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I regularly block off 1-3 hours of empty space in my work calendar to work undisturbed. Very few other people I work with do this. Anyone can see anyone else's calendar, so my coworkers often add me to meetings during this blocked-off time. Usually these meetings are scheduled 15 minutes before they begin so I only get notified while I'm in the middle of something.

If I tell them I'm busy then they get argumentative that I'm not actually in a meeting and that theirs is far more important. If I insist on not going they get really annoyed and complain to everyone else on the project that I'm not being a team player.

My manager is good at multitasking while I'm not, and he says I should try to work on my stuff while being in these meetings. I don't think this will work for me. I should note that this also happened at my last job, so moving jobs isn't a great solution. What could I try to resolve this?

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – motosubatsu
    Jul 21 at 14:46
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    It's usually possible to change the privacy settings of calendar apps so that others can only see if you're available or not, but can't see what's really on your calendar. This should be the default in my opinion since it could avoid leaking sensitive info to the whole office (e.g. "Discuss complaint from colleague Xyz"). Jul 21 at 17:15
  • If you are disturbed, and there is a delay to project timescales then make sure that you immediately report that delay and additional project hours as a consequence of (a) the act of disturbance, and (b) the consequence of delays. Let them decide how they want to proceed. And look for alternate work environments.. Jul 21 at 17:38
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    "and he says I should try to work on my stuff while being in these meetings. " That is a pointy-hair boss answer. Either you should be participating in the meeting, or you should be at your desk working. Doing both, poorly, is inefficient.
    – Tony Ennis
    Jul 21 at 19:13
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    If a meeting's scheduled 15 minutes before the start time and I'm focused on a task (or even if I'm not), can I be expected to notice the new meeting? I've had people try this on me and I tend to say "I didn't see the meeting, I was focused on something." Do that enough and they should start to take the hint.
    – Karl Brown
    Jul 22 at 8:18

10 Answers 10

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"....he says I should try to work on my stuff while being in these meetings."

Find a new manager. Now.

To elaborate, "multitasking" is a myth, and you'll end up doing injustice to both or all the things you are trying to do at once. If your manager is encouraging this - they are setting you up to fail. Don't fall for this trap. You'll definitely find some manager who knows how to prioritise things. Search, and you'll find. All the best.


Now that said, in a more general approach, can you retrospect about the way you reserve the heads-down work time? Are you blocking the time when the collaborative work is encouraged? Can you move the focus time blocking to a slightly different timeslot, to accomodate the meetings, as well as keeping the window span intact?

I'll give you my example: In my team, I have kept two time blocks, morning 10:00-12:00 and afternoon 15:00-17:00. Anyone interested in having a meeting / discussion is welcome to setup a meeting in these slots, and it's mutually agreed that most (if not all) people will try to join the call as needed. It's not like outside this hours people will not join the call, however they cannot expect that others will be available, in general. It's not a rule, but a mutually agreed upon solution that works well for all of us. Based on your situation, you can try something similar.

However, none of the approach negate the fact you have an incompetent manager who does not know how to get things prioritised.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – motosubatsu
    Jul 28 at 21:03
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How should I deal with coworkers not respecting my blocking off time in my calendar for work?

First, you speak to your manager and clear up what types of meetings he wants you to attend and what types of meetings he is OK with you not attending.

After that, you accept or decline your coworkers meeting requests per your manager's instructions.

If they attempt any argument after you decline a meeting, you ask them to take up the issue with your manager.

If your manager wants you to attend any and every meeting and also wants you to multitask during these meetings, then it is probably time to look for a new company to work for if this is something that you cannot reasonably manage.

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    Since the OP mentioned that the manager says "go to the meeting and multitask", it seems the OP has already tried this approach and it's not working.
    – FreeMan
    Jul 20 at 14:52
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Talk to your co-workers AND your manager.

Explain to your co-workers that you work best when you can get in the zone, without being disturbed, and that's why you block off the time. Ask if there is a better time to set that block of time, so they can have the meetings and you can also work efficiently. Also ask if they can give more warnings about meetings, so you can plan your work day efficiently. Be willing to compromise, but let them know your needs. Tell them that if you know there's going to be a meeting tomorrow afternoon, you can adjust your block of time in the morning, and still be efficient, but when they drop it on you at the last minute, it is really slowing down your work. Treat them like professionals who want the whole team to do good work, so listen to what they need to get their work done too.

Talk to your manager and explain some of the above as well. Ask what meetings you should attend, and what ones you can skip. Explain that multi-tasking for most* people results in a loss in quality for both tasks, so trying to multi-task will not work for you. You need full concentration for your best work.

*All people, actually, but your manager doesn't recognize that, so let him believe what he wants to believe. Don't add that fight to this one.

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TL;DR

Unless you are unquestionably important then harshly going against the grain as you wish to do is usually career suicide.


How should I deal with coworkers not respecting my blocking off time in my calendar for work?

Firstly, I work in an office and the only way to approach me is from the side of my cubicle and my screen is in view as you approach me.

Now I regularly have virtual meetings with people so I put on my headphones and talk.

It never ceases to amaze me the number of times I get approached, interrupted, and asked if I am busy. People will never pass up a chance to maintain tunnel vision and think that their need is important enough that they can turn off their situational awareness.

I regularly block off 1-3 hours of empty space in my work calendar to work undisturbed.

I hope you're away from your desk when you do this and don't answer emails and chats as if you were in a meeting yourself.

Very few other people I work with do this.

Right, because if everyone did this then it would be impossible to schedule around every person's "undisturbed" time.

Anyone can see anyone else's calendar, so my coworkers often add me to meetings during this blocked-off time.

They know you're available, so yeah.

Usually these meetings are scheduled 15 minutes before they begin so I only get notified while I'm in the middle of something.

This sounds cultural. Very rarely do I get invited to a meeting 15 minutes before start.

What's your industry/role? I'm a web developer.

If I tell them I'm busy then they get argumentative that I'm not actually in a meeting and that theirs is far more important.

Ask them to explain this urgent meeting to you: what's it about? who is going? what knowledge of yours do they need specifically?

You should aim to diffuse their urgency much like an off-color joke. If someone says something offensive and you say "I don't get it" then it typically quells the offender.

If I insist on not going they get really annoyed and complain to everyone else on the project that I'm not being a team player.

See above. Diffuse the urgency; make them explain it to you like you're 5.

My manager is good at multitasking while I'm not, and he says I should try to work on my stuff while being in these meetings. I don't think this will work for me. I should note that this also happened at my last job, so moving jobs isn't a great solution.

Oof, multitasking is dumb; this manager is wearing some seriously rose-colored glasses. They probably think delegating work to others and taking credit means they are multitasking; or they're simply never doing anything too intense.

Quite frankly, it sounds like they don't care about your problem because at the end of the day it is in fact, your problem. Worse yet, you are trying to make your problem into their problem; nobody appreciates that.

You have to learn how to do your work, attend an unexpected meeting, and continue your work once you're back at your desk. That's just how the majority of businesses run.

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    This is wrong. It's perfectly possible and really desireable that senior managers recognize the need for undisturbed work time. A work culture that promotes the idea that every meeting is vital simply never gets anything done. I'm from the "keep meetings to a minimum necessity" school of common sense. I want people doing work, not having meetings for the sake of the ego of the people calling them, which seems to be the OP's toxic company environment. It doesn't even sound like anyone in charge decides what meetings are vital and what are not and who is not needed at them. Jul 21 at 17:12
  • @StephenG-HelpUkraine Which part of my answer doesn't agree with with your statement?
    – MonkeyZeus
    Jul 21 at 17:51
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    This is all over the place. It's a grab bag of attempts at answers, and various points on which you agree or disagree with the OP, along with extraneous commentary. Why does the OP care if you are a web developer and don't happen to work somewhere where meetings are scheduled at the last minute? Why do you hope he/she is away from his/her desk during her work time?
    – bubbleking
    Jul 22 at 14:19
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Find someone else in the group who shares the same philosophy as you. Let's call him Josh. Instead of blocking off time by yourself, schedule a recurring "meeting" with Josh, reserve a conference room for it. Put it on your calendar as "working meeting for project x". During the meeting time you and Josh go to conference room, ignore each other and get some work done. If anyone else schedules a meeting during that time, just say you already have another meeting with Josh about project x. Of course this only works if you and Josh could plausibly have something to talk about for project x

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    ... at least until your manager starts asking why you're spending so much time meeting with Josh, at which point you either dig yourself into a deeper hole with more lies, or you confess that you've been lying about that, and potentially erode a significant amount of the trust your manager has in you. Lying is rarely a good idea.
    – NotThatGuy
    Jul 21 at 1:34
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    No need to lie to your manager about it, explain it's how you got x,y,z done in the last 3 weeks if he asks.
    – Adam Burke
    Jul 21 at 5:50
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    If you have to lie, you're messing up.
    – Tony Ennis
    Jul 21 at 19:14
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This is an established company culture thing; your company does not support the thing you want to do, so you can't do it at this company. The thing being to block off time for contiguous work and have it respected. Don't try to change everyone else, try to change yourself. Here are a few ways you can change yourself while also perhaps making it known that this approach is dumb:

  1. Important meetings tend to be booked in advance and have a schedule, e.g. sprint planning, project kickoffs, etc. Meetings scheduled 15 minutes before tend to be "meetings which should have been a Slack message". If you go to one of these meetings and think it could have been a Slack message, state as such to your manager. It's his job to make sure that the work gets done efficiently, and if the meeting could have been a Slack message, then it should have been a Slack message and he should enforce that. If your sprint planning meeting is only scheduled 15 minutes before, then you have a larger problem. That said, if the meeting was supposed to be a Slack message, you need to be available on Slack; don't block your coworkers' work for 3 hours at a time because you're too heads-down.

  2. Malicious compliance might be a good idea here. Your boss says you should do your work in the meeting? So do your work in the meeting. When the meeting is called, bring your laptop or whatever, and continue working throughout the meeting. Don't participate in the meeting, just treat the ongoing discussion as white noise. One of two things will happen: Either you are called on during the meeting, or you're not. If you are, then you straighten up in your chair, having missed the last 10 minutes of discussion due to tuning it out, and ask to be filled in on what's going on, as you were working in the meeting as per your manager's instruction, then they have to waste time filling you in. Answer their question as quickly as possible, and get back to work. Otherwise, if you're not called on in the meeting, then after the meeting, ask your manager why your presence was required if you didn't say anything during the meeting; your time would have been better spent continuing to work at your desk. If you do this enough times, they'll get the hint.

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    Point #1 seems like a good idea, +1. Point #2 though I don't advocate, -1. That sort of behaviour tends to come across as highly unprofessional and grounds for complaints and possible disciplinary action. Saying "my manager told me to" doesn't seem like a good reason to behave that way when you know it's unhelpful.
    – Touchdown
    Jul 19 at 15:16
  • It is, however @JoeStrazzere, exactly what the OP claims his boss told him to do, "Attend the meeting and multitask".
    – FreeMan
    Jul 20 at 14:54
  • Physically being present in a meeting while completely ignoring it and working on your laptop is not multitasking @FreeMan It is doing a single task, the one on his laptop, while being surrounded by others who do something else.
    – Gantendo
    Jul 20 at 15:35
  • OP could look up every now and then when he pauses to think. Makes him appear engaged. I agree, it's very passive-agressive and isn't a good idea, but it's following the boss' orders.
    – FreeMan
    Jul 20 at 15:38
  • Item #2 is a bad idea. Makes you out to be an inattentive dolt.
    – Tony Ennis
    Jul 21 at 19:16
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Something that will only do a little bit of good but that you can unilaterally do now is to change your calendar on-the-fly (or timesheet, depending). On top of the meetings you say you're often surprised by them 15 minutes in advance, which means you stop working to prepare, so include that too. Change "1pm-4pm work" into "1-1:45pm work, 1:45-2pm plan for meeting, 2-3pm meeting, 3-4pm: work".

That might feel like a petty passive-aggressive thing to do, but it's the second part of how calendars (again, or timesheets) are supposed to be used -- as records after-the-fact. Your vague complaint that meetings chop into your work time too much has a visual aide. Or maybe looking back over the month you realize it's not really that many meetings and you can live with it after all.

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  • Calendars are rarely, if ever, used for records (by your employer) after-the-fact. That's what timesheets are for, and this may apply there. Calendars are more designed for organising your time, and aligning with others, rather than keeping a record of your time: typically anyone can add something to your calendar and many people have meetings in their calendar that they don't attend, and meetings they do attend that aren't in their calendar.
    – NotThatGuy
    Jul 21 at 1:00
  • @NotThatGuy I can't tell if these are being added to OP's calendar -- I got the impression "added to the meeting" meant something else, like an email. And some calendars are records, even used as timesheets for billing client hours. But maybe OP's are deleted each week. And sure, I first saw this done with timesheets, but that was before electronic calendars existed. Jul 21 at 3:18
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This is partly a you issue, and partly cultural. The mixed up idea of time being available and free are two distinct things. Just because you're not in a meeting or not blocked off does not mean that you're available for other meetings/chats etc. There are a few things you can do without saying words like rule/policy etc as that just tends to get peoples backs up.

Firstly, you need to start enforcing your own time. You blocked it off, you can decide whether to engage or not with the request, regardless of the notice. IMO, 15 mins is rarely acceptable whether or not you have time blocked or not.

Secondly, look at alternatives and offer these as times when you can commit to a discussion. "I am working on X as detailed in this mornings stand up. I can discuss at 2pm or 10am tomorrow". Try and keep consistent times of the day free for meetings so they become the default. I do this myself for mornings, so 10-12 is time for calls and after lunch (1-5) is my 'doing time'.

Thirdly, ask for a summary of the issue, and reasoning as to why you are needed to join, and are not able to get a written summary afterwards. This might be seen as obtuse but it clarifies why your input is indeed needed. It might not work all the time, but allows you to prioritise and understand why your input is needed or not and whether you should give up your protected time.

Lastly, call the issue out. Declare it at the stand up. "I couldn't achieve feature X as I was asked to join a last minute meeting which delayed me by Y". Again this might not get you out of meetings, but highlights the issue to the team why you're not delivering.

Never assume you can work/multitask in a meeting. You should either be present or decline.

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    It sounds like the manager's instructions to do other work in the meeting are an implicit acknowledgement that the meetings aren't important enough for OP's full attention. Asking for an agenda when the invite is received may well clarify which ones the OP's presence will actually be helpful at, and which ones are just busywork. Jul 22 at 12:12
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Expecting everyone to work around your schedule won't work, so I suggest you think about what's your main problem with the meetings and talk with your manager about that.

Is it the amount of meetings? Instead of saying "I have to many meetings" say "I don't have enough time to work on the project" and see what he suggests. Working during the meeting is not a solution because you need to focus and the meeting interrupts that. You can suggest to reduce the number of meetings you attend but you have to accept that your manager may disagree. Your manager has to accept that you provide less quality work if you don't have time to work.

Is it the pointlessness of the meetings? Talk to your manager and carefully suggest that working on the project might be a better use of your time than attending meetings. Your manager may disagree. Get a cup of coffee, sit in the meeting, smile, and enjoy being paid for pointless stuff.

Is it the short notice? Find out why the meetings are scheduled on such a short notice and try to find a solution so that you can be informed earlier. If it is always the same group of people you can suggest a fixed time and keep that free for the meeting. If you know earlier about the meetings, you can plan your undisturbed working times around the meetings. When talking to your coworkers, emphasize that you are willing to work together and that you agree to participate in (some) meetings. Explain that you also need time to focus on your work.

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    "Enjoy being paid for pointless stuff" but then the deadline for your project approaches, and the manager suddenly cares about the project and tells you to rush.. Jul 22 at 15:19
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You can't make up your own rules in the workspace

So unless your 'undisturbed work' calendar entries policy were accepted by your manager, don't expect people to respect them. Trying to enforce them can lead to conflicts, that will most likely end up bad for you.

The idea of your manager to attempt meetings only physically, but not mentally is insane. It's passive-aggressive which is rarely a good idea and much more unprofessional than skipping the meeting or being late. Maybe he came up with that idea only because he was annoyed with the whole situation?

The best way you can deal with the situation is to accept the situation and inform your manager you're less productive because of too many meetings. But keep your complains in limit and don't try to make your own rules because it's "not your circus and not your monkeys".

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