ASAP Deadlines – What to Do When Everything is Due Now

Urgency is the baseline feeling in today’s professional world. Securing information and staying responsive is a stated hallmark of good client service. Unfortunately, the mind’s operational systems conspire to misguide our efforts and expectations.

The primacy and recency effects prioritize the first thing on a list and the last thing placed into short term memory. Thus, the continuous flow of information we deal with results in our prioritizing what’s in front of us now as the most important…every time! Stated a little differently, there is a new thing on the list every minute and the new thing that just came in is the last thing in short term memory, so the primacy and recency effects make it the most important.

Unrealistic Deadlines Abound

This is most evident in how we all manage and respond to deadlines. Most every request we receive contains an urgent need to respond. These take the form of ASAP or Urgent or Immediately.

When everything is due now, how do we know what to do next? This is the question most often asked by clients when discussing deadline management. Clearly, we can’t do everything at the same time and that becomes doubly impossible when the next inbound item also has a “now” deadline.

The entire construct is unrealistic, yet we are all unfazed by this truth and continue giving and receiving urgent deadlines.

There is no clear solution, but there is a strategy that seems to work. Resetting our own perspective is the key to getting more manageable deadlines from others. It requires us to step away from who’s creating the problem – the proverbial “them” – and focus on how we can solve the problem. My recommendation is to enlist their support, instead of asking them to change.

Enlisting Their Support

Oh, we could tell them to be more date/time specific with their deadlines. But we’re all justifiably concerned we’d lose our jobs or our clients if we tried that approach. The reality is that the only behavior we control is our own. That means we can change how we react to urgency-based deadlines. The suggestion here is to enlist the deadline giver’s help in getting to a more realistic deadline. For example, consider the following sample responses upon receipt of a “now” deadline.

  1. This assignment looks terrific. Is this more important than the Jones assignment? I want to focus my efforts on the one you need most.
  2. Thanks for the new assignment. Can I get you a draft by Wednesday afternoon?
  3. The Jones project looks great. I’ll contact your assistant to get a few minutes on your calendar to discuss timelines.

Each of these responses seek to understand the relative importance of the work. Even as between multiple clients, this strategy helps us determine which of the many things on our plate are truly the most important.

Changing Our Approach Benefits Us And Others

Einstein defined insanity as “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” The demands for our time will continue to grow and the sense of urgency will grow right along with it. Find a strategy you can implement for focusing your time on the most important things.

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