Reflections on Achieving Your Goals: Not Everything is as Urgent as it Appears


A critical part of being accountable and delivering against your commitments (promises!) is to actually have bandwidth for them, in other words to not over-commit.

We already talked about how it is ok – actually expected – to say ‘no’ when needed. What we didn’t talk about yet are timelines (or ‘deadlines’ to make it even more scary sounding).

Not everything is as urgent as it might appear at first glance.

Clarify expectations

Not everything that comes from your leadership comes with a “drop everything else and do this right now” expectation. In most cases, leaders just want to know when they can expect an answer and have the confidence that they don’t need to spend their energy to track that deliverable for you.

Don’t assume. Clarify and verify.

If a request came in without a timeline or clarification on urgency, don’t assume. Just ask: “Hey, when do you need this by?

No decent leader will hold it against you if you ask, “By when do you need this?” I’m actually pretty sure for most leaders this will register as a plus point (if it doesn’t it’s time to look for a different leader).

What leaders want to know is whether you commit to provide the answer and by when. They want to be confident that you will do it and that they don’t have to worry about it. They will tell you if a timeline is not flexible and why.

As an employee, train your leader to provide that information with her requests in the future. However, also make extra-sure that you are managing yourself against that timeline! It is super frustrating as a leader if you need to keep your own reminders on everything you need, because you cannot rely on open loops to be closed without your constant follow-up.

Understand timelines

Not everything needs to happen right now. In fact, very few things are truly urgent, although many are perceived or presented as urgent or initially appear non-negotiable.

Unfortunately corporate culture has developed many bad habits in order to try to compensate for low accountability:

  • Setting deadlines way ahead of time to build in buffer
  • Setting short deadlines so that people do it right now and don’t get distracted
  • Setting deadlines just because that’s what you do
  • And the worst: setting a short deadline because something was sitting idle on your own desk for too long and now it’s really time to make progress

Understand the true urgency and timeline. Offer a plan to get there. Make sure you hit the plan.

Feel empowered to understand and validate urgency and tight deadlines. Ask for when a task is truly due. If it requires you to drop other things, understand what drives the urgency and what breaks if the deadline is missed.

If you think a deadline has a ‘safety buffer’ built in, ask for the real deadline. However, once you get the real deadline, you must make sure that you will be ready by that time. Otherwise, you just teach your partners to add additional buffers to manage in the future to work around your tardiness and unreliability.

If a deadline is infeasible, check your calendar and priorities and see when you can make it. Offer that alternative plan and check for agreement. If pushed, be clear what you will have to sacrifice in order to make that timeline.

In most cases, you will find that a deadline is actually negotiable.


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:


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