When, exactly, is ASAP?

Our 24×7 world has a rash … a rash of ASAP. It’s highly contagious and seems to strike from the top of the organizational chart and move down. Everyone has been afflicted by this rash and most have inflicted it on others.

By Any Other Name

Identifying the ASAP rash is not hard. Here is a list of symptoms:

  • It almost always originates in the workplace. However, it has made inroads into some unfortunate home environments as well.
  • The problem often appears in its native form – ASAP – but be on the lookout for its other forms, such as Now or Immediately. Other variations include Urgent and Top/Highest Priority.
  • No definable time of day seems to be more or less susceptible to an outbreak, resulting in a higher level of anticipatory anxiety throughout the day among all workers.
  • People suffering from this rash appear anxious and pinched. Their rate of speech tends to accelerate and many times they wave files or papers about when moving through the office trolling for available help.
  • Subject lines are littered with this rash when it strikes in electronic form.
  • Though episodic in nature, once afflicted, suffers tend to relapse quickly and for longer periods of time.

What’s All the Fuss About?

If the H1N1 virus was a pandemic, I don’t think a word has been coined yet to describe the depth, breadth, and severity of this rash. Imagine if everyone starts telling everyone else that everything is due ASAP.  Counter-productively, the workplace would grind to a halt!

For anyone working for anyone else, which basically means … well, everyone, this is not an inconsequential problem. So innocent on its face, when multiplied by the innumerable number of delegations that occur each day, it is easy to see how a frantic, dysfunctional, and unhealthy working environment can quickly develop. All from an innocuous little self-inflicted rash.

Questions We’d Like to Ask

Whenever these edicts issue forth from those handing out assignments, here’s a list of questions I can only hope we’re courageous enough to ask:

  • Righty-O, just let me look at my calendar. Hmmm, when exactly is ASAP as I’m not seeing it here?
  • ASAP, you said – as soon as possible? Terrific. I’m leaving on my long-overdue two-week vacation in an hour, so I’ll get that back to you in about 15 days. That’s as soon as possible in my world right now.  How’s that work for ya?
  • Really? ASAP? If this that important, why is it just now being brought to my attention?  (Oh, silly me, the customer/client/boss just handed it to you too. Did you have the courage to ask them that question?)
  • Fabulous! I love having lots to do – job security, you know. Now, since everything you’ve given me is ASAP, which one should I do first?

Take Back the Day

There is no known cure for this malady. However, there are several things you can do both as a work giver and as a work receiver to minimize outbreaks and reduce the impact when the rash flares up. Precautions include:

  • Develop an early warning system by regularly surveying the work you have and the work you are expecting to receive. Prioritize each item and spread the priorities out as realistically as possible. Keep in mind that you only get so many hours each day to actually produce work. In this way, work that is susceptible to the ASAP rash can be identified early and steps can be taken to avoid or, at least, reduce the severity of the outbreak.
  • Communicate often with co-workers, as the rash tends to be fierce when visibility between co-workers is low, allowing the infection to spread to low priority items left to fester too long.
  • As a work giver, think in terms of clearly defined time lines – like a specific date or day of the week. Specific times help also. Converting an ASAP into a Wednesday by 2:00 pm results in complete avoidance of the problem.
  • As a work receiver, diplomatically seek this information if it’s not forthcoming from the work giver. Press for specificity and enlist the other person’s help in prioritizing any other work that is equally unclear.

Long-Term Prognosis

Workplaces that have suffered outbreaks of the ASAP rash, in all its forms, have reported significant improvement in quality of work product and worker morale when the simple steps above were followed. Creating an effective working environment that is efficient and highly responsive is a very favorable prognosis given the wide-spread problem identified and addressed here.

To your health!

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