The Work Hack You Need When Other People Are Holding You Up

Recently one of my colleagues, Kat Boogaard, wrote about how successful people finish all their work by Thursday, essentially setting themselves up for a four-day week. So much of what she explains about using Friday to get a jump start on the next week makes sense to me, and while I’m not quite there, I’m intrigued enough to work toward it.

But, even though I’m still whittling away at must-do tasks most Fridays, her advice got me thinking about the importance of working ahead—if only to avoid letting a co-worker or client hold you up.

Because when you’re on your game and working efficiently, there’s nothing more frustrating than being immobilized because someone isn’t getting back to you. But here’s the thing: You can get mad about it, you can moan and complain, or you can problem-solve. And that’s exactly where getting ahead comes in.

Make it a habit to look at your calendar of deadlines and note the things you can’t accomplish on your own. Those are the items that require approval, feedback, or collaboration before completion. Create a separate to-do list for these items because these are the things you need to prioritize, or at least, as I like to say, get the ball rolling on.

Reaching out to the necessary parties well in advance of your deadline is smart and respectful. It demonstrates an understanding that everyone is busy and you’re not expecting anyone to turn anything around for you ASAP because you emailed a last-minute request.

But even though it’s not urgent, be sure to give a date—bold it in the message if you’re worried about that information getting lost. This is where you have some room to help yourself: I recommend giving a needed-by date a few days before your final-final deadline. That way, if something’s late, you have time to follow up and hopefully get what you need in time. Once you’ve set things in motion like this, you can turn to other projects that you’re able to handle on your own.

Of course, in spite of this advance planning, there still may come a time when you’re stuck because someone didn’t take your deadline seriously or respond to the follow-up.

Or maybe they inform you that they got “slammed” and need “more time.” This is when you send a polite but firm email explaining the time sensitive nature of the work and why you need it. Simply connecting the dots between this deadline and a larger team or company goal can go a long way in speeding up someone else’s process.

It looks like this:

Hi Karen,

I appreciate the fact that things are hectic right now, but, unfortunately, I don’t have much room to budge on this particular deadline. If we don’t send the contract to the client by Friday, it’s possible they’ll go with another company, and we really can’t afford to lose them because they think we’re unreliable. If it helps to discuss the points I outlined previously in person, please let me know. I can make myself available any time this afternoon.

Thanks,
Stacey

Another option? You could say, if I don’t hear from you by [date], I’ll plan to do [action]/I’ll let [Manager] know that we’re waiting on [item] before we could move on. With this statement, you cover your bases. You’ve tried to get the information you need, and if you don’t get it, you’re prepared to either move forward yourself or let the relevant parties know why it’s held up.

If you’re worried that you’re not getting the right message or tone across in your email, consider dropping email and paying an in-person visit to a colleague’s desk. It might get you a faster response.

At the end of the day, if you’re constantly getting stuck because others are holding you up, it may be necessary to have a conversation with the person on how this is affecting the team’s goals. If you’re stuck only now and then, evaluate your responsibilities, and see to it that you’re prioritizing in a way that allows you to always have something to do, so you’re not twiddling your thumbs on a Wednesday afternoon or seething in frustration on a Friday at 4 PM.

And set an example: Respect others’ deadlines and communicate if you foresee an issue with responding in time. It’s just good karma.

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