Taking Ambiguity out of Deadlines

How many times have you been confronted with an urgent project that needs to be completed “ASAP”? (Whether you’re working for yourself or working for a boss!) Or it may be something else in your life when someone has asked you to do it “today”.

How do we define “today” and “ASAP”?  What is your concept of time compared to the other person who is putting in the request?

Unless clarification is made on the deadline itself, stress is the ultimate outcome.

Let’s take the example of Mary.  Mary was called into her manager’s office at 3pm and asked if she could urgently put together a PowerPoint presentation for a last minute meeting with the Board of Executives.  Her boss outlined what he wanted and at the end of the conversation he stated he needed it ASAP.

Mary’s definition of ASAP was straight away, so she galvanized into action and immediately started re-organizing her workload to accommodate her manager’s request.  Given it was 3pm and she needed to get it completed that day, Mary rang a client and cancelled their 4pm meeting; re-booking into her already tight schedule for the next day.  At this point, Mary is starting to feel the pressure.  She has a dinner date with a friend at 6.30pm and she knows she won’t make it.  So she calls the friend she hasn’t seen in two years and cancels.  This makes her feel a little cross.  Next, she re-organizes her workload for that afternoon and, with regret, realizes it will have to be done the next day; meaning she will have to work at least 3 hours overtime tomorrow.

Mary’s shift in concentration has changed. So instead of taking the usual four hours to put together the presentation, it has taken Mary a good six hours.  But on completion she feels satisfied that she did it ASAP and the presentation is delivered to her boss at 8am the next morning.

When Mary delivers the presentation to her boss he is amazed at how quickly she got it done.  “My goodness, Mary, I didn’t mean I needed it by 8am this morning – the meeting isn’t for another two days”.

If Mary had asked and clarified the deadline, the stress and re-organisation would not have happened and she would have kept that dinner date with her friend.

So how do we clarify and take the ambiguity out of the conversation or request? We need to get the other person’s perspective on what the deadline really is and take action by asking.

For example, when Mary’s boss said he needed it ASAP, Mary could have responded by asking “By what time and day do you need it?”  Her boss may have said by 5pm tomorrow – giving Mary the extra time she needed.

However, you can take it even one step further by reframing your question and clarifying even more.  For instance, Mary’s boss stated he needed it for a meeting which had cropped up.  Mary could have asked when that meeting was, and her boss would have stated that the meeting wasn’t until 5pm in two days time.  To which Mary could have suggested that she deliver the presentation by lunchtime on that same day. This would have given Mary the opportunity of juggling her workload in an appropriate timeframe and reducing her stress levels.  At the end of the day, everyone is happy because the “true” deadline was met.

When you take away ambiguity, ask and clarify, you can alleviate your stress levels and define the other person’s sense of urgency.  This also makes for a more harmonious working environment.



1 Comment

  1. KattyBlackyard

    Hi, interest post. I’ll write you later about few questions!


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