My Best Friend Keeps Distracting Me from Work. Help!

My best friend has been driving me insane. I try to get work done around her, but she distracts me every time and makes it so my work does NOT get done. I don't want to be mean and tell her to "knock it off," but at the same time my work is being affected. Please help me! My future is in jeopardy! —Annoyed
Dear Annoyed,

You sound deeply frustrated, and understandably so. You’re feeling pulled between a very important friendship and your educational/professional goals. That is a very tough spot to be in.

I’m curious to know if you have tried to talk to your friend about this. It seems to me that maybe you have not, since you indicated that you “don’t want to mean and tell her to knock it off.” If you haven’t yet spoken to her, I would encourage you to think about doing so. It isn’t “mean” to let a friend know what you need. Consider what you might want if the roles were reversed. If your behavior was making it difficult, or even impossible, for your friend to achieve something that was important to her, wouldn’t you want to know? You wouldn’t want to hinder the pursuit of her goals, would you? And if she was courageous enough to be honest with you, I imagine you would adjust your behavior and support her efforts.

Let her know how much you value her friendship and explain that, because you value it so much, you need to be honest about something that has been troubling you. Your assurance that she is important and valued might mitigate any rejection she feels after being asked to back off a little. Hopefully, she will respond by hearing you out and adjusting her behavior to be more supportive of your goals. Your requests are reasonable and appropriate. The worst-case scenario is that she doesn’t understand where you are coming from, takes your request very personally, and chooses to end the friendship. If your very reasonable request evokes such an unreasonable response, it might be time to question the quality of the friendship. If you can’t ask your best friend for support in achieving your goals, then how strong is the friendship? You probably know her well enough to predict how likely this worst-case scenario is.

You might also want to ask yourself why her needs seem to be more important than yours. Is this something that comes up often in your relationships? Do you have a tendency to put the needs, desires, and feelings of others over your own? Is this behavior detrimental to you? If you answered yes to those questions, it might be a good idea to work with a therapist on these issues. It’s possible that an underestimation of your self-worth might be impacting many areas of your life, and a therapist could be invaluable in helping you sort these things out.

Gathering the courage to talk to your friend and/or find your own therapist might take some time, and it seems like you might need some tangible solutions right now. From your brief note, I’m not clear on whether your work is academic or professional, or whether you work in an office or elsewhere. Either way, it might be useful to find some other location to do your work. For example, if this is happening in a college dorm room, try going to the library or a study lounge to do most of your work, and make plans to meet up with your friend after you finish working. If this is happening in a work setting, try working in a conference room or putting some headphones on at your desk to discourage chit-chat. You can still plan to have lunch together or spend some time together after work.

Finding a balance between work and relationships is a challenging task, but it is one that most of us have to deal with at various points in our lives. While this situation may be a bit overwhelming at the moment, it is also an opportunity for you to figure out what strategies work best for you in attaining this balance. You can add what works to your toolbox for the future and toss strategies that don’t work.

All the best,

Sarah Noel, MS, LMHC is a licensed psychotherapist living and working in Brooklyn, New York. She specializes in working with people who are struggling through depression, anxiety, trauma, and major life transitions. She approaches her work from a person-centered perspective, always acknowledging the people she works with as experts on themselves. She is honored and humbled on a daily basis to be able to partner with people at such critical points in their unique journeys.
  • Leave a Comment
  • Simone

    April 26th, 2013 at 3:27 PM

    Have you thought about the fact that maybe she does this to you because you let her, that this is a passive aggressive way that you have to not do your work? I don’t know, just a thought, but my thoughts are that if she is a good friend that she will understand if you talked to her about your concerns and she will truly knock it off If not then you might have to be a little more careful screening your phone calls! This is definitely not something that you would want to lose your job over is it?

  • shayne

    April 27th, 2013 at 12:26 AM

    a very similar thing happened to me when I started off my career.this friend of mine with no job would always want to hand out and what not but my work didn’t allow me to do that.and although I did try and stick with him as much as I could it was obviously not possible to keep doing, because of my job.then when I spoke to him about it,he just stopped talking to was sad but a revelation at least.he was not being a good friend and frankly I dont even need such a ‘friend’ who only thinks of himself and all the time.

  • Lila

    April 27th, 2013 at 5:42 AM

    This might be an extreme case but I really think that it would be to your benefit to establish some clear cut boundaried for your friend or tell her that the two of you will have to cool off for a while.

    You may have to tell her that you do enjoy being with her but it can only be at certain times of the day, or make plans to meet after work a few days a week. But other than that it sounds like this person has to grow up and know that you have your own adult responsibilities that you need to tend to.

  • elle

    April 27th, 2013 at 11:59 AM

    Is this person really ebing a good friend to you? I think that you know the answer to this deep inside. A good friend is going to be one who understands that there’s a time for work and a time for play, and you need to be firm with them so that they know that this is really beginning to bother you a lot.

  • Cole

    April 27th, 2013 at 11:58 PM

    I’d hate to be in your shoes right now.coz friends are really important to me and so is work.being torn between the two is definitely not a fun situation to be in,man.

  • Casey

    April 29th, 2013 at 1:17 AM

    I’d suggest you talk to your friend right away.There is no need to suffer just because you’re looking out for somebody.First priority should be you and no that isn’t selfish.

    Just talk in a calm way.And as has been suggested here,if your friend doesn’t take it well,then you should ask if he deserves it at all.

  • Connie

    April 29th, 2013 at 4:43 AM

    I feel for you because I had a situation once where a friend did the same exact thing to me. It was weird, it was like I would tell him and tell him that he had to leave me alone while I was working but he just didn’t get it. He didn’t have to work so maybe that was where the miscommunication was? I am still not sure. Anyway this is something that completely ruined our friendship and I hope that you can get through this without that happening to you too. Be gentle, be kind, but be firm too.

  • alice b

    May 29th, 2013 at 12:50 AM

    (1)If her friendship matters to you talk to her. Most of the time it is how you handle the situation. Use a positive, friendly tone, ask for her help in keeping you focused. Let her know that you are worried,because your work is not getting done. That you are going to have to quit talking and concentrate on your work.
    Then follow through by staying focused on what you need to do. She wants attention from you and if you ignore her antics she will get the message. Do not react to any of her antics stay focused.
    If you can take breaks or lunch together you could IM or email her and let her know you are looking forward to talking to her on your break, lunch or after work.
    Get or make a card, put it on her desk and enter a message, i.e. thanks for helping me keep my job. Miss talking, meet you on break, etc. Just a simple note letting her know you miss talking, but have to finish your work.
    (2) If her friendship does not matter to you, advise her to stop talking. Then if it continues report the problem to your boss.

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