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Co-workers ask an absurd amount of questions

It's flattering, but distracting....


Jackson Hole

4:08 pm on Mar 2, 2007 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I work for a small/medium (~150 employees) internet marketing company as a web developer/jack of all trades, and lately I've been having an increasingly difficult time getting my work done because I am constantly bombarded with technical questions all day long. One week I kept track, and I was asked fifty questions during the week. When you subtract 15 or so hours I'm in meetings each week, it comes out to about one question every 30 minutes I'm at my desk.

Almost all of our tools are custom (read: quirky), and about 60-70% of our staff is non-technical, so they *always* have questions.

What I'm wondering is do other people have this issue? Any solutions or ideas? I've tried talking to my boss about it, but she's non-technical so I don't think she understands. I think the root of the problem is that we don't train well enough or we don't hire the right ratio of marketing::technical people. But I don't have control over that so I need some ideas I can execute on my own...

Thanks in advance for any ideas!



8:38 pm on Mar 18, 2007 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Ask them to send emails instead. This way you can answer emails in batch mode and they won't ruin your concentration. Compile your responses into a FAQ and put it on the intranet... start just pointing people to the FAQ.
I like the "office hours" suggestion someone had earlier.
Ask for an office with a door ;)
Ask if you can work from home or a coffee shop one or two days a week so you can actually get something done those days (assuming you will be distracted less at home or a coffee shop).


11:38 pm on Mar 18, 2007 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

get a voice activated tape recorder and record all questions and answers.

If you find you’re answering the “same” questions over and over again, have them transcribed onto paper (FAQ)

or get a row tape recorders with a row of push buttons for all the questions, then press the correct button for each answer :)


11:01 am on Mar 19, 2007 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

"I am constantly bombarded with technical questions all day long"

I am kind of on the oppisite side. I work for a technical company and I have to attend weekly Marketing meetings. When we have the meetings, there is a roundtable of discussion. Basically eveyone in the Marketing and sales department updates everyone with the lastest things they are doing. Everyone asks questions about these things we all do. Except for 2 people.

1) The PPC guy will tell people what he is doing and nobody ever responds.

2) I will explain what I have been doing and nobody ever responds.

This is a technical company. It is a shame that they do not share any intrest in PPC or SEO efforts because I personalyy feel they would have a better understanding of how it has,is and will impact business.

I always hear how the phones have been ringing off the hook for the past couple of years and if they would have asked why the phones are ringing I could have told them. because i added our phone number to the better part of 2 thousand pages. Yet alas, I will alwyas get the blank stares because because nobody really has any questions about what i am doing and thats a shame. End mini rant :)


12:12 pm on Mar 19, 2007 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Bill hit the nail on the head... Headphones work wonders. Many times I find myself wearing headphones, listening to nothing at all -- and getting lots accomplished.

Your situation seems two-fold. Number one, it prevents you from getting your job done. Because of that, you could end up in hot water for not completing your tasks, responsibilities, etc. because you're always helping someone else out.

The other issue is that people already seem dependent on coming to you for things. While that's a great show of respect, it's also a trend that will likely continue despite trying to cut things back.

My ultimate recommendation would be to ask them to email you and let them know that you will respond to them faster and more completely that way. It works well around here.


3:07 pm on Mar 19, 2007 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 5+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

I'm bad being short when explaining things. I have been there (in your situation). I have learned "DO NOT give too much explanations". Its bad as people will continue asking. If they are above (boss) then do not teach more than enough. They have their job and you have yours. Your job is to do what you know, not teaching them.

My two most valuable cents:

1. When the situation is too hard (explaining over and over) do something big so they will shut up. Or just share a personal project. This way they say "This guys really knows". Thats the importance of personal projects. ALSO, put up a small meeting to give a small conference. Like a crash course with their approval so you can share some of what you know.

This one is my favorite:
2. Try to answer kindly. As they do not understand try again (even if you look silly trying to find the words. They, when they attack "do you really know?" then answer straight like if you were talking with somebody from this forum (pure tech answer).

They will shut up as they don't understand and feel silly.

From all I have tried, this approaches have worked for me with my partners, coworkers and boss. Good luck. (I think you are too kind trying to share)


3:48 pm on Mar 19, 2007 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Ooohh... I wish TOS didn't prevent me from posting links.

Link 1: The infamous USB Missile Launcher (There are actually 2 of them)

Link 2: An article on how to make an automated gun turret like you see on Quake. Very technical. Involves all sorts of techniques for adjusting for ballistics and hitting center body. Video that shows it in action. It has actually been co-opted for military use, and may no longer be as available as it was.

If someone is standing at your desk, and a missile launcher keeps adjusting itself to follow their head, they may want to wrap up the conversation fairly quickly, especially if you look a little twitchy, and your finger keeps hovering near a big red button on your desk.


5:08 pm on Mar 19, 2007 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Sargent Schultz from Hogan's Heroes

"I know nothing...I see nothing...I hear nothing"


7:25 pm on Mar 19, 2007 (gmt 0)

You keep answering until enough people get dependent upon your advice. Then you ask for a promotion or raise (offer a training class?). Then, later when you are a bigwig in the corner office you shut the door and shun everybody.


12:36 am on Mar 20, 2007 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

I'm late to the party, howevever as I have been in that position before - be flattered. When you are regarded as knowledgable, everybody eventually knows it - including your boss. Those whom gaurd thier knowledge typically do not know much.

You might talk with the individual whom decides your raises (er. boss) and let them know your doing the best you can to help. Also let them know that you have limits and a job thats need to done as well. A responsible boss will either tag you with the resources (time) or formally give you the rsponsibility. If you are interested in opportunity and advancement helping others could open some doors.

Good luck!


3:11 am on Mar 20, 2007 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I agree with httpwebwitch. In fact as of January 1st, I suggested that all requests to me go through a ticketing process for the purposes of tracking my own work load.

It helped dramatically.


3:13 am on Mar 20, 2007 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

I'm an IT/Media teacher at a high school, so I get asked alot of tech-based questions. I don't mind helping, but yeah, it does get very frustrating if you're always having to help those around you.

You could take a page from the Art Of Demotivation...

Set up a process that involves co-workers to fill out a form that needs to be submitted both digitally AND in hardcopy. Make sure the form is needlessly, but not obviously, complicated. That is, ask for serial number of devices (even if you don't need them) and time of use, home page address (it COULD be important!) and so on.

Eventually, it'll just be easier for the person asking the question to just work it out themselves rather than ask you!


4:50 pm on Mar 20, 2007 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I'm all in favor of teaching people rather than just handing out answers. But what do you do with the people who just don't want to learn? I have one co-worker in particular who asks me the same questions over and over. She claims to write down the instructions, but often will say "it's easier if I just ask you." This isn't part of my job description, so do I just ignore her? She's not very web or computer savvy, so directing her to other resources means spending time helping her find the resources, and therefore doesn't save time. Any suggestions?


5:46 pm on Mar 20, 2007 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator lifeinasia is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 5+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

often will say "it's easier if I just ask you."

The obvious response would be: "It's easier for me to not tell you any more."


6:00 pm on Mar 20, 2007 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

What a long thread for such a basic issue. I can't believe that I keep getting notifications from this thread. It's not like we geeks have the corner on this market.

I've always been a fan of keeping "Soldier of Fortune" and "Guns and Ammo" magazines prominently spread about my office and developing a noticeable eye twitch when people start to ask questions.

In all seriousness, I think I've found the answer [wordnet.princeton.edu].


1:53 am on Mar 21, 2007 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

"no eggs left and no money to buy any"
THAT is the example they chose to use?

It kind of also depends on who is doing the asking. If you tell your boss to bugger off then it's going to have many more repercussions than if you tell somebody who's lower than you on the food chain. Not to mention, of course, the fact that if your boss sees you as a 'good' source of information then they will probably send anyone who asks THEM a question to YOU.

I have a favourite saying that I always tell my kids...
"IT people are the smartest people in the world; not because we know everything, but because we know to find ANYTHING."

Teacher your questioners how to use the internet effectively and that might decrease the number of questions thrown your way.


4:26 pm on Mar 24, 2007 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Wow, popular thread.

I started as a programmer/web developer and have been a manager for the past seven or so years.

Here are my thoughts:

- Since Jackson Hole described himself partly as a "jack of all trades", I think his boss expects that answering questions should be part of his job. He should make her aware of how much time that is taking away from the web development portion, and let her choose a way to prioritize his work. It sounds like he told her... so as long as the company has reasonable about the expectations of how much he can deliver with so many questions... and as long as he is okay with work where answering questions is part of the job... I think he should continue answering all the questions. Don't look at the questions as taking away from his real job, but rather part of his job. Sure, suggest efficiencies like a searchable database, an FAQ, etc. But be realistic that there will still some despite the implementation of these efficiencies.

- I respectfully disagree with many of the suggestions here in that they may solve one problem but create a bigger one. I see these things as problematic: becoming inaccessible with headphones, signs that say "Email Me!", giving partial answers, hoarding information, saying "I don't know" when you know. Those will in fact reduce questions, but remember the answers to these questions are necessary for the company to operate properly. Plus it will create animosity towards Jackson Hole. You can't expect people to have the thought process "Jackson Hole is just trying to do more web development, that's why he's inaccessible." They will instead think "This guy could help me for the benefit of the company and he doesn't because he's a jerk." That will stunt his growth within the company because he will be seen as uncooperative. The best way to affect people's behavior is to wait for a 1 on 1 situation and say something polite and direct like: "The answer to this questions is 123. Would it be possible for you to send questions like these in email in the future? I know it's important for me to be available to answer these, but it's hard to complete the web development part of my job with a lot of interruptions. With email I could just carve out a part of the day and keep my concentration on other parts." If someone still interrupts the second time, answer again and remind them that you prefer emails for these. If it happens a third time, then you are justified in telling them: "Sorry, I'm in the middle of something... can you email me?"


3:51 pm on Mar 26, 2007 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Sounds like those custom (quirky) tools need to be re-done to improve usability. Do you have any input in that? My work has an unusual situation where one system has good usabilty (custom PHP intranet/extranet), and the other has poor usability (ERP system-green screen). The guy who works with the ERP is constantly bombarded with technical questions like you are. The web portal guy gets almost no questions.


4:47 pm on Mar 26, 2007 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

The web portal guy gets almost no questions.

<sarcasm mode="irony">

Hey peeps!

Did you know that we have an Accessibility and Usability Forum [webmasterworld.com]?

Can you believe that? Our very own!

Except...it's covered in dust and cobwebs. Crickets chirp nightly. It's maybe the quietest forum on the site (with the possible exception of the XML Forum [webmasterworld.com]).

I think Web designers hate usability and accessibility because they equate it with dictatorial pundits like this guy [useit.com]. It just takes all the FUN out of things.

However, we just got a very clear message about exactly WHY it may be in our own interest to design usable and accessible sites.



4:10 am on Mar 28, 2007 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Post FAQs on the IntraNet, Camtasia Videos, etc., yeah, and get that raise too!

If those fail, you can always turn to Strong Bad. I know URLs are frowned upon, but mods, this one needs to stay, it is PERFECT for this thread!



This 49 message thread spans 2 pages: 49

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