19

There is an employee I work with who is effectively my customer, where the work I do is for the benefit of his department, and he represents his department when communicating to me.

He keeps checking in with me too frequently on tasks I am already doing or tasks that are on my list. I generally would not mind quick status checks, but these are very annoying, because he keeps repeating every single task that I am yet to complete, in detail, like a broken record, every time, as if he is telling me of them the first time.

I know I have these task, they are on my list, they do not bear repeating. So listening to him yet again taking up my time saying things I already know and working on or working towards on is annoying, feels wasteful, and lately I have been starting to feel trapped, which is triggering my anxiety in a fairly unpleasant way.

The things that come to mind to say to get myself out of this are usually not safe for work, so I don't say them, but I need to find a way to work on my things without the bothersome too frequent too bothersome status check where every single task I am to do keeps being repeated to me over and over again. In those moments I live in a Ground Hog Day environment.

The things that come to mind to say are: "Leave me (the hell) alone, I am aware of the things I need to do, you do not need to keep repeating them to me over and over. (For extra assurance), you will be the first to know when I complete something, just to get off my back, ghod".

Recently also there has been established a list of priorities that I am to work on, where the list has been created at a meeting with my bosses, the coworker and other employees. There was not always such a well defined list, but I have one now. I think I can use that list to my advantage.

Perhaps I can say "What is new that you want to put on my list? I do not want to hear about things that are already on my list. Nope, stop right now, what is new that you need me to do and where on the priority list do you want it? Nothing new? Then leave me alone. Go through my boss. I want no further interaction from you". Also not the smoothest way to handle this so I am struggling.

Alternatively I could request instead of his random daily checks to establish a weekly meeting, and if it doesn't help, then involve my boss.

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    If this person is making so many contacts to you during the day, what work do they have and are they being productive on their own work? Perhaps get your manager to talk directly to their manager to find out - they may suddenly be more focused on their own stuff, with less time to disturb you... – Solar Mike Feb 15 at 14:07
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    How frequently is he checking in with you? – cdkMoose Feb 15 at 14:14
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    how frequently: every day, while a typical task may take several days to complete. I have several such tasks/projects. priority list: Yes, it can be put into a planner software. – dennismv Feb 15 at 16:19
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    There are good answers here, I just want to point out: you said they are effectively your customer. It would benefit both of you to understand exactly why they ask for updates so often. It's unlikely that it's simply to bother you. I know it can be frustrating but, you're not going to help the situation by being adversarial. Instead, try to find out how you can help them with their why. – DrewJordan Feb 15 at 18:35
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    It sounds from your description that you don't have a formal project management process in place, or, if you do, it's not effective or not being followed. Even if you're not producing software, I'd suggest looking at the Agile Manifesto and see if that gives you some ideas to improve things. If you want something a little more concrete, adopting some parts of Scrum like a publicly visible status board, daily stand-up meetings (< 15 minutes) and a prioritized backlog of tasks would be my starting point. – Colin Young Feb 15 at 19:46
34

This is one reason why project management and collaboration tools exist. Try to make use of one, if not using already. This will have the status visibility, without the explicit need to face to face meeting or e-mailing. Also, this should contain the requirements and acceptance criterion in writing, so no need to repeat them over.

Obviously, this does not remove meetings, completely. Pre-schedule a meeting for a fixed time and once time is up, have a hard stop. Possibly adjacent to another meeting you'll have, so if asked for extension of the current meeting, you don't need to lie. Just mention any further details can be managed via the tool in use.

  • @Fattie OK sir, so my intent is to say "try fishing" (fixed time and hard stop) and "additional try duck hunting" (tools) as it is also a source of good food. :) – Sourav Ghosh Feb 15 at 14:37
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    Fair enough - but as we discuss below the fundamental problem seems to be this. Our OP has a great new idea to improve the company. ("Eliminate the time-wasting meetings in question.") The cosmic mystery here is, why not is OP simply directly alerting everyone to this idea, and - if everyone agrees (which they will) - implementing this idea? – Fattie Feb 15 at 14:41
  • @Fattie that is something OP can answer, but I believe one key aspect is like the producer consumer relationship, or the other person may be a control-freak - who knows? – Sourav Ghosh Feb 15 at 14:43
31

You answered your own question.

Set up a daily 15 or 30 minute call, include your boss, and provide the update at this time. This should save you the unplanned interruptions throughout your day.

If it doesn't, have your boss speak to him about the interruptions. These unplanned interruptions are expensive against your productivity.

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    This. And if he still calls you for a status check, just keep repeating "I'm not working on anything right now, because I'm answering your phone call" until he gets the message. – alephzero Feb 15 at 19:16
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    @Fattie Not true, The OP is communicating perfectly well, but the fool on the other end of the phone isn't listening. – alephzero Feb 15 at 19:17
  • @alephzero , hmm, no, the OP is literally saying "what should I say". – Fattie Feb 15 at 19:24
  • Better yet, precede any meetings with an email. Either including a link to the spreadsheet of your priorities with the %done updated every day (even if only by 1% :-)). Or a link to the software you should probably consider using. And the text of the email should be 'worked on priority no1 project yesterday, completed n%. [slower than planned because ---, now resolved] Will continue to work on it today'. And add 'if you have any questions, please answer this email. cc Your Boss, Their Boss. – George M Feb 15 at 19:34
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    Yup. Steal a concept from us software devs, give him a 2 minute standup meeting/phone call every day - what have you completed since yesterday, what you are working on today, and any issues that are impeding progress. In the group I work with we have 5 devs, and our daily standup is complete after 15 minutes OR LESS every day. We have a weekly equivalent with our entire dept (20 of us) and that meeting takes less than 30 minutes. – ivanivan Feb 16 at 14:22
8

There might be a reason for a stakeholder to constantly nag you.

There is a department depending on your work and your stakeholder assumes that it is worth his time to go and check up on you every day, just to make sure there is progress.

From the perspective of the stakeholder the ideal situation would be different: He would come to you and agree with you on a solution and a delivery date, then you would do your thing and get back to the stakeholder on time and deliver exactly what was agreed on. Maybe even before that.

For some reason this doesn't work for your stakeholder, and it wastes time for both of you.

I don't have a lot of information to guess, but I will do it anyways:

a.) You or someone in your department previously haven't delivered on time and that other department was surprised. Someone before has kept saying "it will be done tomorrow" and then three days have passed without any update.

The only way to make sure there is no surprises is to keep asking you for updates every day.

b.) Your task is very important, and your stakeholder believes you might have other priorities if he doesn't continuously remind you. You might have a lot of things on your plate and other departments that also add work to your backlog, and if another stakeholder is more annoying there is a chance that you will prioritize their task first.

What can you do?

In the short term it is hard to get the trust from that other department. But there is things you can do to keep your sanity while reestablishing it:

1.) Commit clearly and no vague terms when the task will be done. Don't say "it is done when it is done", but give a clear deadline and make sure it works for the other department.

When doing so, make sure to give a conservative estimate. If you think you can do it in a week, but there is a chance it takes you a month, then commit to do it in a month. If you think the website might go down and you spend half of the time troubleshooting, then only commit to do it in two months.

Give a deadline where there is at least a 90% chance that you will hit it.

2.) Communicate your priorities. Is that project the only project you are working on, or are there other things you need to finish first. Is there a chance you will have to help with another project when they reach the next stage in March? Make sure you set realistic expectations.

3.) Make your current progress visible. Instead of having your stakeholder going through the plan every day, you can just send out an email with what has been done, what still has to be done, any changes of plan and that you are still confident that you will hit the deadline.

You can also have a jira, trello or white-board that captures your current status, that is visible to your stakeholders.

4.) Whenever you are asked, politely refer to your email or board. "Can you check the email I sent yesterday, I have broken everything down. Let me know if there is anything else that is missing from my report."

Then make sure that you deliver:

5.) Follow the priorities you agreed on, if something else comes in between, make it clear that your priorities have changed and why.

6.) Finish on time! You already gave a very pessimistic estimate, so usually you should get more and more confident the closer the deadline approaches. If you are getting less confident that means there is a chance that you miss the deadline, communicate that to your stakeholder ASAP.

After you repeatedly committed to a deadline and finished in time (often even way before the deadline) your stakeholder will start trusting that they don't need to check on you every single day.

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    Upvoted. You need to figure out why they are engaging in this behavior, and then perhaps you can work out some statusing mechanism that works better for both of you. – T.E.D. Feb 15 at 19:44
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    Great answer. I think you are missing some text at the end of point 2, though. – Kat Feb 15 at 21:36
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It sounds like you already have a "to do" list, and probably a schedule to go with it.

You could pre-emptively email a copy of that to the co-worker every day, before they have a chance to contact you and waste your time. That way, it's more obviously pointless for them to ask you where you are on every task.

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    In particular, I'd make it my business to find out why they are asking when they are. Likely they're getting pinged by their bosses daily. If you can figure out what time that happens, and just send them a daily report an hour or two before then, likely you'll both be happier people. – T.E.D. Feb 15 at 19:42
  • Or make this To Do list available to them e.g. as a One Note sheet or file on a shared drive. – Michael Feb 16 at 10:31
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If you have a share drive that your coworker has access, create a file where all your current statuses are maintained.

When he interrupts you, instead of replying with "Get out of here", or trying to scare him off with a comment like "If I weren't insane: I couldn't be so brilliant!", just refer him to the your status sheet and say something like.

I'm sorry Bruce, I'm really busy, I've got all of my current status updates on the "J" drive.

0

You need to find a way to formalise communication between you and your colleague. The aim is to control communication in a way that makes you appear constructive rather than obstructive.

First, formulate a strategy. I would do the following: Create a shared "to do" list which enumerates your tasks in priority order and documents the key details for each task. Any new tasks should be discussed once and then added to the list. Any amendments to a task do not need to be discussed and instead should be clearly documented within the task list (i.e. Task - description - AMENDMENT 1: text). Once you complete a task move it to a separate list of completed tasks. Your colleague should be able to view this second list but it would be prudent to give them read only access. You should also contact your colleague (via email/phone) to say "I have finished task A, I will now do task C".

Second, involve your boss. Go to your boss, tell him/her about the problem, then present your solution. Ask for permission and advice on how to implement the new communication format in a way that will cause minimum political friction.

Keeping a written record comes with some nice side benefits so it shouldn't be too hard to convince management if you approach the situation tactfully.

Also: It is plausible that your colleague may have been asked to engage in this behaviour by their boss. If you are really unlucky then it may be something that your boss has already agreed to or dreamed up themselves. Sometimes bosses speak to other bosses and come up with awful solutions to non-problems.

0

The thing that jumps out at me is that you're somehow reporting directly to somebody in a different department, who it seems is not actually suited to this task. While stakeholder representation is important for a project, my opinion is that communication between those delivering it and stakeholders should focus on questions like "what does the stakeholder need and are we delivering it".

Keeping track of your progress is something a manager with experience in managing people in your role should be doing; if they're good at their job, they'd know how to gather the information in a way that's efficient for all involved to facilitate workers being able to deliver results.

Obviously this depends on the way your workplace is structures, but my opinion is that you're within your right to ask your immediate supervisor to help establish some sort of buffer, because you feel the other guy's reporting demands are overbearing. (Well, phrased more diplomatically, and ideally getting across that you understand why and respect that he needs this information. You want to get across that your interest isn't to "not be bothered" or to shirk duties, but that all parties involved can do what they do best and that conversely, that things are done by those best qualified to do them. And structuring and coordinating work across a company is what management is supposed to be good at.

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First of all, you mention that this employee is "effectively your customer", hence you should treat them as your customer. There's no need to be rude, "Leave me (the hell) alone" is not something you personally would want to hear from a service provider.

It sounds like that person lacks visibility of the work you're currently performing for them, hence they feel the need to constantly ask you for updates and repeat the tasks to you to make sure both of you are in sync. Imagine paying a company to build a house for you and getting no progress updates from them whatsoever - you'd probably wanna check in on them once in a while to make sure they follow the plan and are making progress. As a solution, you can set up a task tracking tool that would allow them to follow the progress without interrupting your work.

If it doesn't work and that person continues checking in on you regularly, ask them to book time on your calendar whenever they feel they need updates - whether those are recurring or one-off meetings. This will help you track your time, and if the project doesn't meet deadlines you'll be able to calculate precisely the number of hours these sync meetings stole from the time you could spend doing the actual work.

0

He keeps checking in with me too frequently on tasks I am already doing or tasks that are on my list. I generally would not mind quick status checks, but these are very annoying, because he keeps repeating every single task that I am yet to complete, in detail, like a broken record, every time, as if he is telling me of them the first time.

There is absolutely no problem with your co-worker. If he doesn't check your status everyday, how does he know if you are progressing well, or you are being blocked by something, or your work will be delayed and so on and so on.

This is completely normal, and encouraged in project management.

I know I have these task, they are on my list, they do not bear repeating

This is the problem: you and your co-worker do not have efficient tools to manage the tasks, and for communication. This leads to wasting time on repeating the tasks etc.

I don't have an answer for this problem, and it will depend on the budget of your company/project.

I work in a scrum team of 7 people, we also have a 15 minutes stand-up everyday so that everybody can update their status. The tasks are in Jira with full details: description, priority, days taken, days remaining, comments etc etc, so there is no need to repeat anything, each person only needs one or two minutes to say what they did the day before.

Most software companies adopt similar process, although they may use different software.

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