It’s 3:00 in the afternoon and your boss calls from the road and says, “Drop everything, I need this report in an hour.”
Fifteen minutes later another manager comes by looking for last-minute help with a PowerPointpresentation.
Meanwhile, you’ve skipped lunch, a courier is waiting on a delivery from you and the intern is hovering, looking for approval on the next step.
When urgent requests come in from various sources and you’re already pressed for time, how do you handle them?
Here’s four tips:
- Show how much is on your plate. Create a chart that shows the projects you are handling and the time required to complete them. It can be as complex as a Gantt chart or as simple as a pie chart.Another approach would be a two-column to-do list. Column one is tasks you’ve been asked to complete, column two is the task as you’re taking the action steps, scheduling them into your day.
You then have a visual representation showing the trade-offs required to accommodate the demand for a rush job.
- Suggest work that can be traded-off. Conventional advice suggests placing the decision of priority back on the one requesting the rush job. “Here’s what I’m working on, you decide what is a priority for me.” That puts control of your workflow in somebody else’s hands.Instead, you make the suggestion as to what should be deferred to accommodate the job. ”I suggest we move the deadline for the widget report to Wednesday. That way, I can complete your presentation today.”
- Point out any issues that might interfere with finishing a rush job. If you know you’re going to need information from Nancy and she’s in a meeting at a client’s office, let the requester know. This way you’re not left holding responsibility for not completing the task.
- Have a chart of common task times. Often, the boss will not know how long it took you to complete the rush job. You’re there until midnight, the boss went home at 5:00.
Put together a list of tasks you commonly complete along with the time it takes to finish.For example: typing a 40-slide PowerPoint presentation: two hours, provided all the material is complete.The boss then has some idea what kind of time commitment the request represents.
The boss, being the boss, may still go ahead and expect the rush job to be completed. However, this four-part strategy will help you gain control over those rush jobs.