QUIT: Things I Have Absolutely No Need to Know

[Part of my mission to “live deliberately” involves ruthlessly cutting out anything that saps my time, energy or money to no good end.  I’m calling these things my “Quits,” and this is one of the many things that have found themselves on my Quits List.]

People at my office like to keep me informed of things I have absolutely no need to know.  It’s like a compulsion.  They absolutely cannot handle the pressure of having a bit of knowledge or a minor problem that they alone are guardian of, and so I’m constantly alerted to things I have no part in and can do nothing about.

I blame it on the fact that, over the course of the almost-decade I’ve been at my job, I’ve worked my way up through half a dozen positions, doing a little bit of everything for every department.  So at one point in time or another, almost everything has been under my jurisdiction.  But many things have not been for many years now, and although I try to point this out, the alerts still keep coming.  People just cannot control themselves.


A Couple Examples

Example #1:

If the person who orders office supply X doesn’t receive X right away, she will make sure to keep me from getting too worried about it, even though I had no idea she’d even ordered it and was perfectly happy living with that ignorance.  The conversation typically goes something like this:

  • ORDERER OF OFFICE SUPPLY X [out of the blue while Cordelia is very clearly in the middle of something]: … So, I called them and they said we should have it by tomorrow.
  • CORDELIA:  I’m sorry…what?
  • ORDERER:  Office supply X.
  • CORDELIA:  Um…O.k.…?
  • ORDERER:  I ordered it on Monday.
  • CORDELIA:  O.k.…?
  • ORDERER:  So I just called them and they said there’s a delay at the warehouse. But it will definitely be here by tomorrow!
  • CORDELIA:  O.k.
  • ORDERER:  I didn’t want you to be worried about it.
  • CORDELIA:  I wasn’t.  I had no idea you’d ordered anything, and my knowing that you ordered it, it was late, and you called about it does nothing to enhance my life or speed up the delivery of X.  I don’t even use X.  But thank you, though.**

**I did not actually say this last bit out loud, but in hindsight kind of wish I would have.


Example #2:

My personal favorite instance of pointless and extraneous knowledge comes courtesy of our receptionist, who is (bless her soul) incredibly sweet, but relatively new and still suffering from I’m-petrified-to-do-or-experience-anything-without-running-it-by-someone-first syndrome.  The exchange:

  • RECEPTIONIST [buzzing Cordelia in the middle of a dual-deadline frenzy]: Cordelia?
  • CORDELIA:  …Yes?
  • RECEPTIONIST:  The boss just got a call on his personal line.
  • CORDELIA:  Um…O.k.…?
  • RECEPTIONIST:  They didn’t call the main line so I could put them through.  They called his  personal line directly and it rang right at his desk.
  • CORDELIA:  O.k.…?
  • RECEPTIONIST:  His callers always call the main line.
  • CORDELIA:  O.k.…?
  • RECEPTIONIST:  He said the next time that happens, I should pick it up and see who it is.
  • CORDELIA:  O.k.
  • RECEPTIONIST: [blank pause]
  • CORDELIA [at length]: …Well, then I would do whatever he told you to do.
  • RECEPTIONIST: [another blank pause]
  • CORDELIA: [wondering what on earth is expected of her.]
  • RECEPTIONIST [at length]:  I just wanted to let you know.
  • CORDELIA:  Um, o.k…But hey, listen, I don’t really need know things like that.  There’s really nothing I can do about it.
  • RECEPTIONIST: Well, I just thought that you should know.
  • CORDELIA:  Le-sigh…**


Useless Information Overload

Modern corporate culture makes it way too easy for ten people to waste ten minutes each doing something that one person could check off in thirty seconds. We feel the need to “cc” everyone who might be vaguely associated with an issue, just so no one is “out of the loop.”  (Or so all the responsibility isn’t solely on our shoulders.)  We feel the need to run things by someone, anyone, rather than make a judgment call ourselves, because we’re so used to having a manual or a policy or a boss to tell us how things should be done that taking personal responsibility terrifies us. We have e-mail and intercoms and smart phones at our fingertips to pester anyone instantaneously with whatever concern pops into our head.

The result is that we can be bombarded by information that is essentially completely useless to us.  Data is coming at us all the time, and half of it we don’t even need to pay attention to.  But the sheer fact that it’s coming makes us feel overloaded.

I’ve watched whole e-mail exchanges between one person and himself, where I and several others were inundated with “cc’s” as this person alerted us to a problem, offered a million possible alternatives to handle this problem, asked us for our feedback, started working out the problem for himself before getting any responses, and then had the whole thing figured out and solved—before any of us even had time to finish reading the first e-mail.  It was comical, it was so ridiculous.

The fact that it’s happened several times, with several different people?  Not so comical.  Actually kind of sad.


Say “No!” to Need-to-Know

No one needs a thumb’s up from me because they’ve refilled the downstairs bathroom’s toilet paper.  No one needs me to hold their hand while they accept delivery of a package for Mr. Smith, deduce from the label that it’s probably for Mr. Smith, and then take the leap of actually deciding to give it to Mr. Smith.  They may think that they do, but they really don’t.  And I don’t need it, either.

So, rather than groaning and taking it when yet another piece of useless information assaults my attention and my brain, I’m putting my foot down.  Not just on principle, but because I’ve just got way too freakin’ much to do.  It would be a favor to the person informing me, really.  It might give them a nice sense of empowerment to know they can do things on their own.  Or it might totally freak them out.  Either way, they’ll be a stronger, more self-reliant little worker bee as a result of my cutting the codependency strings.  And I’ll finally be able to get back to work.

So, from this point forward, the overload stops here.  My new default responses will be as follows:

  • “I’m sorry, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
  • “I think you need to check with [name person actually in charge of whatever it is].”
  • “Is there something you need me to do about that?”
  • “There is nothing I can do about that.”
  • “I don’t know.”
  • “I don’t need to know.”
  • “I don’t care.”
  • “You have wasted both of our time by telling me this.”

Fellow office workers, please govern yourselves accordingly.

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  • Awesome!

    I’m lucky–I’m totally unimportant at work. I’m never consulted about anything. Yeehaw! 😉

    • Cordelia


  • Victoria

    Hi there! I came over from PDitF and have been loitering for a while now.

    Let us know how this goes – do people actually get the message, or do you need to keep telling them to go away?


    • Cordelia

      Hi Victoria! Thanks for reading! I heart PDitF infinitely, and guest posting there was the first major highlight of my bloggy life.

      I think after a while people will get the message. It’s just a question of how much hammering in it will take. 😛

  • Brilliant. At my job – there’s a constant amount of no need to know information swirling about (about students, other teachers, administrators, students’ crazy families, etc). I find I’m less stressed and happier when I just eat lunch in my room, but I don’t want to be the faculty betch, either.

    In any in event, excellent quit. Now, is there a way to do this with family information?

    Just a thought…


    • Cordelia

      If you figure one out, let me know!

  • Two thoughts…if you are in the U.S. Where unemployment is very high for the 2d or 3d year it may be likely that others lack your skills or self-confidence and are quite terrified to lose a (decent) job. So they gibberish out of fear…

    This also makes me damn glad I work alone at home!

    • Cordelia

      I can’t wait till I can say the same!

  • jj

    Just came across your blog. Love your advice. I used to feel the need to respond if I was cc:d on something but now I definitely do not respond unless I should be involved. I’ve also seen countless email strings where the person ends up answering his /her own question. Recently a co-worker initiated this long email conversation for a new project, got people scrambling for answers, before realizing that the project idea was not even do-able. Basically he didn’t do any initial investigation before sending his thoughts out into the world. My best advice for anyone working is to : Sometimes you just got to tune out and/or WAIT; most problems will solve themselves.

    • Cordelia

      My thoughts exactly! I’ve also had the experience that many dilemmas wind up solving themselves if you just give people a little time to work it out themselves. E-mail makes it way too easy for people to just think out loud and share their half-formed thoughts before they’ve really solidified anything.

      Glad you’ve found me, and I hope you stick around!

  • Exactly!

    So many of my “no need to know” situations are people trying to rope me into their own “emergencies” that really aren’t emergencies at all:

    “I haven’t got a response to my email yet and they said they’d respond by the end of the day!” O.k., well, it’s 1:00 now, so how about you wait a little before you start panicking?

    “We have clients coming in and someone’s already in the conference room!” O.k., well, that’s for the attorneys using the conference room to figure out. Maybe they’ll be done by the time the new clients come in, but even if they aren’t, it’s not your responsibility to book the room, so who cares?

    *Le sigh* Other people are so much drama. 😛