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What To Do When Everyone Is Ignoring The Deadlines You Set Them

Sending a ton of follow-up emails is counterproductive. Take these four steps instead.

What To Do When Everyone Is Ignoring The Deadlines You Set Them
[Photo: H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty Images] [Photo: H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty Images]

There are plenty of frustrations that crop up during your workday. An overflowing inbox, a to-do list that’s a mile long, or that coworker who insists on having phone conversations at a decibel level that can only be described as alarming.

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Another annoyance that’s sure to inspire you to clench your jaw and let out an irritated groan? Being stuck in limbo because you’re waiting on a necessary response from somebody else.

Whether you’re anxiously anticipating your boss’s approval on your report outline or you need an important piece from one of your colleagues in order to wrap up your major project, you’re at a standstill—you simply can’t move forward until you get your greedy paws on exactly what you need.

The worst part? Nobody seems to share your same sense of urgency—and your deadline is quickly creeping up.

I find myself in this exact situation all the time, so I know how annoying and challenging it can be to just sit idly by while you continue to cross days off your calendar. Fortunately, I’ve identified a few strategies (no, they don’t involve sending aggressive follow-up emails every hour) that are helpful in getting other people to jump on your bandwagon and get you what you need—when you need it.

1. Make Your Deadline Painfully Obvious

You can’t expect people to honor your deadline if they have absolutely no idea when it is. And it’s up to you to make your timeline explicitly clear—as soon as possible.

Typically, I include an end date in the very first message I send about a project. Whether I’m emailing an editor, a colleague, or a source for an article, I wrap up by explaining when I need that request fulfilled—sometimes I’m extra courageous and even go so far as to put it in bold font. That way, I can rest assured that we’re both operating with the same agenda in mind right from the very start.

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No, people still don’t care about my deadline as much as I do (and why should they?). However, knowing exactly when I need things by at least helps them to respect that cutoff a little more.

2. Don’t Be Self-Centered

Here’s a fact that’s sad, but true: We can all be pretty selfish. Sure, you lend a helping hand every now and then out of the goodness of your heart. But a lot of times human nature takes over, and we approach each project or task with a “What’s in it for me?” sort of attitude.

Chances are, that person you’re waiting on feels this same way. He knows when you need this by, but why should he care? Why should this be bumped to the top of his own to-do list?

“Because it’s the polite and right thing to do!” you’re thinking now. But when the pressure of the workday is pushing down on you, how often do you think about how you could make someone else’s day easier? Not very often—you’re just trying to keep your head above water yourself.

This is why it’s important for you to illustrate the value this opportunity provides for that other person. Will his involvement in this big presentation boost his professional reputation and impress his boss, for example?

Regardless of the specific outcomes, find a way to stray away from that, “Me, me, me!” approach and instead let that person know what he or she is getting out of the deal.

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3. Follow Up Proactively

You don’t want to seem obnoxiously pushy and send an overwhelming amount of follow-up emails. So instead, you let your deadline slide by—as you think that provides the needed justification for popping back into that person’s inbox with a not-so-gentle reminder.

But here’s the thing: Checking in after your deadline with an urgent and stressed out, “Ah, I needed this yesterday!” message isn’t helpful to anybody. Now you’re behind schedule and you’ve passed that urgent hot potato onto somebody else’s plate—meaning he or she is probably going to be pretty annoyed.

It’s always better to be proactive with your deadlines and your related follow-ups. Maybe you need to check in on progress a couple of days or even weeks before your end date arrives, depending on the scope of your request. Either way, make sure you take the reins and proactively touch base (politely, of course!) with what’s needed. Staying top of mind is always helpful.

4. Detail Next Steps

Like it or not, some people will just continue to disregard your requests and treat your deadline like a suggestion. It’s irritating, but it happens.

If you’re getting down to the wire and still waiting on what you need, make sure you include your next steps in one of your follow-up messages. What will you do if you ultimately don’t get what you need? Will you pull in another person? Skip that portion of the presentation with a quick remark about not getting the information that was required? Move forward with what you have?

Sometimes all it takes are a few details about how you’ll handle the situation if your worst-case scenario comes to fruition. That’s usually enough to give that person a much-needed kick in the pants.

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I’m someone who spends about half of her day chasing people down. So, believe me when I tell you that I know just how frustrating it can be when you’re at a standstill, waiting on somebody who doesn’t appear to be in any hurry.

There’s no quick mind trick that’ll allow you to train people to answer your requests with no delays (hey, can we get workin’ on that, science?). However, there are a few tricks you can use to better set yourself up for success. Give these four a try, and you’re that much more likely to get your hands on what you need—when you need it.


This article originally appeared on The Daily Muse and is reprinted with permission.