20091031-vampire

You are surrounded by vampires.

They circle you, slowly, eyeing your throat, their teeth glistening in the moonlight. Your heart pounds in your chest as they move in, intent on draining your life’s blood for their own unholy nourishment. A scream rises up in your chest as they close in on you, their fangs bared, and then you feel the first pair of teeth sinking into your throat.

“Hey, Dustin, got a minute? I want to tell you about this awesome party I went to over the weekend. We were sooooo wasted, and…”

The horror! The HORROR!!!

The vampires in this tale aren’t the supernatural beings of myth and legend, the Transylvanian undead doomed to walk the night for all eternity, feeding on the blood of the unsuspecting people around them. No, these vampires move about freely in the daylight, and they feed not on blood but on your time, attention, and yes, your very soul. And crosses, garlic, and holy water have no effect on them.

And who are these wretched damned? They come in many forms and wear many guises. Often, you will recognize them not by their own actions, but by their effect on you: the tapping foot, the ignored gestures of impatience, the tightening of the chest as your time slips away, the forced laughter at yet another of their stupid, mean-spirited, or just plain pointless jokes.

There are many kinds of vampires that threaten you daily. Here are four you have probably encountered recently, and how to dispatch them to the realm from which they emerged.

1. The time-sucking fiend

The time-sucking fiend seeks only your time – the more of it they can consume, the stronger they get. They drop by the office with hour-long explanations that could have been summed up in a five-sentence email, they call at all hours “just to say ‘hi’” and simply won’t let you hang up, they CC you and everyone else they know on every email (especially the ones that promise a gruesome death if you don’t follow suit) – and when you actually need them, they’re nowhere to be found.

Like summoning a demon, dealing with the time-sucking fiend relies on powerful boundaries – and also like summoning a demon, you can only count on yourself to maintain those boundaries. While you might have heard business leaders extolling the virtues of an “open-door” policy, you have to realize that an open door is an invitation, and you hopefully know better than to invite a vampire in! It’s better to limit your open door to specific times and schedule the rest of your work around those times.

But the most powerful weapon in your arsenal against time-sucking fiends, your wooden stake, is to just say “No”.

“Hey Jan, got a minute?”

“Oh, sorry, I really don’t. I’m hard at work on this report/email to a vendor/chapter of my novel/game of Solitaire. If it’s important, why don’t you send me an email or we can schedule 10 minutes later this week to discuss it.”

Asserting your unavailability and then taking control of the situation is the key, here. Never leave the time-sucking fiend at a loss for what to do next; instead, offer an option or two (never more) so they feel like their issue will be addressed. But never back down – your time is yours, as long as you treat it as such.

2. The humorless hellhound

The humorless hellhound didn’t quite follow the joke you made at lunch today, and wants you to know it! Besides taking up your time, the humorless hellhound sucks the fun out of life, demanding an explanation of every off-hand comment you or anyone else makes, and complaining about being made the butt of a joke by someone else. They’d never get offended and confront the person who offended them – that’s what everyone else is for!

Be firm with the humorless hellhound – simply say “It wasn’t important” and steer the conversation back to topics of substance or, if there are none, walk away. Neither defend nor condemn others with whom the humorless hellhound has a problem; your only response should be “Take it up with them”.

Note: Often people who make offensive remarks hide behind the mask of humor (very often these people are vacuous horrors; see below), attempting to deflect attention from their own offensiveness by saying “aw, it was just a joke!” Those who stand up to jerks like that are certified Van Helsings, not humorless hellhounds. Learn to tell the difference – it could save your life!

3. The vacuous horror

The vacuous horror is an idiot, and he or she doesn’t care who knows it. Their pleasures are simple: drink to excess, bed hot chicks or dudes, get sooooo high, play their music sooooo loud, party sooooo hard. Or at least talk about those things – and talk, and talk, and talk talk talk. They don’t want your time, or not just your time, they want your attention – and somehow, your jealousy, as if you should envy their pseudo-wannabe-MTV lives.

The silver bullet here is to tell them it all sounds pretty lame, but of course, nobody uses silver bullets. Too fatal. After all, you kind of feel sorry for them, all shriveled and naked and weak – they’re like children. Stupid, nasty children, but children nonetheless. Your best bet, then, is to treat them as blood-sucking fiends, carefully limiting their access and steering them towards matters of more substance. A curt “Yeah, that sounds great. Listen, I’ve got to get going…” might be called for if they just won’t pass on to the next world, though…

4. The detail demon

While attention to detail is important, the detail demon isn’t concerned with making sure things work, he or she is concerned with a thousand minor points that have no significance or bearing on anything outside of her or his decomposing mind. The detail demon wants to discuss the pros and cons of the serial comma in the corporate stylebook, and s/he wants to discuss it now. For a really, really, really long time.

Fortunately, the detail demon is easily dispatched. Like the time-sucking fiend, under no circumstances give the detail demon any control over your time! Instead, ask them to write up an itemized list of their concerns and email it to you (or otherwise deliver it) so you can review them thoroughly. Since most of their concerns will not matter much, you can usually just give them a simple “go ahead” on the changes they suggest; anything of actual importance they bring up actually does need to be addressed, so they’ve just saved you some time! Turning the vampire’s power against them – that’s ninja-level stuff!

Who’s haunting your house?

These four aren’t the only vampires prowling the streets and hallways of our lives. For the good of your fellow Lifehack readers, what other kinds of vampires have you run into lately? And more importantly, how did you vanquish these foul, foul beasts? The future of all our productivity may depend on you!

(Happy Halloween!)

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