Clarify Time Based Language

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Problem: Time based language is often unclear

Many instructions, requests or orders state the due date requirement as something like “due Thursday” or “by tomorrow”, or even “due October”. However, that is unclear.

When the person says “due tomorrow” do they mean “close of business tomorrow” or perhaps they mean “I need it tomorrow morning, start of business”.

Does “by tomorrow” mean, “before tomorrow”, or “by the end of tomorrow”.

And of course, some people will submit a deliverable at the last possible moment, so if you say “Thursday” they may send it to you late on Thursday night.

ASAP (as soon as possible) is also not specific enough. How urgent is it really? Some people can interpret that as as soon as I can get to it (with other priorities pushing it to later). That is especially the case when lots of people ask for things ASAP. Which just leads to everything being put in a line in order of who asked first, or whoever asks the most or loudest.

Solution: Communicate specific due dates and times

If you give instructions to someone, make sure you are specific regarding when it is due or when it is to be done.

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You should also request clarification from others when they set you deliverables. If they send you a request with a non specific due date (like “October” or “by Friday”), reply back to them asking for specific times such as “close of business Friday”, or “last business day in October”. You could even reply “I will get that back to you by close of business (5pm) Friday, or I will get that to you by close of business (COB) the 31st of October.”

Here are my summary suggestions for wording:

  • By tomorrow – 5pm tomorrow
  • October – COB 31st October 2018
  • By Thursday – by 9am Thursday or by 5pm Thursday
  • ASAP – ASAP and no later than 5pm 26th October 2018

It is also helpful to add the reason why something is due on a certain time and date (if it is very soon), to help convince the person to do the task you request. Such as “we are required to get this to the client by 9am this Friday, so please send your draft to me by 2pm on Thursday so I can review it before I send it to the client. If we are late, our penalties are $2,000 per day.”

I find that specific times, and specific reasons, with stated consequences usually convince and motivate people to keep to their agreed schedule.

Lesson: Be specific when you set a due date

Be date and time specific in your requests to your project team, and require the same of them. Doing so will help you deliver to schedule.

Specify the date and time something is due. Don’t just say “ASAP” or “due Thursday”. Specify the due date, day and time, such as  “Due 10 am Thursday 18th October 2018”. This will reduce misunderstandings on when things are due.

You must clarify time based language. Be Specific.

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