Tuesday Pet Peeve: shoulder check

I’m a reasonably competent computer user. I can’t do anything fancy, but I’ve got the basics down pat. And I’ve built up my folder (and sub-folder and sub-sub-folder and sub-sub-sub-folder) structure in a very logical manner that allows me to find any given document in a matter of seconds.

I can even type somewhat rapidly and decently.

However, the second someone starts watching over my shoulder, I fall apart. I click on the wrong folders, I highlight the wrong pieces of text, and if I have to type with someone watching me, it starstt lookng like this wich is really very embarrasiogmn becase likes I sadis I’m usoelaly nots thtbad.

(I was the same way in the lab; I could pipette and perform other techniques as well as anyone, rarely making mistakes or losing track of which tubes had already been processed and which were still waiting for the next reagent. However, as soon as I had to train someone in a given technique, it all just went horribly, horribly wrong).

When people come to my desk to ask for something*, I often ask them if I can just email them the required info or document once I’ve found it. However, too often for my liking the reply is “oh, this won’t take a minute” and the person then stands there watching me flail about like an eejit.

A PLAGUE OF CRICKED NECKS upon people who watch me work over my shoulder!


*another context-dependent pet peeve, depending on the person, the nature of the request, and what task I’m engaged in at the time. There are some people I’m always happy to see, and times when any interruption is a good interruption. And of course some issues can be resolved in either 32 rounds of email OR a five-minute conversation. However, if I’m in the middle of something urgent and/or complicated, and especially if I need to be in the writing “zone”, the interruptions can really impede my progress; I truly believe the studies that found that it can take 6-20 minutes to recover your focus after each interruption. Many of the people who come by seem to assume that their issue must automatically take priority over whatever I was doing before they arrived, and very few people ask if this is a good time or if they should come back later. I’ve even had people come to my desk, say “hey, I need to show you this document on my computer” and then just walk away, leaving me little choice (if they’re a PI) but to immediately leave my desk to follow them. If it was just one person every once in a while, it would be OK, but sometimes it’s two or three per hour. GAAH! I need an office with a door, or maybe just somewhere else to escape to when I’m in the middle of something complicated or urgent. A PLAGUE OF COITUS INTERRUPTUS on these people!

About Cath@VWXYNot?

"one of the sillier science bloggers [...] I thought I should give a warning to the more staid members of the community." - Bob O'Hara, December 2010
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19 Responses to Tuesday Pet Peeve: shoulder check

  1. Steve Caplan says:

    Based on the pain I’ve recently had with my neck, I’ll take A PLAGUE OF COITUS INTERRUPTUS over A PLAGUE OF CRICKED NECKS, any day.

    Hey, did I say something wrong?

  2. Beth Snow says:

    I’m the same with parallel parking – I can totally do it if no one else is with me, but as soon as I have a passenger it’s like I’ve never been behind the wheel of a car before. And need I remind you that I drive a Smart Car, which is ridiculously easy to parallel park, given that it is only half a car? Talk about looking like an eejit!

    Also, when I really need to be in the writing zone, I work at home. My home is super lame, so there are no distractions!

  3. cromercrox says:

    I hate it when people ‘hover’ over you until they get attention. It’s the sort of thing kids do until they learn that they aren’t actually the centre of the Universe. In adults it amounts to a kind of passive-aggressive behaviour that’s solved only by telling them, firmly, and in no uncertain terms, that you’ll get to their problems when you’ve finished what you’re doing.

    Having said that, I once had a very mouse-like junior colleague who did this all the time, but I had to put up with it as I worried that if I said anything at all she’d run off sobbing and I’d be accused of being a bully.

  4. Alyssa says:

    Oh, yes! The typing thing happens to me as well! And I absolutely can’t stand when people expect you to drop everything you’re doing RIGHT NOW.

    It’s interesting, especially in the context of customer service, what trumps what. For example, how many times have you been in a store IN PERSON, and the phone rings, and then you’re dog meat all of a sudden? It’s so frustrating.

  5. Mermaid says:

    Oh, good one! I am with you on both counts. I also hate when you are having a meeting in another office and you have to ‘drive’ their computer to find files you require. I always end up looking like I can’t read and have a bad case of the DTs…shaking hands and a complete inability to find files. It is even worse if they use the dreaded icon approach to their folder lists, rather than the proper detail view.

    I find if I don’t make eye contact right away with the person who is coming in to interrupt, they do tend to stand a bit uncertainly for a moment, just long enough for me to say ‘hang on, I just want to finish this thought’. Doesn’t work for bosses or other upper management though.

  6. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    Steve, one can easily lead to the other. So be careful.

    Beth, I wish I could work at home – I do very occasionally, but my department discourages it as they like to see bums on seats for some reason. On the rare occasions when I have worked from home (e.g. if I feel too sick to cycle or get on a bus, but well enough to work; or the time I turned on the wrong hotplate on the stove, filled my house with smoke, and had to stay home with the door open to air it out) I’ve got soooooo much more work done, even with the cats trying to climb on my laptop and pieces of paper!

    I do sometimes run off to the building’s library if things get particularly noisy and/or busy around my desk, but it’s not ideal.

    Cromercrox, I’ll admit to hovering at the beginning of my lab career, when I had less confidence and really didn’t know the etiquette involved in approaching people for help. But I always felt hideously uncomfortable while hovering! I managed to work it out PDQ though.

    Alyssa, yeah, that drives me nuts too! I know that lots of employers stress the need to pick up phones quickly, but when I’m *right there* talking to a rep and they drop everything to talk to a customer who’s calling in instead, it’s so rude and annoying!

  7. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    Mermaid, yeah, having to use other people’s computers with an audience is even worse than using your own!

    I might try the no immediate eye contact method you describe. If I’m not actively using my computer (e.g. proofing a hard copy), I usually sit facing the entrance to my work space, but perhaps I should start facing away from it? Although then you get the “tap on the shoulder because you’re wearing headphones because the office is so noisy so you didn’t hear the person calling your name and then you jump out of your skin and everyone laughs at you” phenomenon…

  8. Bob O'H says:

    Mermaid, yeah, having to use other people’s computers with an audience is even worse than using your own!

    Especially when it has a German keyboard, but is mapped to the Spanish one. Yep, happened to me. I was dong some coding, so I needed square brackets and tildes. I ended up copying and pasting them.

  9. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    Yikes! That certainly adds a further level of complexity to your coding exercise… although that set-up (or one just like it) might explain some of the manuscripts certain colleagues send me for review.

    My keyboard has a habit of suddenly switching to the French Canadian one for no apparent reason, meaning that the apostrophes look weird and strange accents keep appearing on some letters. To which I say: TABERNAC!

    • cromercrox says:

      I have a friend who borrowed my iPhone to text some friends in Spain. If I’m not careful the iPhone reverts to the Spanish spell-checker. Ai Carambacakes.

      • ricardipus says:

        Cath – that happens to me too (Windows 7) and to my wife (Windows Vista). I’ve always assumed it’s some combination of keys (alt/ctrl/something) that I inadvertently hit, but I’ve never been able to figure out exactly why it does it.

  10. cromercrox says:

    Each and every time one of the Feliculi Croxorum sat on Mrs Crox’s IBM Thinkpad (now deceased) it would rotate the screen 90 degrees. I never worked out how it did that – especially as it required quite a lot of twiddlage in the control panel to get it back again.

  11. I am totally the same. One reason I was such a lousy bartender was that I could not add up in my head when people were looking at me.

    • When I worked in a bar we had to enter everything into the till, which added it all up for you – so luckily I wasn’t forced to do mental arithmetic with an audience! However, having three bartenders trying to ring everything up on one ancient till wasn’t ideal on busy Friday and Saturday nights!

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