talk.”
This only works if their phone is within earshot, but sometimes I can just look down for a minute and dial their phone number. After two rings I’ll make a comment like “Who’s phone is that ringing?” Once they leave, I simply hang up. This seems to get them sidetracked enough where they usually don’t come immediately back. Again, this only works in very select circumstances, but its great when it does.
Mark Shead says
@Dennis – That’s great! I hadn’t thought of that. Just make sure that your corporate phone system doesn’t keep track of the last caller.
@Duane – I had a friend in college who wasn’t particularly social his first year. He would walk around listening to his walkman everywhere. At lunch he would sit by himself with his earphones on. When his batteries ran out, he was still uncomfortable talking to other people, so he just left them on. Then he realized that everyone was talking about him. “Does he have any friends?” “Has anyone every talked to him” etc.
By the time I got to college he was very well adjusted, had plenty of friends and didn’t wear his headphones around any more.
I wait until I’m done with the conversation, then start doing something with my hands… there’s always SOME piece of paper that needs filing, or a pen that could be put away.
I’m an engineer, so I usually have some prototype or other half-built on my desk: I just start fiddling with that.
If it isn’t possible to lower the legs, either due to policy or the legs being metal, you could raise them from the back instead.
Martin S. says
Excellent stuff, this blog post is worth so much if you’re busy at work.
One thing you can do to avoid plain chit-chatting is to look busy too – wear earphones and you won’t be bothered as much.
These are such great ideas, thanks everyone for posting them. I just got moved to a cubicle at the corner of the row and I’m facing the entry to the cube, so EVERY SINGLE PERSON that walks by stops and says something. It’s getting incredibly distracting but I’m not able to move my seat or face a different way, so I’m going to try some of these. Especially the headphones and not looking up right away.
One that I’m experimenting with is looking at the screen very distractedly as they are talking and then looking back and forth a couple times as though an important message has arrived. I would never ignore somebody for a message in real life, but when I’m trying to work, it seems to help move along the invaders.
I have a colleague who is utterly oblivious to any and all verbal and body-language cues. He comes to visit for an hour at a time…regularly. I can literally sit, typing at the computer and grunt, “mm hmm, uh huh” and he keeps talking regardless. My favorite secret weapon? http://www.wheresmycellphone.com I dial it, and carry on a work conversation with the recording until he leaves.
I’d be more honest. Take control of the situation, ascertain if it is urgent or can wait. If it can wait, ask them to come back in [insert a time that suits you] when you’ll be happy to help.
A few times round that conversation and you’ll probably find that most ‘urgent’ conversations weren’t (something you should point out when it happens. “Ok, so it’s not urgent, do you mind if we come back to this tomorrow?”) and sometimes things have a habit of clearing themselves up without your intervention anyway.
All this, done with a smile, takes seconds and makes sure the you are setting a consistent expectation with the people you work with.
Ohh and if it’s the CEO, the answer is “yes of course, right away!” :)
quiet please says
I work in a small office and am often interrupted by clients or individuals who don’t plan to become clients but just want to have someone listen to them. I have to be polite and helpful but I am also not supposed to waste time when my boss is waiting for me to finish projects.
I have been known to keep my cell phone in my pocket and use it to dial my phone line. This way I receive an “emergency” call or several calls placed on hold while I am talking to the client. After the phone rings two or three times, they remember that I might need to help someone besides them. I have even used this technique to help co-workers get out of unproductive conversations.
I implement “Debbie time.” I have a small flag that stands on a file cabinet. When it is up, people in my office know to come back after lunch. There are a few who think that doesn’t apply to them & when they walk in to my cube, I just keep working & respond in short answers without looking at them.
B. Middlebrooks says
Common responses that I use with people who tend to misappropriate my time:
“Thanks for stopping by…I have about 5 minutes!”
“I’m sorry…is it okay if we reschedule this at a time that works for BOTH of us?”
“I have a webinar that’s about to begin in two minutes!”
Thank you very much…I will pass these on!
Regarding the #4 “chair” idea – you don’t have to cut the front legs – just raise the back ones somehow (thumbtacks, floor guards, etc).
Denise Craig says
I share an office with two others, who both love to chit chat, so I started trying to work at home and found I wasn’t diciplined enough for that. Recently I tried the ear phones and that seemed to work really well. Also, I sit with my back to them, so not turning round to talk seems to help too, kind of the same as not looking up.
Or, you could just be honest and say, I have some work to do, can we continue this conversation later. That will not only get them out, but will set the tone for your relationship, and will present you as a straight shooter and a no BS employee. Then your opinions will be more valuable as honest reactions rather than butt tickling patronization or redirection. Of course, that’s just my opinion. Honestly works for you in the long run far better.
One thing is clear: noise is a >a href=”http://blog.cyclope-series.com/2009/04/noise-a-productivity-killer/”>productivity killer. Including the noise your colleagues make while gossiping.
Furthermore, socializing with co-workers is the second reason employees waste time at work. Here is a study that reveals what are the reasons employees waste time at work and how can managers stop them.
The first thing you must be sure of is that you are not doing the same to others. I was never a chit-chatter or gossiper when I was in an office environment. Most people will figure out that if you are a strictly business type while at work, they will choose another target.
However, there are many who never take a hint, and when that is the case I have found #3 from your list to be the most effective. Just get up and start walking, and walk fast. Invite them to join you, but most won’t bother.
I have done all the tricks above and then some and this one co-worker DOES NOT GET THE HINT TO LEAVE ME ALONE. I’m now having to be rude which I do not like at all. My office is a literal office with a window for people to come up to. The door is locked with a code. He has the code as he is security. The rules are..and I have told him this plenty of times, no one in the office but the office person. And the next day here he comes strollin in to talk. And he just doesnt talk, he talks a million miles a second without breathing..none stop. I have looked away, been on my computer, walked to the file cabinet and nothing deters him. I now have my friends calling on the phone pretending to be a client, so I can use that as a excuse for him to go away. He at times sits down and pulls out his phone and watches tv, or spreads his work at my desk. Keep in mind he has his own office. Now that it finally sunk in that he is not to HANG in here, he will make excuses to come in for short and multiple periods. One was for hand sanitzer, which he could of came to the window for, or paper clips or to tell me what he did (like if i asked him to lock a room, he will then come down and give me a over the top detailed report of what he did, which is not needed). So today, after multiple times of him coming in, and me having to have my mom call to pretend she was a client, he finally FINALLY gets the hint. So I turn on my computer to do my work and BAM i hear my office door come flying open. I spin around in my hair and was like ahhhhh now what! (which was super mean but I had enough) and he is like oh I just wanted to see what maintence said. I said he will be here in a moment you can ask him then. Then he is like..oh Im just getting my lunch bag. (which he puts in our small small fridge…for some reason…OUR OFFICE FRIDGE FOR OUR OFFICE…even though he has his own in his office AND there is a huge one in the break room.) And he storms off, obv making it clear I made him mad. . But its like I duno what else to do, short of asking my boss to change the door code forcing this crap to stop. I cant have a moment to myself, even on down time, if im reading a book, he will come up and what are you reading, and I wont take my eyes off the book, Ill say the title and nothing more, and then he will go off on some rant about something…and it isnt fair. He has a office he can go to where no one can bother him at all, but I dont deserve the same respect. AND he asks me how to do his job, which is getting very annoying, he doesnt listen, doesnt think for himself and argues when you make a point. Its like your security, do your job or ask YOUR boss….Im not security I dont know, and if you dont know where things are by now, thats a issue. ( all the other gaurds are great and none of them come in the office, just him,) HELP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! *annoyed introvert meets hyper OCD extrovert****
Mark Shead says
That does sound awful. Is it just you, or does he do that to everyone?