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27 Feb

”Sometime soon” might be sooner than you think

Datum: 2017-02-27 15:59
A dark sky over a calm beach.

Occa­sion­al­ly some­one, a col­league for instance, asks us to do some­thing and we respond Sure, I’ll help you! When do you need it?”. The col­league might say Oh, it’s not urgent, some­time soon will be fine.”. Alright. This means that we can pri­or­i­tize oth­er things which are more impor­tant first.

But, unfor­tu­nate­ly we were wrong to assume as much.

A day or so lat­er the col­league pops by again and asks Hey, have you had time to do that thing you promised me? I need it more or less right now.”. And as it so hap­pens, right now is a par­tic­u­lar­ly bad time for you to do that thing you said you would with­out inter­fer­ing with your sched­ule since you now have more high­ly pri­or­i­tized tasks to attend to.

For you who pre­fer lis­ten­ing to read­ing, this post is also avail­able as an episode of the Done!” pod­cast:

Unfor­tu­nate­ly unclear

Alas, once again we are suf­fer­ing the con­se­quences of hav­ing defined a task ambigu­ous­ly. Some­time soon” can mean some­thing entire­ly dif­fer­ent to me than it does to you. Per­haps it indi­cates next week” to me, while to you it is equiv­a­lent of not nec­es­sar­i­ly today, but at the lat­est tomor­row morning”.

We are often painful­ly aware of that what we per­ceive as being urgent” dif­fers great­ly between dif­fer­ent peo­ple and can be quite arbi­trar­i­ly defined, but speak­ing for myself, I was until recent­ly unaware of the struc­ture-trap that lures in the seem­ing­ly inno­cent words some­time soon” before my client Malin told me about an episode that illus­trat­ed the con­se­quences of this poten­tial­ly prob­lem­at­ic expression.

If we mis­un­der­stand how fast some­thing needs to be com­plet­ed, we might find our­selves in a sit­u­a­tion where we set our own struc­ture and sched­ule aside in favor of help­ing some­one else, since many of us have a ten­den­cy to pri­or­i­tize our colleague’s urgent task before every­thing else we have to do. Our sched­ule is turned upside down and we end up hav­ing to work a few hours over­time — in spite of orig­i­nal­ly being on track with all our tasks.

Do this

If you have not done so before, from today onwards, do not set­tle for the response some­time soon” when some­one del­e­gates a task to you and you ask when it needs to be done. Ask again just to make the expec­ta­tions clear. You could for instance reply Great! So would Tues­day after­noon be OK with you?”.

If you tend to over­do it in terms of deliv­er­ing before things are due, add 50% of the time you orig­i­nal­ly esti­mat­ed the task would require to the dead­line you sug­gest, or if you feel dar­ing, try dou­bling it. The worst that can hap­pen is that the col­league will meet you half way” and you will agree on an ear­li­er, but now clear­ly defined, deadline. 

Plan­ning ahead

Regard­less what time frame you even­tu­al­ly set, it will now be explic­it­ly clear to both of you what you have agreed upon. What at first was some­time soon”, has now become Wednes­day at 10 am”. It becomes much eas­i­er for you to plan your work, the risk of hav­ing to fin­ish last minute is great­ly reduced, and the col­league will have what he or she del­e­gat­ed to you in time.

What is your method?

How do you make sure you con­cretize a clear and rea­son­able dead­line for the tasks oth­ers del­e­gate to you? Do you have a par­tic­u­lar ques­tion you ask every time which makes the agreed time frame crys­tal clear? I am curi­ous to hear of your par­tic­u­lar method, so feel free to email me.

A suited businessman reads on his phone while riding the NY subway.

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