Is Urgent Really Urgent? Is it Really an Urgent Request?

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Problem: People make urgent requests for work or approvals

Do you find that you don’t get a sufficient or timely response to your urgent requests for review or approval of documents or drawings?

I know a lot of people that send emails or make requests asking for their team or other stakeholders to “urgently” review, approve or reply regarding a document or drawing. Or they may say ASAP (as soon as possible).

“Urgent” or “as soon as possible” are too vague.

Is that response urgent? If so, when is it required by? How urgent is urgent?

Who is it urgent for? Probably not for the recipient, but just for the sender.

Some people can read ASAP or urgent, as “possible for me is the end of today, or next week, or next month.

Some people seem to use the word “urgent” or “high priority” or “important” in many or most of their requests. This over use of urgent requests just seems to lead to less and less timely or accurate responses.

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I have also seen many people put emails marked urgent in a “to do” folder, and then just work through them in the order received. This means that an email requiring an urgent response today may take days or weeks to be actioned if other emails marked urgent arrived first.

Solution: Limit your use of the word urgent

How should you make your requests more useful? Don’t say everything is urgent, and don’t mark emails as urgent, high importance etc unless they really are.

Instead of saying that something is urgent, you should state the required urgency.

I.e. you should set a date or time that the response is required. You need to use time based language.

This specifically helps people in a number of ways:

  • It gives the recipient guidance on the priority of the work.
  • It makes them more likely to respect your requests, as you are helping them to know how urgent the work really is.
  • It helps people organise the order they do their work.

For example, you could put in the email subject line:

“Project xyz – Final Design Drawing review required – due COB Thursday 24th June.

This gives a very specific summary of what is required and by when. The reader of the email can immediately see what is required of them and when it needs to be done (without even having to open the email). This direct and specific title helps guide people on the urgency much more than the word “urgent” or “important”. The recipient can put this in the correct place in a queue of work.

The email details should still include the due date and time, as well as the details of what is required, by whom and for whom.

Clients or your senior managers may sometimes make urgent requests of you and your team. In these instances, make sure you check whether you can supply some part of the deliverable or in a different format while the main document is being completed for them.

For example, sometimes a draft “information only” set of drawings is sufficient to be supplied to a client while reviews are being done. Make sure to mark or stamp those draft drawings as “draft – information only” and include a date on them as well, to ensure the recipient knows they are not final.

I prefer to reply to the client or manager asking what date and time this request is required by (if they have not already specified this). If what they are asking for will affect the schedule of the project, make sure to inform them that this “urgent” work will be put in the schedule and that will move out the schedule by X days.

This schedule variation may not always be possible or will not be approved, but it helps the client or manager to see the effect of their “urgent” requests, and should reduce the frequency they send those or at least will guide them on giving clearer expected response times.

You can also ask the person requesting the drawing or document (client, manager, colleague etc) “are we holding you up?” Or “is this required before you can proceed?”

Sometimes it is not slowing their work down, so the urgency is not really there.

I also believe people should prioritise their work according to something like the Eisenhower Decision Matrix. Giving clear required dates and reasons helps people to use this matrix properly.

  • Important and Urgent
  • Important but not urgent
  • Not important but urgent
  • Not important and not urgent

Lesson: Specify due dates instead of using the word “urgent”

Reduce your use of the word “urgent” in your requests of your team or other stakeholders. You should instead be specific about what is required and when (preferably with a date and time).

This will help your team plan their work better, and should also give your team the ability to provide more accurate and timely responses. It will also increase their respect for you.

If people send these sorts of requests to you, ask for due dates and times, so that you can plan your work accordingly. You may need to tell people that their request will affect the project schedule.

Hubspot lists some great alternative headings at 17 Less Pushy Alternatives to “As Soon As Possible”

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