How many times have you been asked by your boss to deliver something ASAP, and your first reaction was to drop everything and start working on it right away? Only to learn later that not only the job wasn’t urgent at all, but also it was delayed, postponed, forgotten or simply cancelled?

Years ago, a Director asked me for a logo saying she needed it ASAP. Let me paint you a quick picture:

  • The logo was not for any critical project. Did I know that? No.
  • The logo was for her intranet channel. Yeap, I’m serious.
  • It was after 5.30 pm.
  • Well, she was a Director of something, which meant she was important!

My reaction was to drop everything I was doing and deliver it now. Quickly, I talked with one of my designers and asked him to do it, he looked at me annoyed (it was after 5.30 pm!) and said, “but she said it’s ASAP”, and I was like, “and? It’s ASAP!”.

When I was learning English as a second language (I am Brazilian), ASAP was one of the first things I learned, and I knew it meant “as soon as possible”, but clearly I was missing something.

He went on to explain that ASAP did not mean urgent, replied to the Director and told her “let me know if tomorrow afternoon is ok to deliver”, she then replied saying “that’s brilliant, thank you so much”.

I was mesmerized.

So simple! The trick is to gamble a bit, giving yourself the deadline you need to deliver the task requested — don’t be greedy though, aim for a reasonable timeframe that is still comfortable for you. Remember to keep your tone positive: you want to help, and you will get it done as soon as you can. I can guarantee that if it’s genuinely an ASAP request, the other person will be super happy.

A few years later, I went to work at a place where “everything was a priority”. Before any attempt to improve or implement new processes, I needed first to understand why my team weren’t able to follow a workflow plan, why they were all feeling overworked and that nothing was under control.

Among some other things, I realised that they were drowning in ASAP requests coming from different stakeholders. They would get paralysed by ASAP requests thinking that they were urgent, dropping everything whenever they heard the word “ASAP”, delaying (without knowing) tasks that were actually important. Even a simple Urgent-Important Matrix didn’t work at the time, since “everything was a priority”.

I have to be honest and say that it took me a while to identify ASAP requests disguised as urgent ones were one of the root problems. Then, one day it finally hit me, maybe they too don’t know what ASAP really means.

Wait, what? Mind blowing.

It didn’t cross my mind that my team (all English speakers) could have been having the same problem I had a few years earlier! I thought that this misunderstanding issue was particular to people who didn’t have English as a first language.

When I told my team that ASAP does not mean urgent and they should just return to whoever asked them for something inquiring what the deadline was, it was a game-changer. Ten out ten times the deadline was for “the end of the week”, “next week”, “just when you get a chance” and so on. I know, right?

Why do people disguise something as urgent when it’s not? I don’t want to dwell on the reasons, but most of the time, they just don’t want to commit to a timeline; just in case they can get whatever they need sooner.

My advice is: take advantage of the situation to protect your time and your work. Send a message to the world that you are the one calling the shots.

Guest Author: 

Mayra Boppre is a Program Manager with 10+ years of experience leading multi-disciplined teams, establishing processes and systems in fast-paced, complex organisations. Mayra specialises in the creative field and brings her expertise and curiosity to help companies achieve goals and objectives. Mayra is PMI certified and holds an MBA in Marketing.

This article was originally posted in Medium  

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