I have a situation in which i want to say that a particular task i just completed was rather silly, a fool's errand, but i need to phrase it in such a way as it doesn't insult the management team that gave me the task --as they regard it, currently, as vital.

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    There is a saying, 'If you can't say something nice then don't say anything at all'. I don't think there is a nice way to tell your management that their vital task is a waste of time.
    – ColinM
    Commented Sep 19, 2013 at 16:37
  • On a hiding to nowhere (or a hiding to nothing) is more polite than fool's errand. :) Commented Sep 19, 2013 at 17:03
  • I disagree @ColinM. I think the easiest way to communicate the issue is to ask questions. Learn from management what they value in the task. I would say some thing like, "Jeez, that was really (easy / hard.) I'm curious. You say this is vital? What did I do exactly? How will this task benefit the company?"
    – Lumberjack
    Commented Sep 19, 2013 at 20:58
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    I like wild goose chase. It takes the "foolishness" out of the idiom, yet shows that you don't think the task will be fruitful. I think the best way to handle this, though, is not to change idioms, but to change tactics. Rather than labeling the task as "pointless", simply ask, "I would like to know how you're planning to use this; I think I could do a better job if I understood the bigger picture." By portraying yourself as the fool instead of them, they won't be insulted, and you may end up learning something that shows the task wasn't so silly after all.
    – J.R.
    Commented Sep 19, 2013 at 21:04
  • @Lumberjack Agreed, but the question was how to say that the exercise was a waste of time. I don't think there's a good way to say that directly. But, as you say, through discussion and evaluation the point can be made without being confrontational or antagonistic to the managers in this scenario.
    – ColinM
    Commented Sep 19, 2013 at 22:28

5 Answers 5


Unnecessary - Not necessary; needless.

Extraneous - Not constituting a vital element or part.

Trivial - Of little significance or value.


How about, "Barking up the wrong tree".

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    With this answer you are barking up the wrong tree. A fool's errand is A fruitless mission or undertaking but not necessarily in the wrong direction
    – mplungjan
    Commented Sep 19, 2013 at 20:53
  • Universally I would agree. In the context as described above, it should suffice. Commented Sep 19, 2013 at 20:56

Perhaps quixotic?

hopeful or romantic in a way that is not practical

The implication is that the task is noble, worthy, but unlikely to succeed. It praises the values behind the goal, even if the goal is unattainable (like Dulcinea).

  • I like the word (+1) but I'm not sure that many people actually understand what it means. I always have to think to distinguish it from quizzical. Kind of like bemused and amused. Commented Sep 20, 2013 at 7:28
  • @BraddSzonye I always wanted to pronounce this kee-hoe-tic, with a Spanish flair, but that darn always-fonetic English gets in the weigh, rite.
    – bib
    Commented Sep 21, 2013 at 15:26

Perhaps you could use the word trivial or superficial?

If you see no value in the task being done than perhaps it is more effective to come up with arguments...


You could simply call it a "Small Task", to denote the relative ease and trivial nature of the task without implying a pointlessness in the endeavor. This suggests it is also quick though, so be careful using it to describe a task that would take a longer time.

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