Looking for tips for planning an event with a friend who's disorganized
April 2, 2024 10:25 AM   Subscribe

I'm planning an event with a friend of mine that will take place in May or June. I'm finding that she's more "big picture" than me -- I'm very organized (plus ADHD hyperfocus). I'm not trying not to overstep, though, because it's really her baby. How can I handle this tactfully?


- We have had two meetings so far: one a few weeks ago with someone to give us advice and one today with two local government officials.
- Very soon we are forming a committee to help plan, though after I mentioned it today, she didn't appear to see the importance of doing it ASAP.
- I have a strong background in nonprofit marketing and have also planned a small nonprofit's event -- with the help of volunteers, but I was in charge. (She has co-planned at least one small event before, and I helped her with it, along with others.)
- I did express to her today that I am getting a bit worried that we haven't nailed down a location, date, etc. She seems pretty laid-back about this as well.
- Smaller point, but we don't have an elevator speech yet. We need one ASAP when we bring people on board and so on.
- So far, I am taking notes, organizing them, and sending them to her. I'm totally fine with this role. We need a checklist ASAP too.

In general, I don't want to come off like a control freak (I do LOVE organizing things in general but am fine with delegating reliable people), but if I don't steer her to get more organized soon or let me take more of that role, I don't know how this will work. Do I need a "come to Jesus" moment?
posted by trillian to Human Relations (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have a regular check-in schedule with her? Why not try setting up a weekly schedule and come to an agreement on clear goals, deadlines, and responsibilities for the various pieces at each meeting—this will give you a much better starting point and allow you to park some of these issues and worries.

“ASAP” means different things to different people and it can be exhausting on both sides of the “why haven’t you done this yet” refrain.

Eg “I think we need to nail down a date and venue by the end of the month, because it looks like typically they fill up X months in advance. Can we figure out ideal dates today and aim to have contacted 10 venues by the time we meet next week?”
posted by music for skeletons at 10:52 AM on April 2 [1 favorite]

Clearer communication maybe. There's some here that is assumptions ("didn't appear to see", "seems pretty laid-back"). If you haven't planned together before, neither of you will have a good mental model of the other person's needs and priorities. I find it important to be very explicit about these things. But it doesn't need to be a value judgment when communicated, can just be phrased as things you need (even if there is a bit of value judgment and best practices in your mind). Like:
- "I need to have clearly divided responsibilities between us with deadlines in mind in order to not be stressed out about this"
- "I would be most comfortable working on this project if I take on the role of "project manager" and keep track of what needs to be done"
- "I would like to have an elevator speech, what do you think of this:"

Is she actually wanting to have control over details like this, or is she actually comfortable with focusing on the big picture? Are you happy with taking on the organizing, and being the backstop for the details, or will it create resentment for you if the roles are unequal? Is she willing to do set tasks that you ask her to do by a specific time, or would she find that to rankle her for one reason or another?

Again these are not value judgments and there is no one correct way to do things, except that you are both on the same page and have reasonably certain expectations about what the other will or will not do.

Because you are a planner, and would not like someone else to tell you what to do or have strong opinions, maybe you assume that others are the same? It's possible she is both attached to being in control of things and touchy about it while also being liable to not actually do important stuff (the worst of worlds, and not someone I'd want to plan an event with obviously). But it doesn't sound like you have enough information yet to conclude one way or the other.
posted by lookoutbelow at 10:53 AM on April 2 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the awesome advice so far!

I just wanted to briefly reply to lookoutbelow regarding "Because you are a planner, and would not like someone else to tell you what to do." I'd be fine with her giving me tasks -- she asked me to set up today's meeting, for example. If she said, "Here's a list of action items for you this week," I'm good. I feel like she's not going to, so I guess I'll propose some today that I can take care of.

One more detail to add: She has contacted potential event partners (individual people in the community) but I have no idea who they are or if she has a written list.

OK, I will not threadsit. :)
posted by trillian at 11:05 AM on April 2

You're correct, sorry to assume! I'm more thinking of my frequent error that other people are the same as me, not realizing that sometimes the way someone else would want me to treat them is different than how I'd want someone to treat me.
posted by lookoutbelow at 11:11 AM on April 2

I think a first step is coming up with a detailed work-back scheduled that outlines all the tasks that need to be done. I think it's fine for you to show up to the next meeting with a "draft." Ask your planning partner to review it to see if you've missed anything, or if things need to be in a different order. Then together you can divvy up the tasks, set deadlines, identify where you might need additional help, etc.

The key here is to really be open to feedback and changes to the list and how tasks are divided up. Don't present this list as a done deal where you've already made all the decisions and chosen the tasks you want to do.
posted by brookeb at 11:17 AM on April 2

Make a timeline with expected tasks be accomplished by various dates and meetings to discuss those tasks the next day or so. Invite her to help you work out what all these tasks should be. Divvy them up with the clear communication that you both can delegate them to others who may be more capable/connected. But the trick is, make that timeline artificially cramped. Since you have more experience with the mechanisms of these things you should be able to bring that up when telling her you will make a timeline. Set the tasks to be done at least a few business days before they really need to be finished, if not a week or more. The deadline will cause your friend to feel motivated to get things done but if she flakes there will be ample time for her, or anyone you have delegated to, to course correct.

Depending on your relationship and her specific personality, this might be a case where you should keep quiet about the strictness of the timeline, or you might be able to be upfront and tell her you’ve built in a lot of cushion but have set the dates so everyone feels motivated to get on top of things. I am the latter, I’m that person who wrote essays the morning they were due and got A’s on them and then in college lied to myself about due dates so I’d get things done. My childhood best friend is the former, for years we used to plan events without her and then tell her to arrive half an hour earlier than everyone else with the expectation that she would show up exactly on time, but when one of us spilled the beans about this she was mortally offended.

You probably also will have some luck asking her point blank if she would like you to make boring decisions and phone calls so she can focus on the creative tasks, or however you want to put the sentiment. If this event really is her “baby” then she probably has a lot of ideas and needs someone rational to bring them into reality.
posted by Mizu at 11:22 AM on April 2 [1 favorite]

I don't know if you need a come to Jesus talk so much as checklists and to-do items assigned to people, but also maybe to start with a bigger conversation not about the event details so much as a conversation about your various roles. You're bringing this question to us, but I think the answer is really in conversation with her. I don't know that "I'm a bit worried" really communicated what you're telling us here, which is "I don't know how to proceed and I'm worried this won't happen."

I think you could say to her, "You are so great at the big picture, and I am super organized. This is your baby, and I don't want to overstep, but can we talk about timeline and roles? I can do A, B, and C, and I'd like to propose we come up with a checklist and assign people tasks. What do you think?"

I have a good friend who regards herself as an organized planner who is always getting frustrated with people who aren't organized. But she gets so anxious about communicating her worries that she doesn't communicate directly, which means it gets worse and worse and she resents people who have no idea and no opportunity to do differently. You're so worried about being a control freak that you're getting anxious, which isn't going to help either of you get this done happily and well.

And looking at Mizu's answer, I'll also add: yeah, I doubt she'd mind if you went ahead and started to set up some of the planning infrastructure.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:26 AM on April 2 [3 favorites]

Good advice so far - I would also work on thinking about what is at stake for you and for her here, overall and when it comes for different decisions.

So, for picking a date - presumably that needs to be done enough in advance to market the event, and to ensure that key stakeholders will be free to attend. The cost of waiting too long means lower attendance, and potentially people's calendars already being full of previous commitments.

Or for picking a venue - does waiting mean you won't be able to find any place at all, or you'll have to go over budget, or you'll have to settle on a place in a more remote location (risking lower attendance), or you simply won't get your top choice?

If she is big picture, it might help if you make it explicit why certain things need to happen on a timeline - it might also help you pick your battles.
posted by coffeecat at 11:52 AM on April 2

Do you have the same vision for the complexity and quality the event needs to have in the first place?

I have worked with folks who think a potluck needs a long list of desired dish types for folks to sign up to ("two cheese plates, one fruit salad, one pasta or potato salad..."). And also with folks who figure they can have their wedding in a public park, BYOB, pick up a tray of sandwiches - why are you asking me for details four whole weeks in advance?

Either is fine but the two work badly together.
posted by Lady Li at 1:45 PM on April 2

Another example is that I tend to book my big vacations 4 weeks ahead, and my mother books her travel 6 to 9 months ahead. I don't get the specific most-coveted tour / art hotel / restaurant reservation she can book, but I'm totally happy walking around town with an audio guide and staying in a hotel that is like, 60th percentile quality. Flights are still available and don't really cost that much more. Etc.
posted by Lady Li at 2:04 PM on April 2

Response by poster: Thank you, all!!
posted by trillian at 8:21 PM on April 4

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