Meet this deadline. No, not that one...
April 20, 2021 3:26 PM   Subscribe

I'm meeting a weekly deadline to submit a report, but my co-workers are dropping increasingly heavy hints that I should submit this report earlier in the week without giving me a firmer deadline to meet. I can rearrange my workflow to meet an earlier deadline, so how do I press them to actually give me the deadline they want?

The current deadline to submit this report is 2 p.m. Wednesdays. I collect info from customers the first three days of the week and then start compiling the report around 11:30 to 12 p.m. (In the morning, I, like everyone at my company, have a long to-do list of other tasks as well as other fires to put out here or there, so I spend the morning taking care of more emergent issues. One of the reasons the deadline even is what it is instead of earlier in the day or week is because my boss understands I've got fires to put out and wanted to advocate for me.)

We are working with another company on a project and they asked me in a conference call today why I don't submit the report on Tuesdays if I have all of the info then. My answers: 1) I get my last piece of info on Wednesdays around 10 a.m.; 2) since this is a new partnership, I am open to adjusting my workflow to match whatever deadline this company wants. Just let me know. Their response: Well, I still don't understand why you're just sitting on these numbers when you can send them earlier in the week...

My team is going to have an internal meeting Friday to talk about adjusting the deadlines. Most of this will involve figuring out how to get the info I need earlier in the week. No problem. I've already reached out to one customer this afternoon and they confirmed I'd just need to send my request a day earlier than I currently do. Again, no problem.

My source of irritation is that if everyone really wants the report on Tuesday at 5 or whenever, just let me know that that's the deadline. I will prioritize this and figure out how to put out the other fires as they come. I feel like there's a lot of dithering about "well, when do you get the orders and when can you send them out?" Whenever you want, just tell me! How do I push back on them without getting too cranky?
posted by Recliner of Rage to Work & Money (25 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If the last piece comes in on Wednesdays at 10 am then how can you submit the report earlier than that?
posted by bleep at 3:31 PM on April 20, 2021 [19 favorites]

If you get your last piece of info on Wednesday then why would it be available a day earlier? In these situations, I just sit on precedent and if it comes up, start asking a lot of probing questions.

- So who wants this on Tuesday?
- What will they do with the info?
- Are there things you’d like to accomplish first thing Wednesday morning with this info compiled?

Listen without judgment and see if it’s worth it or even possible to change your workflow.
posted by amanda at 3:32 PM on April 20, 2021 [5 favorites]

"It sounds like you want this information earlier, but I can't give you the report until I have all the pieces, and as you know, that won't happen until mid-day Wednesday. Maybe we can ask Maria if she can cc you on the TPS numbers when she sends them to me -- that way you can have them on Tuesday."
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 3:35 PM on April 20, 2021 [5 favorites]

Correction: we you.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 3:36 PM on April 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

If you need the report by Tuesday, all of the information will have to be given to me by Monday. I’ll leave it in your capable hands to ensure that happens. Otherwise you’ll get it on Wednesday as usual.

If they want it, put it back on them to make it happen. You can’t work with what you don’t have.
posted by Jubey at 4:00 PM on April 20, 2021 [2 favorites]

No firm deadline = hit send at 2:01pm on Wednesday.
posted by kevinbelt at 4:01 PM on April 20, 2021 [2 favorites]

I don't think your co-workers actually want this report delivered on a different day of the week. I read this as your co-workers hinting that they do not like the delay from the time the last info is collected to the time the report is delivered, rather than expressing a desire that the report should be delivered on an earlier day in the week (presumably by keeping the delay but adjusting the collection schedule). So the question is, can you figure out what they mean with their hints about not liking the delay — perhaps they feel the report should have a higher priority than other tasks (but can't say it out loud because they know your boss has prioritized other tasks higher), or are hinting that someone else could do this task faster, or maybe they are hinting that they feel you aren't working hard enough.
posted by RichardP at 4:12 PM on April 20, 2021 [11 favorites]

To me, it reads like each member of your team (your co-workers, not your boss) want the individual numbers they're particularly interested in, before the entire report is created Wednesday (after *all* the figures are in).
How do I push back on them without getting too cranky

These people are dropping "heavy hints" when you're already turning around the weekly report within hours of getting all the info? Advocate for a Thursday deadline.
posted by Iris Gambol at 4:20 PM on April 20, 2021 [13 favorites]

Yeah, I agree with RichardP above. They want the numbers as soon as they are available, so 10:15 on Wednesday (or whatever). Are these numbers from the previous week? In that case, they might be wondering why you get the last piece of information on Wednesday, and they might be wondering why that information isn't to you on Monday or Tuesday. If these are numbers for something through Sunday, they'd like the report as soon as possible after that, perhaps by Monday afternoon.
posted by bluedaisy at 4:22 PM on April 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

Basically, they don't see the point of the report but they don't want to insult you by saying that a big part of your job seems pointless. Nor do they want to undercut you or try to imply that you should not have your job or otherwise screw you. That's why they don't just come out and say it.

However, given that they don't see the point of the report, they think it's a bit silly to wait to get the information until you've compiled the report. They're fine with you doing the report, but not with the report serving as a gatekeeper for the information itself.

Your strategy is to ask your boss if you can just forward them the information as it comes in, then ask them if that's something that would be helpful for them.

You should also consider, on a big-picture level, whether you think there's any point to the report, if you could make it more useful, if they need education on the purpose, etc.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 4:42 PM on April 20, 2021 [16 favorites]

"Hey, I am happy to investigate how to deliver this earlier in the week, but I need to know when you actually need to receive it? I wouldn't want to put in the effort to negotiate earlier data from X and Y that lets me get it to you on Tuesday only to find out that you really needed it on the Monday."

If they don't tell you, then stick to your current approach.
posted by knapah at 4:44 PM on April 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

Also, I share your annoyance with hints, and it helps to manage them if you know why people hint. Some common reasons are:

--Their own internal politics mean they can't ask directly
--They don't know the politics in your workplace and don't want to step on toes
--They don't want to make anyone look bad
--They don't want you to hold a grudge
--They are indecisive and/or lack interest in leadership
--They are complainers and complain without expecting it to be taken too seriously

Or some combination of the above. So the best way to deal with this is generally to pick up the phone -- important so you can convey tone and hear their tone -- and call the friendliest person on the other team. Say that you feel like you're getting the impression that _____ and wanted to know what deadline would work best for their team -- no guarantees because you have to run it by your team as well, but you're happy to help. That approach takes care of most of the above reasons.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 4:47 PM on April 20, 2021 [4 favorites]

I don't know if this works in your environment, but, in a similar situation, I would escalate the issue by discussing it with my boss on the theory that he has a better view of the wider, intercompany issues.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:13 PM on April 20, 2021 [4 favorites]

I was in a similar position where I needed to distribute a report by a certain time, and one of the recipients was always asking why he couldn't have it earlier. So I started hauling ass to compile and send it out earlier (as early as the data was available) and then he wanted to see different content than the report was providing. And also he wanted to see it earlier than all of the data could be made available, and could I change the colors also?... my point is to beware of a slippery slope here.

Can you actually produce the report earlier? What would possibly slip if you did this? Is everyone okay with the report being prioritized? Once I started asking these type of questions, this person stopped bugging me because ultimately, none of those items were actually that important to him. If they were, he'd have escalated it. Minimally, he'd have had some compelling reasons beyond "I Just Think It'd Be Nice."

(The report is totally different now, produced by totally different people, with tons of additional content AS REQUESTED and on-demand delivery and guess what? He is still unhappy.

I am thankfully in a totally different area now.)
posted by sm1tten at 5:56 PM on April 20, 2021 [6 favorites]

Ask your boss who's the report REALLY for and does he need higher priority. Your boss is the ONLY one whose answer really matters. Everybody else just has opinions and is irrelevant.
posted by kschang at 6:18 PM on April 20, 2021 [11 favorites]

The report is totally different now, produced by totally different people, with tons of additional content AS REQUESTED and on-demand delivery and guess what? He is still unhappy.

Some people's main skill is covering their own incompetence by having made an entire art form out of demanding deliverables earlier than they're currently getting them and then looking vaguely dissatisfied when informed that the timeline they're hinting at (and it will always be a hint, never something firm that they can actually be held accountable for suggesting) is simply not achievable.

Keep an eye out for this pattern before tying yourself into a pretzel in a doomed attempt to satisfy it.

Strongly seconding the suggestion to inquire as to what particular piece of information the complainer would like to get from your reports earlier, and having them (not you) work through proper channels to arrange for a cc from the source of that information so that they get the the same uncompiled, uncorrelated, undistiiled, unprocessed data you do at the same time you do.
posted by flabdablet at 7:15 PM on April 20, 2021 [12 favorites]

Their response: Well, I still don't understand why you're just sitting on these numbers when you can send them earlier in the week...

This just sounds to me like one of those wretched people who can never admit that they are wrong. Even when given a perfectly reasonable explanation, acknowledging it would be like admitting they're not the smartest person in the world ever. Maybe ask your boss if they think you need to change the deadline, but other than that I'd ignore it.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 7:16 PM on April 20, 2021 [6 favorites]

Sounds a lot to me like they don't know what they are doing and don't know what they want. Who set the historical deadline of Wednesday at 2pm? Ask them what you want the new deadline to be. If they aren't around and this is solely your responsibility, then congrats, you're now the person who sets the deadlines and you get to send it when it's ready.
posted by turbid dahlia at 9:40 PM on April 20, 2021

Also, echoing the above, maybe what these clowns want is a different report with only select particular bits of information. That's fine, they get the downsized version of the report whenever all of the information that contributes to that report is available for the week.

All told, if they want whatever report earlier, that means you have to reprioritise things, so put it back on them: what do you want me to not do to ensure you get this report at whatever arbitrary time you now apparently want it?
posted by turbid dahlia at 9:42 PM on April 20, 2021

The deadline of Wednesday 2PM sounds like it needs to be ready for some sort of Weekly status meeting in a different timezone.

Often bosses would want a report ahead of the date because s/he would want to be "prepared" by previewing the report, and ask for revisions if possible. As the (bleep) flows downhill, every level boss ask for the report a bit earlier... Maybe it's really for a meeting on FRIDAY, for a boss two levels removed. :D
posted by kschang at 2:42 AM on April 21, 2021

Is the report just a compilation of these responses, or do you have to analyze them somehow and need all of the pieces in place first? If it's the former, and assuming you have other things you'd rather be doing, maybe you can automate this somehow. So customers answer a survey instead of emailing you, that goes into a shared Google spreadsheet, and anyone who needs the information can open up the spreadsheet and see the latest responses whenever they want. I have trouble imagining that customers would always respond on time, but if they're emailing you without prompting, maybe they could do this instead.
posted by pinochiette at 5:28 AM on April 21, 2021

Some people's main skill is covering their own incompetence by having made an entire art form out of demanding deliverables earlier

So much this, and also making it seem like there are obstacles to them doing the thing they're supposed to do (when there are really not).

I admit it's possible people don't find any value in the compiled report, they each just want the raw numbers hot off the press or whatever. What if they get both? a "un-vetted numbers incoming!" email, with a neat report for the record later (which = the normal time).

In my experience though, they'll just find something else to be vaguely critical of. But if that's not you, it still might be a win.
posted by ctmf at 7:50 PM on April 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

They're dithering instead of giving you clear direction possibly because they wish for it earlier but don't know if that's possible, or because they aren't your supervisor.

It sounds to me like you could get the data earlier if you requested it earlier, but just don't because there are other fires. I'd ask your boss what they want you to do but lean towards shifting your process to please everyone. You'll have to take X hours away from the fires to do this. Is there any reason not to take that time as early in the week as possible?
posted by slidell at 9:24 PM on April 21, 2021

It sounds like they were assuming that you get the information earlier than you actually do, and what they want is the information sent to you at the earliest possibly opportunity, and the report sent out by you asap (which looks to be half an hour, from what you've said) after the last piece of information arrives because they believe that is achievable. But they don't know when that is exactly, and it's not clear whether their want is a need or a mere desire.

Your boss may know what the other company does with the report, and/or have a view on whether changing the process is worth doing, including just for goodwill.

FWIW I would probably expect a report that I need to act on to be available on Monday or Tuesday if this was a weekly cycle. I think I'm reasonable, so learning that the last piece of info comes in on Wednesday morning should change my expectations.
posted by plonkee at 2:45 AM on April 22, 2021

My students do this to me all the time. They think my only job is to grade their paper. They don't consider that not only do I have other students who also submit papers, I have other duties that have nothing to do with grading papers at all.

I have to remind my students that just because I have received an item doesn't mean I've been able to address it. It's not an automatic process. I have to manually engage with it. Also, it takes time, and has to be fit in around my other duties. I'm not "sitting on it", I'm balancing a large number of tasks.

You can't send the report earlier in the week because the time you have dedicated to the task is on Wednesdays. Even if you had all the info on Monday morning, you still wouldn't have the TIME. The Wednesday afternoon report is released on Wednesdays.
posted by rakaidan at 4:05 PM on April 23, 2021 [1 favorite]

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