Most of us have heard of this before — you get an e-mail or voicemail message marked URGENT, or someone comes up and nervously asks you to get something done ASAP or PDQ, or they say they “needed it done yesterday”. All of these things emphasize the urgency of the task, but all of them are meaningless without some kind of context. Here are some tips for dealing with this kind of “eleventh hour” situation.
Do not let people get away with dictating abstract timelines for tasks. That’s not how business should work. When they say ASAP — say “when?”.
Task completion needs to be viewed in the context of the entire set of business operations. Allowing people to use things like ASAP puts everybody along the garden path that can end in complete disarray and disorganization. In business, things need to be planned out — and chronology is a huge part of that. So one of the first things that anyone should do when confronted with this disturbing acronym is to simply press for clarification.
Appeal to a Triage System
Another problem with ASAP is that it injects itself into an already established work process. You go to work every day, and work on at a set of tasks, and use a triage method to do that. You figure out what’s most important and what has to be done right away. When someone comes in and interjects with a new request, that has to be ordered into your timeline. You don’t just drop everything and start something new, because that’s not a way to get ahead and stay ahead. Anyone in management or otherwise has to understand the way that workflows function.
Show What’s Possible
In too many cases, when something is asking for something ASAP, they don’t really have a defined idea of what’s reasonable in terms of time. Whether it’s acquiring information, wrangling staff people together, completing a customer file, or doing any other urgent task, people who are some levels removed from the process often don’t understand how the process works, and how quickly things can or cannot get done. So they make unreasonable demands. A good response is to really present the reasons why there is an established timeline for the task, and why ASAP may not really make a lot of difference in when something gets to someone’s desk.
Go To The Big Picture
For someone who simply will not be consoled, who insists that their project must be done immediately, and who doesn’t respond to any of the above responses, it can be helpful to have a little talk about the big picture.
All of this has to be done very diplomatically, especially if you are responding to someone who outranks you. However, a firm, reasonable response often works wonders for business relationships. Bring up points about the big picture and how this individual task fits in. Again, go back to the drawing board and demand clarity for deadlines and timeline requests. Together, you and whoever is breathing down your neck can establish some type of give-and-take and some kind of reasonable expectation. Without this kind of very important brainstorming, there’s likely to be a lot of frustration and pressure in your future.
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