my boss gives me deadlines and then gets annoyed when work isn’t finished early

A reader writes:

I have a question about a supervisor who gives hard deadlines but then gets upset if you don’t meet them early.

An example: She recently asked me to complete some edits on a document and said to be done in 7 days. After 4 days (on a Saturday!), I got an email reminding me to do it since I “clearly keep forgetting.” Another example: We have a remote, as-needed worker who was asked to respond within 24 hours to all emails. Often, my supervisor will email this worker at 9 am, and then come into my office around 4 pm, complaining that the worker hasn’t responded yet. Events like this happen regularly.

Normally I’d just mentally cut the deadline by 50% to try to make it by my supervisor’s “mental” deadline, but I recently started working off-site 3 days a week, plus I report to 4 other supervisors for different projects. It can be extremely difficult to determine whose task has priority, and often, with only 2 days a week in the office, I realistically cannot get tasks done with less than a week’s notice.

I’ve tried gently pushing back with “I’ll have it done this afternoon even though I thought you didn’t need it until the day after tomorrow,” but it doesn’t seem to make a difference. She never actually says “Hey, I need you to move this along faster, please”; she just gets annoyed and angry.

Do you have any advice about how to bring up this problem? I’m getting the sense that she thinks I’m unreliable, although I’ve always met the original deadlines she gives, and do my best to respond ASAP when she changes them. Also, I’m non-exempt and not allowed to work overtime so this greatly inhibits my ability to meet sudden deadline changes.

That’s annoying. It’s bad enough to act like you know to have things ready before the deadline she herself gave you, but then to get angry and annoyed on top of it?

I’d address it head-on: “Jane, I wanted to talk to you about deadlines. I’ve noticed that sometimes you’ll give me a specific deadline for a project but then seem concerned if it’s not done several days before that deadline. I want to make sure that I’m getting you work by the time you need it. Is there a different way we should be handling deadlines so that I have the right information about when you’ll need something?”

Or, if you’re more comfortable talking about it this way, you can wait until it happens again and then address it in the context of that specific instance: “I can definitely move this up in priority if you need me to. You had originally asked me to get this to you by next Wednesday. Do you actually need it more quickly? If so, what’s the new deadline I should use, so that I can prioritize it correctly with the other work I’m doing for Lucinda and Fergus?” (Note the reminder in there that you serve other people as well as her; that’s deliberate.)

If you have that specific-instance version of the conversation a couple of times, it might prompt her to realize that she’s doing this a lot. But if it doesn’t, then you’d need to go to the broader wording that I suggested initially.

And frankly, if you’re comfortable with it, you could even say, “I’ve noticed that you’ve been seemed frustrated when I haven’t had a project done by a certain point. I want to make sure that you know that I take deadlines really seriously. Often when this has happened, the deadline that you originally gave me is still in the future. I of course understand that deadlines may change, but I’m getting the sense that you’re getting frustrated about the pace of some projects when no one has come to me and changed the deadline. I’ll be vigilant about whatever deadline you give me — but, especially when I’m also doing work for four other people, I need to assume that the deadline you give me is in fact the deadline that I should use.”

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 197 comments… read them below }

  1. Journalist Wife*

    Ugh. I used to have a boss like this, too. All the things were Priority #1 and she often didn’t communicate clearly that the deadline she’d told me was actually HER deadline so she needed it sooner. Well, half the time it was that and the other half of the time she was just impatient. Eventually, I addressed the issue with another colleague who was suffering from this, too, from her — and we proposed that we give her status updates regularly on ALL THE THINGS so she’d know if things were operating on schedule to her liking (though really we wanted to effectively demonstrate and show her the full spectrum of projects she’d thrown at us at any given moment in time). We basically spammed her with constant updates until she got tired of being bombarded by the tangible evidence of how much Priority Level One things she was giving us all the time, and she backed off a bit. But I wonder if, in addition to Alison’s great advice, framing it in a way that suggests you’re unclear as to whether the deadlines she is telling you are the deadlines she needs your portion done by in order to have time to review the work herself, or if they’re the deadlines for her to have already done her part to it as well after you’ve finished. Even if the type of work she gives you does not necessitate her adding things or much review post-deadline, I think phrasing it that way makes it very sincere but practical in demonstrating that you’ve got her best interests in mind and want to make her life easier and less stressful. Good luck, though!

    1. the_scientist*

      My first instinct in reading this was also that the supervisor is neglecting to build in time for review/sign-off on HER end. So she tells the OP what is actually the drop-dead deadline and then hounds the OP because she actually needs it sooner to accomplish her part of the task. The fact that the OP works under four different people strengthens my belief that this is what is happening; I’d bet the boss thinks OP is just sitting at a desk and twiddling her thumbs until bosslady sends her work, so of course the OP will start working on it immediately and finish it ASAP.

      1. Meg Murry*

        Yes, I wonder if it’s a communication thing, or something that was implied with OP’s predecessor that OP hasn’t been told/taught. So boss might be saying to OP “The Jones report is due on next Friday” and what boss really means is “The Jones report needs to be in the customer’s hands by Friday, but we like to exceed expectations and have it to them by Wednesday, so I need your report by the Friday before so I can revise it and run it by the marketing team before sending it.”

        If boss is saying “give this to me by next Friday” and then wondering why it isn’t done by this Friday though – yeah, she’s just being a jerk or is terrible at communication.

    2. OriginalYup*

      Yes, I wondered the same thing. Is boss saying “the edits need to be complete in 7 days” but that’s when the document is actually being presented at a board meeting, so in fact it needs to be completed in 4 days to be signed off, printed, and mailed offsite on time.

      If the boss is a lousy process thinker, it could be tough to pull the proper information out of her. I often have to ask lots of procedural/sequencing questions to get to real story with people like this.

      Them: “I need it drafted by Friday.”
      Me: “When I send you the draft on Friday, will you then come back to me with your comments on Monday?”
      Them: “No, I have to send it to the client first thing on Friday morning.”
      Me: “Oh, so you need a final version by Friday. Should I send you a draft on Thursday, so you can look it over on Friday morning?”
      Them: “No, I need to have my comments finished by Wednesday.”
      Me: “I see. Then you probably need a draft by Tuesday?”
      Them: “Yes!”
      Me: “Um, okay. So it’s currently 4.30pm on Tuesday, so I guess I’ll go get started on this right now.”

      1. amaranth16*

        Oh my god, conversations like this are physically painful for me. I’m lucky to have a boss right now who’s a good process thinker, but good grief it’s like pulling teeth when the person’s not. THE WORST!

      2. Witty Nickname*

        Conversations like this are why I, as a project manager, spell out every single step in creating the presentations we use in my project tracking sheet. It drives my teams crazy, because I can make 5 rows of deliverables take more than 100 rows once I get done with it. But between drafts, and the various rounds of reviews and updates everything has to go through, I can’t just say “have the training materials finalized by Friday.”

      3. Not So NewReader*

        This is great advice for the OP to consider. I have had to do this with good bosses, too.

        It’s a long shot but that annoyance you are picking up on MAY be annoyance with herself, for not planning better or even for not figuring out why she always has this problem.
        OP, it might be helpful to come in on a plane of “can I somehow make this easier for you?” I have used this approach with nasty bosses also, and I have gotten fairly good results. But you are in the situation, not me. I could totally off base here.

      4. Kathryn*

        I think this is clarifying an issue I’m having. This is very helpful… I’ve never worked with not-process expel before and I think I may have run into one because we’ve been hitting a very similar wall and it’s been driving me bananas. (My background is manufacturing, process control, and program management… Either I was surrounded by process people or I was responsible for making all of the deadlines and communicating them. And I’ve been lucky in my coworkers. It didn’t occur to me that people could exist without being able to map this kind of thing out at all.)

      5. Leah*

        I wish I had learned to do this with Old Boss. But instead, he just got mad that I did Urgent Task A before Urgent Task B, not realizing that secretly Task B was More Urgent.

        Also, if everything is urgent, then nothing is urgent.

      6. DMented Kitty*

        After which I will quietly walk over to a corner and bang my head against the wall.

    3. AllieJ0516*

      I was going to suggest something similar – maybe not daily, but every couple of days email her a bulleted list of milestones that you’ve hit and what your next steps are and when you’ll have them completed. And maybe mention that you have to dedicate x# hours to Lucinda and x# to Fergus, but you’ll be working on her stuff from whenever to whenever. High-maintenance, micro-managing bosses can be the WORST. Especially when they’re so rude about it. Good luck to ya!

    4. vox de causa*

      Yeah, I was going to say this – it’s bad communication on the manager’s part. She’s telling OP when she (the manager) needs to turn it in, but she’s not telling the OP when they need to give it to her. And my guess is that the manager doesn’t know when she really wants/needs it, herself. I’ll bet that she’s finding herself with unexpected free time and she thinks, “Ah! This would be the perfect time to review OP’s work on project X!” And that’s when she goes looking for it and gets annoyed that it’s not there.

      I don’t know if this has a good solution. I mean, Allison’s advice is sound, as is what Journalist Wife is saying. I just don’t have a lot of faith that someone who’s already doing this repeatedly is going to learn better.

    5. KH*


      When I’ve seen this (from people who aren’t strange to begin with), it’s generally because of lack of work-in-progress feedback prior to the deadline. Some bosses have expectations for when to check in and clearly communicate those, others don’t are happy to just get the final deliverable, and others have expectations for when to check in but don’t tell anyone and then get frustrated when nobody checks in.

      You’ll just have to learn the style.

    6. Cate*

      Rather than barraging with constant emails (potentially effective, but time consuming) have you considered using something like Trello to organize and prioritize the work for all of your direct reports? We use it at my office, and it’s a fantastic free site that allows you to manage your workflow, show deadlines, tasks, add notes or files, and add collaborators so they can see or edit (if you give permission) the activities on your board. It’s been a godsend for big group projects, and if everyone agrees to it then you can check the status anytime without having to nag people for updates. My boss, who is a chronic email-ignorer, even agreed to use it and made sure that I saw his updated activity on tasks assigned to him.

  2. The Cosmic Avenger*

    Part of the issue is the change in expectations and the way it is communicated, but the line ” I got an email reminding me to do it since I ‘clearly keep forgetting’ ” makes me think that the boss may also need more progress updates. I would try updating the status as often as is feasible, and each time work in somewhere “This is still on target for completion by Tuesday, as you requested”, as a way to prompt the boss to speak up if the expectations have changed.

    Sure, this is all the supervisor’s “fault” for being a lousy communicator, but simply knowing that doesn’t help the OP. I think this is one tactic to try that could help with a supervisor like this. Even set a reminder to email at least once a day with the status of her projects.

    1. Journalist Wife*

      We think alike, Cosmic Avenger! Yep, the thing is to show her with increased status updates or emails that you’re far better at managing your own workload when she backs off and lets you do it without all the drama.

    2. Connie-Lynne*

      Yes, this is what I was thinking as well — it’s possible the supervisor doesn’t feel the work is progressing because she’s not getting regular status updates.

      1. The Cosmic Avenger*

        Yeah, I mean, there are no guarantees that this would help, but it seems like it’s worth a shot. The manager sounds like they’re disorganized and craving more control, so I think this kind of change might help, at least partially.

    3. jmkenrick*

      Sure, this is all the supervisor’s “fault” for being a lousy communicator, but simply knowing that doesn’t help the OP.

      This line is spot on for so many of the questions that some through here!

  3. JM in England*

    One way of handling this I can see is to say “I could get it done earlier but with a corresponding drop in quality”……………

  4. ZSD*

    When I headed up committees in school, I used to do something similar to what this boss is doing. If my team agreed to get something done within two weeks, I’d just assume (foolishly) that of course they’d send me a good draft within one week, and they’d actually have the task completely done in 10 days.

    I think this is because when I got school assignments, I always had them finished several days early. I’d never wait until the night before to finish an essay for a class, and I assumed that everyone else worked this way and would also work that way on non-class assignments.

    But I didn’t communicate this to my team! So when we’d reached a week before the deadline and I hadn’t heard anything, I’d just think, “Well, they obviously aren’t getting this done, so I’ll just do it myself.” You can imagine how well people reacted to that.

    I’ve learned to communicate my expectations better by telling people when I’d like to see a draft and when I’d like the final product.

    So. OP, it might help if you try to make a habit of giving your boss an update on your progress every couple days. “Hey, I’ve been setting up that meeting with Tricia. I’m waiting for her to confirm the time, but I’ll definitely have things finalized by April 30 as we agreed.” And later: “Hey, I just wanted to let you know that I’m working on the draft of the white paper that we’re discussing with Tricia. I’m attaching my current draft, and I’ll get you the final version by April 30. If you’d like to send me comments on this draft, that’d be great.”

    Maybe the boss would be less annoyed if she at least had updates on your progress.

    1. Alter_ego*

      I’m genuinely shocked to hear that you completed school assignments several days early. I know that’s how teachers and professors always told us they expected us to work, but in 17 years of school, I don’t think I ever met anyone who wasn’t finishing things the night before they were due.

      1. Mike C.*

        Indeed, I like to take my company’s commitment to “just in time” manufacturing to heart.

      2. LQ*

        Count me in the magical people who got things done early category. Once I got things done so early I got assigned more work. I learned to not tell certain people, but most appreciate a quick turn around. And it generally gives me time for the OH NO LQ! I need this done today!! Which doesn’t come up much, but when it does, it’s usually from much higher up in the food chain. So my direct coworkers don’t have to suffer things not getting done because I’m working on Big Boss thing.

        1. Alter_ego*

          Oh, I’m just talking about in school. At work, I’m pretty good about getting stuff done early when possible. The issue we run into is if I do, say, a lighting design a week before it’s due, we will inevitably hear from the architect that they want to change the entire thing 3 days before it’s due. So then I have to do it twice. If I don’t start until three days before it’s due, I have half the work. But that’s the nature of my industry.

          1. Anonsie*

            There are a lot of things like that in my work, too. I can do the equivalent of outlining in advance, but details have to be filled in at the last minute because there are always changes.

        2. Kelly O*

          I’m one of those freaky kids too. I liked having time to review it and making sure it looked pretty before I handed it in.

          I was known to rewrite whole papers if I looked at it and didn’t like the way it looked on the page.

          And no, I was not valedictorian or salutatorian.

        3. SystemsLady*

          I get things done early, but that’s because I stretch my “I can have this by” estimates by a couple days, at least if there’s room in the timeline to do so.

          I’m glad I do, because half the time I then immediately get asked when I can have [three other things that are higher priority] done by…or I mostly finish the document, but spend the remaining days before the deadline hunting down small details that nobody’s ever ready to give me.

          At least in the latter case, I’m usually still able to submit the document with a note that section X is pending without affecting the project deadline. But that’s my job in my industry more than anything else.

          Now in school? Hah. Unless it was an assigned reading of an interesting book, not so much.

        4. TootsNYC*

          ” Once I got things done so early I got assigned more work. I

          Chiming in late to say–that happened to an editor friend of mine. She would stay up late at home to make sure she hit her deadlines for her three stories. Then a colleague of hers who was always really, really late got sick, and of course, her stories were way behind. So they got divvied up among the other editors. My friend got 2 of them, because she was done already. So she AGAIN stayed up late and turned them in.
          Then…one of the editors didn’t have either her own or the sick colleague’s done, so my friend got a THIRD extra story to do. She said, “I feel like I’m being punished for doing my job well and meeting my deadlines.” Her boss got pissed off at her.

      3. CrazyCatLady*

        Really? I always finish things early (both at school and in the professional world where I’m getting paid to meet deadlines). I’m sure there are plenty of people who didn’t wait until the night before assignments were due to finish.

        1. Alter_ego*

          The professional world is a totally different thing. I regularly finish stuff ahead of time for work. But in school? I seriously didn’t know anyone, and I was friends with people who did well.

          1. CrazyCatLady*

            Interesting! I think for me, I was so stressed until it got done that I did it right away and submitted work as soon as possible so it wouldn’t be looming over my head. I mean, I definitely pulled all-nighters before but it wasn’t my habit.

            1. Anonsie*

              I think I may have known like, a person or two who did this but it was usually because they had other commitments taking up all the time before a deadline. And no one ever actually handed things in early, I mean… That’s just robbing yourself of time to make changes, isn’t it? Even if you don’t think you’re going to.

          2. OfficePrincess*

            Same here. In school, the only time I did things ahead is when I had a paper due in every class on the same day (aka the day before a vacation), so I’d work on 1 or 2 per night the week before. At work though, I knock things out as fast as I can. I got bored the other day and now I have reports for next week done already.

      4. ZSD*

        Nope, I never once turned in a first draft for an essay. I was usually turning in the fifth or sixth version. Of course, now I kind of regret using my time that way.

      5. the gold digger*

        I finished my papers early (English major). I hate the pressure of working at the last minute and I liked having time to give the paper one more read over with fresh eyes to catch typos. (I was an English major with a typewriter.)

        (One of the major incompatibilities in my marriage is I file taxes as soon as I have all my forms, my husband stays up all night April 15 – or, this year, all night this Sunday because his drunk father fell on his mother’s knee and put her in the hospital and Primo had to fly down to try once again to get them into assisted living, which they insist they do not need.)

          1. the gold digger*

            Thank you. I don’t like Doris very much, but man, she does not deserve this! Sly is 260 lbs, she is a frail 110 lbs. He’s the one who screwed up and she’s the one paying. It is not fair at all.

        1. Pickwick the Dodo*

          I file taxes early if I’m getting money back; as late as possible if I have to pay.

          1. ThursdaysGeek*

            I usually wait until the last minute, but this year I wanted to get them done before someone else did them. That’s one use of stolen healthcare information — getting a refund by fake doing someone’s taxes, leaving the legit taxpayer to clean up the mess.

            1. SystemsLady*

              Yeah, I wish I could have filed for that exact reason (didn’t have healthcare info stolen, but was a victim of a breach where the hacker may or may not have gotten SSNs several years ago).

            2. Sunshine*

              This happened to a friend of mine, and I just heard there’s a “ring” in my area. Is that the gig? Stolen info from healthcare providers?

          2. SystemsLady*

            Usually we do, but we physically couldn’t this year (military spouse/didn’t have time to get power of attorney and it turns out he doesn’t qualify for me to sign for him without it). We got all our information together before he left, but because the state program for our tax software wasn’t ready, it was a wash. Sigh.

            But because we’re owed a refund and plan to keep it that way while he’s active duty, the government doesn’t really care and won’t charge a penalty.

            1. Violet Rose*

              Being out of the country during tax season is a big barrel of, er, “fun”. This is my first year filing the Foreign Income Exclusion Whatever, and I thought I was on top of things for filing on the 12th… until the form rejected four times now because I answered too many questions, or forgot to fill in a space I thought was optional, etc., etc. We’re now past the deadline and I’m STILL getting XML validation errors – but what are they going to do, charge me interest on the $0 I owe?

      6. Ellie H*

        I’m in grad school and I plan when I am going to do which work on a very specific schedule. Some assignments I do a few days (rarely, many days) early because that’s when it works best for me to do it, some assignments I do immediately before the deadline because that’s when it fits/the time that is left.

        Because of this it is SO frustrating when professors add extra reading the day beforehand, as there’s a good chance I have different work that I have scheduled to complete during the 24-hour window, during which I must now *also* do the extra work. I always end up feeling like it should be fair game because I “shouldn’t have waited till the last minute” with something I knew about for a long time, but given that I DO plan pretty carefully when I will do things, the bait and switch is unpleasant.

        1. NutellaNutterson*

          I teach grad students now and I try move assignments, as I’m aware of the typical scheduling crunch times.

          I think one of the challenges, especially in later college classes and in grad school, is that completing an assignment early would also mean reading WAY ahead in the required readings. If you don’t have the broader context for the assignment, you’re likely missing some significant information that would help complete the assignment.

          Granted, night before (or, um, morning of) term papers seem to be how many students operate, so I think the way-ahead problem is rare. My own grad school experience taught me that I did, in fact, need to write a draft and have it reviewed. Coasting on a lifetime of being “smart” and a “good student” ended HARD when I received “insufficient quality: writing lab review required” note on my paper!

        2. Joline*

          I really appreciated that the bulk of my degree I did as part of a diploma program at a technical school. We were taking seven or eight courses a semester, but it was in set groups and schedules (it was more like high school than college/university in structure for these types of programs). Because all the instructors knew which courses we were all taking other than for things like exams they were often able to kind of stagger major projects so we had more of a steady workload as opposed to lulls and crazy periods.

          1. Anx*

            I had a different experience.

            I shared many gen ed courses with students in a pre-professional progam. Students in my major were very independent and often split there time among school, work, clubs, friends. The students in the program lived and breathed that program; they rarely worked outside of their field and were all friends with each other.

            They frequently had teachers move around assignments, but we others weren’t so organized. They would lobby to PUSH UP exams and assignments, and win. It was awful. I had to miss an exam once because I had to go out of town. Awful.

            1. Beezus*

              I had a similar experience with one of my classes in my senior year of college. The students in the other program lobbied to have our final exam moved up to a regular class date instead of the scheduled final exam time, because they all had a huuuuuge final project due in their program senior course that week. The scheduled final exam time was 30 minutes longer than the regular class, so we had 30 fewer minutes to do the exam. The professor didn’t shorten the exam itself, and I wasn’t able to complete the exam during the shorter regular class period – I had to leave two problems blank. Those two problems were the difference between getting an A and a B in the course. The B I got in the course pulled my GPA down just far enough that I didn’t graduate with honors. I was not a happy camper. :(

            2. Joline*

              Ahh, yeah. That’d be awful.

              Other than lecture classes we didn’t share with anyone else. We had our group and we had all our classes together – only the lectures were shared with multiple groups (and usually in the same or almost the same program). And they just didn’t shift things – the schedule/itinerary was set at the beginning of the semester and it just didn’t move. The idea was that if everyone’s taking the same classes nothign should have to move since it’d already been considered.

              Sometimes I really appreciate my school. :P

      7. College Career Counselor*

        I’m a deadline-driven person when it comes to a lot of things, so a lot of my work product goes out the day of deadline. Alison’s script is good for the overall philosophy, but a specific instance may help illuminate the issue for the boss. Therefore, if I had a boss like the OP, in addition to Alison’s script, I would also push back explicitly the next time I was assigned a task and given a deadline. “Is this the date you need it back by, or is this the day that ALL review/work on this product needs to be finished? If the latter, when do YOU need it/want me to have it back to you?”

        I agree with others who say that this is

        1. College Career Counselor*

          ack! hit reply too soon! What I wanted to add was that I agree with others that this may well be a working styles/differences issue. And if it is, I put the blame on the boss, because she is making assumptions without communicating expectations.

      8. Claire (Scotland)*

        I never finished an essay or assignment less than three days before deadline, through high school and university. My dissertation was finished and bound a week before the due date. It would have made me really uncomfortable to wait until the night before to finish something! What if something went wrong!?

      9. Hlyssande*

        I think I may have managed it once or twice when there was an assignment I was actually interested in. Like reading a great book in my US History class (I chose Catch-22).

      10. jag*

        I got stuff done early in grad school, perhaps a fifth of the time. I had to – my life is too full of other commitments.

        And very very often I’d get things almost completely done several days early, then put it aside when it needed 30 minutes of work to wrap up, or even nothing more except submission or printing. That last bit of content I’d plug in the day before or the morning it was due. The gap of a few days would allow time for any last minute ideas to come to mind. This is a good way to work for material that involved creativity.

      11. Golden Yeti*

        Yeah, I’m Majorly one of those. The funny thing is, the longer I was in school, the earlier I started doing papers. In college, I’d start them about a month in advance. By the time I got to my master’s, I realized I could use the “dead days” at the start of the year (when you’ve just gotten the syllabus, but no major assignments yet aside from reading) to do my papers even farther in advance. So, I would end up doing all my final papers when the semester started. If you think about it, you have tons of time and virtually unlimited resource options–especially books, because it’s not the week before, so there’s no mad scramble over limited sources on your topic. Nobody in their right mind is thinking that far ahead, haha. What can I say? I really hate having looming projects hanging over my head, and if I see a way to do it in advance now for less stress later, I’m in. :)

        1. Ellie H.*

          Out of curiosity, how exactly did that work? How did the papers turn out? I’m extremely curious. I would love to do that as I can’t stand having work hanging over my head. But I’m not sure I would be able to do that because of having no clue what approach the professor is going to take to the material (or even about the topic of the course!). Plus, at least in my grad seminar courses, the professor will not really keep to the syllabus at all so the course may end up rather different from how it seems at the start (its own problem). Would you re-work material related to the course back in to the papers at the end of the semester?

          1. Golden Yeti*

            Sounds like your situation may be different from mine. My profs were pretty reliable in sticking to the syllabus plan. Also, while we were given a list of topics to choose from, we weren’t expected to necessarily incorporate material from lectures into the paper. The research was independent of the class, which made super early papers possible for me. And if you know how the prof works, it helps inform your game plan. Good luck!

      12. Witty Nickname*

        Finishing things? I always waited until the night before they were due to start them! (I wrote many 15-20 page papers overnight).

      13. Pennalynn Lott*

        Having gone back to school at the age of 48, I can tell you that I now – finally – meet my professors’ expectations and do, indeed, finish things at least 1-2 days early.

        But that is sooooooooo not how I did it in my teens and 20’s!! (I remember dropping off an English term paper on my teacher’s front porch a few minutes before the midnight deadline. I don’t think she thought anyone would take her up on that offer… Got an A, anyway. :-) )

    2. Meg Murry*

      Yes, I was wondering if the boss was expecting a draft somewhere along the halfway point, and the “deadline” she is giving OP is the deadline for the final, reviewed, finished product. It would be good to clarify that, or as others have said, at least send a progress report to show that all tasks are on the to-do list and actively being worked on.

    3. Cordelia Naismith*

      And if you do send her a rough draft, make sure you put ROUGH DRAFT in big letters at the top of the page, because a passive-aggressive manager like this seems to be to be likely to assume that the rough draft is the final draft, and then berate you for the poor quality of the work.

      1. Gene*

        MSWord has this wonderful “DRAFT” watermark you can put on all the pages. I use that regularly.

        1. Cordelia Naismith*

          Yes! Awesome. I always forget about the watermark feature! That is perfect for a situation like this.

      2. MissDisplaced*

        Agreed with this 100% I always tell people when something is a “DRAFT” but they don’t always remember or see it in the email, so I started putting it on most of the work-in-progress. But sadly, you then get those who’re like, “You’re going to remove that text that says DRAFT right?” or worse, keep marking it up as a delete. Sigh.

    4. Shell*

      Ha! An old school buddy of mine was totally this type of person. I’d be riding the bus home at 6 pm and get a call from him along the lines of:

      Friend: Shell, so, that problem set, have you done it yet?
      Me: …dude, the prof handed it out TODAY. At 2 pm. I’m not even HOME yet.
      Friend: …well, then, I expect a call at 10 pm tonight discussing the answers!
      Me: Buddy, I love you, but I hate you so much right now.

      (I promise he was not obnoxious at all despite what the above makes him sound like.)

      In fairness, any class I had with this guy, I had much better grades because he did not allow me to procrastinate. (Unsurprisingly, he was the type of guy to get 98% on an exam when the class average was 68%. He was smart, yes, but oh man did he work hard. I still admire his work ethic to this day.)

    5. Anonsie*

      I think this is because when I got school assignments, I always had them finished several days early. I’d never wait until the night before to finish an essay for a class, and I assumed that everyone else worked this way and would also work that way on non-class assignments.

      Good god. You’re the unicorn.

        1. Anonsie*

          You just always have professors telling you to do this in college, and teachers in high school, but never have I actually known anyone who actually did all their work in advance as a regular thing.

    6. bridget*

      My kingdom for your work habits.

      Seriously though, procrastination and the attendant shame/stress spiral are literally the largest problem in my life (I realize I have a pretty easy life). Becoming more like this–or at least less like my Awful Work Habits self–is my main high-level goal.

      1. Ellie H.*

        If it makes you feel better, studies show there is not a difference in output quality between procrastinators or last-minute-doers and get it done ahead of time-ers. I agree that the experience of procrastinating and doing it at the lasy minute can be extremely psychologically unpleasant though (to say the least) so can understand wanting to stop if it bothers you.

  5. Gene*

    You might also try sending her an email after she gives you an assignment summarizing what the assignment is, the due date she gave you, and an assurance that you’ll have it on her desk by that day. Then close with something like, “If the deadline changes, please let me know as soon as you can so I can reprioritize it with the work due to Lucinda and Fergus.”

    When she gets annoyed, you have written evidence of the deadline she gave you, that can then lead into the language from AAM.

  6. LQ*

    My immediate thought is she’s giving you the wrong deadline. Like this is when she needs to have it completed, not when she needs it to her so she can get what she needs done on it. “Is that when you need it returned to you?” or “I will get you a copy of X on Deadline date.” Right as she says it might make her reconsider if she’s giving you that deadline.

    I have a coworker who thinks that the project launch date is the deadline. It’s taken about a year but I’ve finally broken her of that to get her to give me things with enough time to do them, and back to her with enough time to check. But some people are really bad at deadlines.

    1. AW*

      I have a coworker who thinks that the project launch date is the deadline.

      Is that the only date the co-worker is getting? It’s still weird to not consider the fact that other work has to be done by other people but the manager/project lead/whatever should still be setting dates for drafts, QA, etc.

      1. LQ*

        Well the coworker in this case is the “lead” on these projects. So in theory she should be setting all the rest of the dates, but it wasn’t something she was very skilled at so it required a lot of, nope, I need 4 days to turn this around to you, then you need to check it and send it out, then if there are problems I need time to fix it.

        I think she just spent a lot of time doing her own projects rather than ever having anyone else do any parts of them so she was used to just doing everything herself at the last minute, which doesn’t work for us.

        1. AW*

          Well the coworker in this case is the “lead” on these projects.

          Oh dagnabbit. At least you got them to change their mindset.

          1. LQ*

            Yeah, you can’t always get new coworkers, but sometimes you can get them to change their ways.

            At least that’s my goal in an environment full of coworkers I really can’t change and who aren’t generally horrible, just, not awesome.

    2. Dynamic Beige*

      This. If Boss gives you something and says “It’s due next Wednesday”, I think you need to ask “Is that your deadline when you need to submit it?” and if she says yes, then negotiate how much time you need. “OK, well, it looks like there’s 8 hours of work here, I have [other projects] from [other people] but they are [other level of priority]. If I can get it to you for Monday morning, will you have enough time to [whatever she needs to do]?” If Boss needs it ASAP, then she should say so and know that she is going to conflict with the other people you report to.

      Because… e-mail on a Saturday with a passive-aggressive ‘you forgot’? That is totally a “I gave this to you so you would finish it by the end of day Friday so I could work on it over the weekend and — you didn’t read my mind!”

      1. LQ*

        That was how I saw it too. And it might be that this person is new, or doesn’t do well with project management or deadlines, or previous teams may have automatically worked backward from the launch date…It’s worth seeing if that’s possibly what is happening.

  7. lemons*

    I had a boss very similar to this, except the first and only time she brought up my “lateness” in turning things in was during a performance review. She actually said the words, “when I say I need you to give me something by COB, you should really have it to me no later than 2:00.” So, I just started assuming when she said COB, she meant 2 PM. Though, I still had to stay at work until 6:00, the actual time the office “closed.”

    1. Jennifer*

      Sounds like my friend’s ex-boss, who pulled that stuff enough to get her fired for being “late.”

    2. Kelly L.*

      That sounds suspiciously like someone who didn’t actually know what COB meant, but heard someone else saying it and thought it sounded cool and managery.

  8. AMG*

    As a long-term approach, I would try to angle things so that your workload is coming more from the other supervisors and less from this one. If you can arrange things that way. If Judy has been fair and reasonable in the past, and has a big project coming up, let Judy know how much you’d love to work on it. Who knows, then maybe you would not have as much time for Jane and her BS. Someone else could help Jane while you help Judy.

  9. LizNYC*

    My OldBoss was like this: would assign me 5 “high priority” things at once, all with different due dates, then be upset when I didn’t *magically* divine which of the 5 she really wanted first. I did much what JournalistWife did — send near-daily updates about the status of such projects, especially if I was waiting for pieces from others. Also, I worked from home 1-3 days each week. These status updates seemed to be a good stand-in for her worry that I wasn’t accomplishing anything while I was at home (which was ridiculous, since I was 50% more productive because I didn’t have a hellish commute + constant interruptions).

    It was really annoying, since that level of micromanaging was unnecessary for a self-sufficient adult, but I went with it in an effort to control the expectation of “when I tell you I need it by Friday, I really mean Tuesday.”

  10. AW*

    It might also be useful to ask for clarification on the deadline as soon as she gives it, rather than waiting for her inevitable change in date. For example, if she usually tells you that you have 2 weeks to do task X but actually wants it in 1 week, the next time she asks for X in 2 weeks ask, “Are you sure you don’t want it sooner? Last time I did X you wanted it finished in 1 week instead of 2.”.

    It sounds like she’s either deliberately sabotaging you or she isn’t actually thinking it through at all when she gives you deadlines. Maybe the previous person she worked with didn’t have to work for other supervisors (and therefore finished work really quickly) so she isn’t used to having to set a real deadline. But the “clearly keep forgetting” bit makes me think she’s just a jerk.

  11. Mike C.*

    There’s some good advice here about sending email updates and whatnot, but I can’t help but be annoyed on behalf of the OP. Why can’t the boss be specific about their needs? Why is it a big secret? Why play games? If you need it on Wednesday rather than Friday, why not say so?

    This boss just sounds like a terrible manager that likes to let go of stress by yelling at employees, so I’m afraid little if any of this advice is really going to help in the long run.

    1. Dynamic Beige*

      Sometimes, I get the opposite. Client says they want Project done by Monday morning. Lots of stuff to do — I work late/over the weekend/whatever to get it done or as close to done as I can. Monday morning rolls around and it turns out they gave a false deadline and there was actually X number of days more, they just wanted to process sped up. *sigh*

      1. Alter_ego*

        this happens alllllllll the time at my job. It’s frustrating, because you start to get too relaxed about deadlines, and then get hit with one that’s real.

      2. Anonsie*

        Or this one I just had, you do all that to get something out because they asked for it ASAP without a hard deadline and you offer to get it back by x time, which they accepted, and then you pull out all the stops to do that. Then it turns out they’re not available at the due date you offered, so you send it to them and they’re like “ohhhh yeah no one will be able to look at this for two weeks.”

        1. Windchime*

          I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve run into this situation. The user needs something ASAP, it’s urgent! Please hurry! So I stay late or work over the weekend, hand it off to the customer……and….crickets. When I would check with them to see how it worked for the, they would either say, “Oh, we haven’t had a chance to look at it yet” or “Oh, yeah, actually Susie figured out a different way to do it so we didn’t end up needing your thing. Thanks!”


    2. NickelandDime*

      Right. She’s setting the deadlines, but getting mad at the OP for…meeting the deadlines! It feels like she’s messing with her. I like Allison’s advice, but honestly, this probably isn’t the only issue with this woman. I predict an update from the OP that involves a great new position with a manager that isn’t interested in playing Mind Games.

    3. Macedon*


      If you want more regular updates, request them ( though I gotta sayI’m personally not a fan of excessively many notices – depending on their detail, these can take up an obnoxious amount of time that is far better used to handle other work ).

      Also, updates feel like a measure that would address the symptom of the supervisor’s current peeve, but not the disease (of her distrust in her employees to do their job within a specific time frame ).

      I think Alison’s advice is about the best thing that can be done under the circumstances.

  12. DrPepper Addict*

    If OP reports to different managers, perhaps bring them into the conversation and get their input as well? Just a thought.

    I, personally, tend to be more aggressive when in such situations. And the “Clearly forgot” remark would have flown all over me and I wouldn’t have let it slide and would have addressed it immediately. Something to the effect of, “I really don’t appreciate the passive aggressive comment you just made about me forgetting the assignment. The latest correspondence I have from you that clearly states the deadline is “X” and I don’t appreciate your insinuation that I’m late in turning in the work, not taking it seriously, and questioning my ability to remember tasks. I find it very unprofessional and I am asking you to not make any further comments of this nature.” A lot of times, I’ve found that people like that back down immediately when someone stands up to them.

    1. CrazyCatLady*

      Hmm… I agree that I would definitely address the “clearly forgot” comment but since this person is one of her managers, I’d probably take a softer approach and say something like “I’m concerned about the comment you made on me “clearly forgetting” the deadline. I feel I always meet deadlines, as shown by X, Y and Z. Is there something specific you were referring to, or are there other concerns about the timeliness of my work?”

      But yeah – I could NOT let a comment like that go.

      1. EarlGrey*

        Agreed – even if OP did have a pattern of forgetting deadlines, that comment is not the way to address it!

      2. Ann Furthermore*

        I get what you’re saying, but I once was very assertive (perhaps even aggressive) with a boss once when she challenged me on something, and it paid off. So there is a time and place for it.

        It was a finance department, and we were a start-up company. A bunch of bills got paid late, because I was still figuring out how to use the ERP system and did not know I could pull all invoices through a future date (like 7 days out or something) for payment. It makes perfect sense…it gives you time to get the check mailed, and the supplier can deposit it, by your payment due date. But I didn’t know that…I was figuring things out as I went along.

        Anyway, late one evening I was trying to explain to her what had happened, and she snapped at me: “I don’t want to hear excuses about why you didn’t do your job!” That really pissed me off, and I lost my patience with her and shot back, “I’m not giving you excuses! If you’d let me finish, you’d realize that I’m telling you what happened, and what we’re doing to make sure it doesn’t happen again!”

        After that, we got along great. She’d been a nightmare to deal with before that. It was so strange. It was like she didn’t respect you until you stood up to her. Once you did that, and held your ground, then she would treat you like an equal.

        1. DrPepper Addict*

          Great story, and exactly what I was talking about! Sometimes standing up to your boss, or someone else will make them respect you more, especially if you are right.

          Granted, my reply is very strongly worded, but so was the “clearly forgot” comment by the manager.

        2. CrazyCatLady*

          I can understand that and I think I would have reacted similarly in that situation (where it was the heat of the moment). I think just given time to read an email and then process it would make me approach it more delicately but if someone yelled at me or was accusatory in person, I’d be the same way as you!

          I tend to be more cautious now, because I have reacted more aggressively in the past and it didn’t turn out well for me! haha.

        3. Eva G.*

          “It was like she didn’t respect you until you stood up to her. Once you did that, and held your ground, then she would treat you like an equal.”

          Ann Furthermore, apparently that boss of yours is similar to Bill Gates in that aspect. His Microsoft co-founder, Paul Allen, has written:

          “Bill liked to hash things out in intense, one-on-one discussions; he thrived on conflict and wasn’t shy about instigating it. A few of us cringed at the way he’d demean people and force them to defend their positions. If what he heard displeased him, he’d shake his head and say sarcastically, ‘Oh, I suppose that means we’ll lose the contract, and then what?’

          It was tough not to back off against Bill, with his intellect and foot tapping and body rocking; he came on like a force of nature. The irony was that Bill liked it when someone pushed back and drilled down with him to get to the best solution. He wouldn’t pull rank to end an argument. He wanted you to overcome his skepticism, and he respected those who did.

          I saw this happen again and again. If you made a strong case and were fierce about it, and you had the data behind you, Bill would react like a bluffer with a pair of threes. He’d look down and mutter, ‘O.K., I see what you mean,’ then try to make up.”

          1. Not So NewReader*

            I have found that this works most of the time. People want you to defend your position. Instead of just saying “why do you feel that way?” they make it into a big kerfuffle with lots of drama.

            If I had a dime for every time a boss came at me with eyes popping, smoke rolling out their ears, I’d would not need to work. It took a lot for me to realize, just don’t feed into the upset. In a calm, clear voice say “This happened because of A and B.” That whole thing of not appearing rattled really seems to demand that others calm down, too.
            OP, know that you know. She told you the deadline is Wednesday. So, therefore, the deadline is Wednesday. When she asks for it on Tuesday morning, don’t break stride. Just say, “The task is set for on-time completion on Wednesday as we discussed, would you like it earlier?” What I like about this is that it gets away from the NO word. I know this sounds trivial, but with some people using the NO word is like pulling the trigger to shoot yourself in the foot. I have found this technique very helpful in the past.

          2. Kfish*

            In other words, Bill was a bully until someone stood up to him. Explains a lot about Microsoft’s business practices, really.

            1. Leah*

              Agreed, I don’t think practices like that should be admired. A good boss is not someone who bullies and then only respects the people who stand up to them. That’s not respect.

            2. Pennalynn Lott*

              I worked for the company for three years. Three very toxic, eventually illness-inducing years. Watching departments battle it out *every* quarter for funding [as in, how many people do we fire / hire for these next three months] was nauseating and migraine-inducing. Literally, entire departments would be wiped out and pared down to just 5-10 people one quarter only to be “ramped up” to 20-30 people the next. You would not believe the politics and back-stabbing that happen when people have to defend their feifdoms to that degree.

              And at the beginning of EVERY new fiscal year, we did the re-org dance. So it wasn’t just individual departments losing/adding people, but whole departments being moved / repurposed / deleted. Because new/different MUST be better, right??? Organizational schizophrenia and anxiety were the results. Gads, you can’t change the makeup of each department four times a year, and then change the departments themselves every single year without beginning to function like a lurching, non-thinking, uncoordinated zombie.

    2. AW*

      I haven’t had something like this happen to me a lot, but when it did I would forward the original/last email regarding the task and say, “This was the original/last update I got on X, Y, and Z. Is this not correct?” It forces them to explain why I haven’t been told complete and/or accurate information.

      I don’t have the nerve to flat out tell a higher up employee that they’re being unprofessional but I agree with not letting that comment go without remark.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        This works, too. Annnd if you need something to meet the new completion date then speak right up. “Sure, I can have Friday’s work done by the previous Monday. However, I will need Sue to help with X and I am running low on Y so I will need more of that and Harry needs to finish z by 2pm today so I can complete it by the new deadline.”

        If you are good (accurate/fast) at this, the boss will walk away talking to herself.

    3. A Teacher*

      I’ve responded with “I’m confused, per this email the date was X, is this incorrect.” It puts it back on my supervisor to figure it out and explain to me what they want and has worked 90-95% of the time.

      1. Anonsie*

        If the person is just a chronic blame-shifter, though, doing that as often as it sounds like the LW needs to will probably just lead to negative feedback later about how they’re disorganized and don’t keep track of deadlines. I wouldn’t employ that line with everyone.

  13. Jennifer*

    “It can be extremely difficult to determine whose task has priority”

    I suspect the answer to this one is “always assume HERS have more priority over every other manager, unless the other managers give you a deadline before her 50 %/divided “actual” deadline. That’s about the only way I can think of to cope with that crazy.

    1. Lia*

      Yeah, I had a boss like this. Like the OP, I also had requests from the CEO and second-in-command (my own boss was one more rung down). The problem was that I’d get told that executive level requests should ALWAYS take priority, except when they don’t.

      I found out that my boss’s “hard” deadlines were well, well in advance of the actual, real deadline (often 2-4 weeks, which in that industry was a VERY long time indeed) when I busted my rear on vacation to get her “top priority for the fiscal year project”, which she forgot to mention to me until 4 p.m. on the day before I left town for a week, done in “time” — and then found she waited 2 weeks after I returned to even look at, so I started pushing back, with modest success.

      The best solution, though, was to get another job. Sorry.

  14. EarlGrey*

    Do you have these deadlines in writing from her, or a shared calendar/project management program where you can record the original deadlines and your tasks? I’m wondering if she’s forgetting (accidentally or willfully) when she told you to finish tasks by, or just having a lot of anxiety about work that’s out of her direct control. Having a clear record of “you told me the 31st, I’m planning to work on it on the 28th and proofread it on the 30th to meet that deadline” might help, especially if you can make a show of writing down the deadline when she gives it to you.

  15. Lee*

    The OP says these are “hard deadlines” — that has different meanings in different places. But generally, a hard deadline (or “drop dead” in some places) is the absolute last cutoff date for when something needs to be out the door — and it MUST be met, it’s not a deadline that can be missed.

    I put it out there only because it seems there really might be some misunderstanding or miscommunication about even the terminology/meaning. (And, usually managers already schedule several “soft” deadlines and don’t convey the actual hard or drop-dead deadline, so this might be the manager’s own shortcoming in managing, basically.)

  16. Snoskred*

    One way I have handled situations like this in the past is by using a monthly calendar with deadlines written on it in bright red ink, so when the boss would arrive at my desk expecting something that is not due until next week, I could point at the calendar and say hey, that is the date we set. And oddly, today is X days before that date, so it is not ready yet. If you need it sooner I can drop everything but it will take some time and as you can see on the calender, I also have Y due tomorrow for A person, and Z due in two days for B person.

    This happened so often with that one boss that I bought into work a cast iron model of the DeLorean from Back To The Future and when she arrived at my desk asking for something not due until X date, I pointed at the DeLorean and said, hey, I just so happened to bring in this awesome time machine today, so lets go back in time to when we discussed this project and you can give me a new deadline for today, and future me will make sure past me gets it done in time.”

    Well, she cracked up laughing, and so did everyone else in the room, and then she apologised – not just to me but to everyone listening. From then on, she never asked for work before it was due, and she kept her own calendar like mine with deadlines in red, so she knew what dates she’d set. That was the real problem – she had so much going on she just forgot what the deadlines were.

    I knew her well enough to know if I made the joke she would receive the message without my having to address it head on with her -that option rarely worked out well because she tended to get defensive. I also knew she was a fan of the movie – which was an important point otherwise the joke would not have been understood.

    This may now be easier to handle with something like Google Calendar or outlook or something like that. Given that you say you will only be in the office for 2 days, a good calendaring system where other people can see what you are working on and what you have due might be worth trying out.

    See here, these days, I do all this via smartphone – my calendar is hooked up to my co-workers calendars as well as the boss, plus we have a great SMS reminder system as well. But I am in Australia and we have embraced the smartphone and sms technology here, which I understand has not quite happened elsewhere.

  17. Not Today Satan*

    OMG. This is how my last boss was. I tried to have this discussion with her and she insisted that I should just intuit when she’ll need to see something early. (Our work was very high volume so the norm was for things to be done the day or day before they were due to the client.) I then discussed this with our (higher up) manager, because it was one of many instances of my manager not sharing her expectations with me and then being upset when I didn’t meet her unspoken expectations. He sided with her (“she must have a reason for expecting you to know when something should be done early”).

    (I actually regret going to the higher up, because if anything he was worse than her in this regard. I’d ask for clarification on how he’d like me to do something, then he would bark at me that I can figure it out. Then later he’d scold me for doing it differently than he wanted me to.)

    This was ultimately what I ended up quitting for–I hated that place for many reasons, but there’s literally no way for me to succeed if my managers refuse to share their expectations.

    1. Mike C.*

      she must have a reason for expecting you to know when something should be done early

      What in the hell?!

      Even if she does, it doesn’t mean this reason is rationally based or has any business justifications.

      1. Ama*

        Man, I would have been so tempted to reply “Oh, do you know what that reason is? Because she won’t tell me.”

    2. Not So NewReader*

      She was doing to you what her boss did to her. Crap rolls down hill.
      I am glad you got out of there.

  18. Workfromhome*

    I have similar issues both internally and externally.

    Sometimes it gets even worse because I get projects that don’t have firm deadlines attached top them and then get steams of emails wanting to know when it will be done. If I was given a deadline I could respond with I can meet it and if not what other things need to be put on hold to meet the deadline.

    Much of the advice above is good. Unfortunately I’d probably be more confrontational about it. Upon reception of any project with a deadline I’d send an email confirming that the project will be delivered by X date as stated in the former email oir outlining any issues that would stop it.

    If it was due next Friday and I got one of those annoying emails on Wednesday saying “Where is my project” I would simply forward back the original email saying I am on track to complete this as per the designated deadline you requested (See attached email). I’d do it every time and I’d not say another word.

    Basically here is the email where you said Friday…if you need it Thursday then your email should say Thursday. Essentially throwing their own documentation back at them. Eventually they either get the hint or they need to admit that their emails are misleading or unclear. I’m not a mind reader. I have a paper trail and I’m giving you exactly what the emails say you wanted. If you want to be annoyed at getting what you asked for the manager might want to seek another job.

    1. Mike C.*

      I would certainly be more confrontational about it. I’m not saying that’s the smartest/easiest thing thing, or the best thing for everyone to do, but I find the whole idea inherently, I don’t know, dishonest or disrespectful. And that pisses me off.

      It’s one thing if there’s some emergency (and I mean a real emergency, not the same old shit over and over again because there’s a bad process or someone else keeps screwing up), but without an explanation the whole thing feels like I’m being lied to. I’m not a child, I’m an adult and I should be treated like one. Don’t leave me out of important information “just because you say so” and deny me the autonomy of improving how I do my work.

      Don’t make my job more difficult because you don’t know how to ask for what you really need.

    2. SerfinUSA*

      Which is why it is always a good idea to maintain copious documentation.
      I deal with faculty who would much rather throw a lackey under the bus than admit to their own forgetfulness or procrastination. Having an email trail or notes from phone conversations is really helpful in deflecting unwarranted blame or complaints.

      1. V.V.*

        This letter was exceedingly painfull to read. I wish there would be more acknowledgement (by the public at large) about the “Lackey under the bus” theorum and the fact that it actually happens.

        You are spot on about about the documentation thing, though sometimes a mere lackey doesn’t get to present it. Completely unfair.

        I have even heard it used against people, ie.:

        “If you had spent less time on your “personal projects” (refering to said documentation) and more time completing the work I assigned, then we wouldn’t have this problem.”

        “The fact you had time to keep track of all of this says to me you had plenty of time finish your work earlier.”

        Also the classic: “This isn’t about what I did or did not write in some email, this is about you not doing your job, and then not wanting to face the consequences.”

        Ultimately I suppose you either quit or learn to duck down if you need to keep that job.

  19. Alternative*

    UGH. We have a guy in the office that does this, AND he sends multiple “gentle” or “friendly” reminders BEFORE THE THING IS EVEN DUE.

  20. OP Here*

    Wow, I’m so happy Alison published my comment! And all the feedback is amazing, thank you. I will try to respond to some of the general ideas/questions.
    1) I think I may have to start with the daily email updates. In the past, I haven’t, because she tends to have an issue with getting annoyed at too many emails but it may be worth it in this case.
    2) Many of my tasks are small, very small. “order 10 flyers and add a hyperlink to this document” so I think I have a hard time prioritizing them when other, much larger and critical items are looming so maybe she feels I should be doing these things first, to get them out of the way?
    3) My supervisor really is pretty nice, just has an impatient personality. Technically, I work for her 70% of the time, leaving only 30% for 4 other supervisors, so sometimes it gets down to crunch time and I need every last second of that 30% to meet my other deadlines and I suspect she doesn’t realize that.
    4) Deadlines are often verbal, maybe over email on occasion. I guess I need to follow up in a written form just to verify.
    5) She used to be my only supervisor for over 3 years, so I think she’s having trouble letting go! She used to be much less impatient, probably because I could respond to her tasks instantly. It was very much not her decision to farm me out to 4 other people so bad feelings about that may be coloring her communication.

    After I wrote my question to Alison but before it was published today, there was a small instance of her verbally telling me to do something on a Tuesday and saying I had a week to do it, and then following up via email on Wednesday to remind me to do it right away because it was very important! So I responded by asking just how time-sensitive the item was because I wasn’t planning on attending to it until Friday, due to other deadlines (which I explained), and she responded that the next Tuesday was still fine. I think it’s mostly a communication issue at this point…

      1. OP Here*

        Yes, thank you! I think it will be extremely helpful. Neither of us are super happy about me having 4 other people to report to so I think I have room to be more open and direct than I would with my other supervisors. And it didn’t even occur to me that #5 was a likely cause until I read AW’s comment above about people who worked with her previously and then I had a lightbulb moment.

    1. TotesMaGoats*

      I agree that #5 might be a big issue in this case but #2 might be there too. Personally, I try to do the small/quick things first. Get them done and then I can focus on the big problem. If I don’t, no matter how much time I spend solving big problem I’ve still got little things to do.

      Like verifying my procurement card, I do that as soon as the email comes in. It takes two seconds and then I can forget about it. Plus, I have to verify before my boss can do anything.

      1. CrazyCatLady*

        Yes, agreed. If it will take me less than 5 minutes, I generally just do it right away – which, unfortunately, means that I get sidetracked a lot, but I’m still able to get the bigger things done on time so it’s worked for me. If I don’t do it away, it just becomes this task that I have to remember to do which is more of a hassle than just doing it.

        1. the_scientist*

          In the OP’s shoes, I would push back a little bit about interrupting my workflow to do small, non-urgent, non-critical tasks. I find that I get really distracted when I have to shift between tasks or projects that way- it takes me a while to re-orient myself to the bigger thing that I was initially working on and IME it’s a recipe for errors (I also do a lot of data quality work, so that may be colouring my perception).

          My former boss used to like to come into my office and ask me to do small non-urgent things (along the lines of “add hyperlink” or “order flyers” without giving one single thought to what I was doing at that moment. I would try to ask her to send me an email reminder (which worked maybe 60% of the time) and then I’d have a notebook that I’d update with to dos. Throughout the day, if I needed a break from something requiring a lot of focus and attention, or a just a lot of brainpower, I’d take 30 minutes and check a bunch of little tasks off that list. Obviously what worked for me may not work for the OP but I don’t think it’s totally reasonable for the boss to expect her to drop everything and complete a task right away, even if that task ultimately takes less than 5 minutes. Certainly it’s not a hill to die on, though.

          1. Hey anonny anonny*

            This is my life.

            I’ve tried really hard to re-orient myself and repeat the mantra “the interruptions are my job” thing when I’m about to let out a primal scream, but there’s who has an interruption every few minutes for something non-critical (like helping her remove an extraneous graphic from a Word document). I haven’t felt confident enough to really push back yet. So far, it’s just made me dread the times this person is in the office.

        2. Leah*

          This is how I work too. If I’m doing Task A for Eland, which is a 3-4 hour project, and Sazed comes over and asks me to scan something, or proofread a one-page letter, I almost always pause Task A and do what Sazed requested.

          The other things I’ve learned is that if I can’t pause Task A for some reason, even for a few minutes, I explain to Sazed that I will not be able to get to small Task B for a couple of hours. At least where I work, usually people expect small tasks to be done right away even if they don’t say that, so it’s good to let them know when that’s not the case.

      2. OP Here*

        One of the main issues here, which I maybe should have emphasized more in the original question and comments is my schedule of working off site. When I’m off site, I’m not available for ANYTHING (even answering emails is difficult) so it’s basically like I only work 2 days a week now. My off-site work involves a fair amount of local travel and meeting with people so I can’t just stop and spend 15 minutes answering emails quick. I’ve asked for a slight reduction in time off-site but it’s essential for the project for me to be putting in this much time now. A small task that comes in on Monday right before I leave doesn’t get addressed until Thursday because I’m out Tues & Wed most weeks.

    2. OP Here*

      Also gonna add that although we still work together 70% of the time, she’s not my actual manager anymore. Someone who directs only 5% of my tasks signs my timesheets and manages me now, so it’s tough to go to this new person for help prioritizing, leaving me to use my own judgement most of the time.

      1. AMG*

        This really changes the response for me. She doesn’t actually manage you anymore so it changes the response and phrasing, allowing you to push back more. Also, you may find a need to go to your actual manager at some point for help pushing back if you can’t resolve it yourself.

        She is not your manager, she is a co-worker and all the more reason she shouldn’t be acting this way. I think it’s a control thing. I say that as a control freak who has people reporting to me in an unofficial capacity and I would not act like this. I would hope to God that they would tell me to cut it out if I shifted deadlines like this. And sometimes deadlines do shift. But you communicate that clearly, use calendars like others have suggested, and apologize when you forget things. And when there’s a potential conflict with what my coworker/sorta direct report is doing, I tell her that she needs to follow up with her boss and be sure that there isn’t an issue. If there is, we talk through it with the real manager and come to a solution like adults.

        1. TCO*

          I strongly disagree. Just because this manager isn’t OP’s boss on paper doesn’t mean that OP can push back harder. I work on projects for several different managers, and I can promise you that they are all my managers, not “co-workers,” and if I were to be insubordinate or aggressive it wouldn’t matter one whit which of them was my “real” boss. I’d be equally in trouble no matter whose deadlines and requests I ignored. They all assign and oversee my work, and are all at management level in my department; therefore I need to treat all of them with equal respect. Yes, it’s my “real” boss’s job to help me prioritize and manage my workload when things get overwhelming, but it’s also my job to balance deadlines and fight my own battles when possible.

    3. Meg Murry*

      Rather than daily email updates, do you have a shared drive where you can keep documents (or Google Docs/Drive)? You could keep a running list of the tasks and projects, the due date, and status. If you put this in a shared location and keep it up to date, then she could just pull it up whenever she wants to see something’s status. If you do it in spreadsheet format, you can also add a column for who the project is for, so the various bosses could filter it to see only their work – and your boss could see how much else you have on your plate. My thoughts for the columns would be: Due Date, Project for (then put their names, or departments or whatever in that column), Task Name, Status (new, in process, X% complete, waiting on feedback from Jane, done, etc). You could also add a column for the day you plan to start it or other comments, if you wanted to. Or if you didn’t want to go all the way to a spreadsheet, you could also just make it a word document that you cut and paste things from the “To Do” section to the “Done” section as they get done.

      By using the spreadsheet, your boss can see what is going on, and it shows that you haven’t forgotten anything. My rule of thumb was that if it would take just as long to add to the spreadsheet as new, and then mark “complete”, it was easier to just do it and put it straight to “done” right away.

      Another option, if you are using Outlook, is to ask her to send you “tasks” with a due date, instead of emails. That way you can check them off as they get completed.

      Or if you don’t want to use a technical solution, like others have mentioned, have a calendar, and/or a running to-do list on your desk with tasks – if she tells you something verbally and sees you write it down, she might feel more confident that you aren’t going to forget about it.

      1. OP Here*

        We actually did do this for a while, but I have so many small random tasks that I was ending up spending way too much time just tracking them so we stopped doing it. I just use a list on a piece of paper for myself now, but maybe we should try again.

        1. Cordelia Naismith*

          Maybe you could try resurrecting it, but with time blocked out for “misc. small tasks” instead of noting each and every small task that would need to be done in that time. So the big projects would be Outlook tasks, but you would still have some time specifically set aside for the million little things you have to do, too.

    4. Joie de Vivre*

      For #2 it might help if you are able to schedule a block of time at some point in the day to knock off a bunch of smaller tasks. I use these kinds of tasks as a break from larger more complicated tasks or as a fill in when I hit the “the end of the day my brain is tired now but I still need to be productive” point.
      It allows for quick turn around on things that aren’t necessarily a super high priority and makes sure no one is waiting 3-4 days for a task that only takes a couple of minutes.

  21. TotesMaGoats*

    Part of it may be that she may give you the deadline and it’s the actual deadline but she thinks you could/should be getting it done sooner. It’s an impulse I have to control in myself. If I delegate something out and give a firm deadline, I have to remember that not everyone works at my pace and if I want it sooner then I need to ask for it sooner.

    It bothers me most with really simple things like responding to an email with needed information. I know how long it should take to complete that task and the longer it takes you to respond the more likely that I’m just going to do it myself in the future. I can get the information faster myself. But that doesn’t help with my personal goals to get better at delegation.

    1. Kelly L.*

      Yeah, I think the disconnect happens sometimes because the supervisor is thinking “Task takes 3 hours” or however long it takes, and maybe it still only takes 3 hours for the employee too, but the employee is using the deadline to triage it with other stuff. It’s not so much “it takes me 3 days to do this 3-hour project,” it’s “give me a deadline that tells me where to stick that 3-hour block of time I need for this project.”

      1. OP Here*

        Yes! This is exactly how I feel about it. Even a task that takes 15 min needs to be carefully scheduled sometimes, I am so busy lately.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Is this a temporary busy or is it a new normal busy?
          I am wondering if you need someone helping you, as in your manager needs to hire a second person.

      1. Julkaco*

        Because ASAP doesn’t mean drop everything and do it now. It means as soon as possible after the projects that are due today are done and projects that are due tomorrow are confirmed to be just about finished, and projects that are due the day after tomorrow are confirmed to be on track, and any crisis that pops up in the meantime gets handled. In short, any project marked ASAP is a back burner project. If you need it by a certain date or by a certain time, you need to say so.

        1. Kelly L.*

          That’s not really the way anyone I know uses ASAP. ASAP means more like “as soon as possible by the laws of physics.” :D And it especially makes no sense to, say, give a deadline of Friday, if you really want it done before the Wednesday and Thursday projects.

        2. Nerdling*

          I think that is highly dependent on your workplace. Here, ASAP means drop everything because someone has decided we need this done as soon as humanly possible, regardless of what else was going on.

        3. Julkaco*

          The thing is, I’m a legal assistant and about 60% of my job involves working with the court system while the rest of my job involves completing random projects from different attorneys in the firm. My task scheduling is dictated by court-mandated deadlines. Missing a court deadline could be disastrous and expensive, so I need a concrete deadline for every job I’m given or it can’t be prioritized properly.

  22. Ann Furthermore*

    I reported up to a CFO a few years back who was great at managing up, but terrible at managing down. His only concern was looking good to our parent company, so he had this whole idiotic mindset about wanting to be the “rock star” finance group of all the subsidiaries and meet every deadline early. That also meant things like not hiring any new headcount (so he could show the parent that his team of 25 could do the work that another team of 40 could do — ugh) and he always wanted to be first to submit our financials each month.

    So…the deadline for submitting December numbers was always by the end of the day on January 2nd (it’s the 1st every other month, but of course 1/1 is a holiday). When that date falls on a Friday, for some reason, the deadline is extended to the following Monday. So, one year, January 2nd fell on a Friday, which meant we had until the 5th to submit our numbers. I felt very strongly that we should use the extra time to review our numbers to submit them. I was dismissed out of hand, and told, “December should be just like any other month-end. Why would we need any extra time? We should be able to get everything done with no problem. We’re submitting on the 2nd, just like we always do.” I said, “Well, I thought we’d want to take advantage of the extra time since it’s year-end, and this is our absolute last opportunity to make sure that our numbers for the year are accurate.” Management up to the CFO looked at me like I was some kind of idiot. So we submitted the numbers on the 2nd, before the deadline, so the CFO could look like the rock star that was done early.

    Then, because everyone was in such a rush, we had to re-submit the numbers not once, not twice, but THREE times. The CFO ended up looking like an incompetent boob. And it was an immensely, immensely satisfying moment for me. And I transferred into another group not long after that.

  23. Xarcady*

    If this boss wouldn’t like daily emails, would a shared spreadsheet or other document work? One that she can access easily, and see that you have allotted time on Monday for Project A, time on Tuesday and Wednesday for Project B, and so forth.

    As for the little, easy jobs, could you set aside a half hour at the beginning or end of each day to work on them? I tend to do those types of things at the end of the day when I’m tired and don’t want to work on a more important task where I might make a mistake. Someone who is not a morning person might want to work on them first thing–simple and easy while the first cup of coffee takes effect and an easy way to slide into the day.

  24. voyager1*

    My last boss at old job was like this. It really came down to her inability to prioritize and micromanaging. Not sure after reading the OP update if that is the case, but that was my first response from my own experience so FWIW.

  25. YandO*

    OP, how do you keep track of all your tasks? Do you have a system?

    When my employer tried to micromanage me it was because she did not think I prioritized well ( I was brand new and she had no idea whether I did or did not). Micromanaging me is not a good idea. I got fed up quickly, so I set her down one day and went through “my system” of doing things.

    This is how I keep track of email. This is how I keep track of tasks. This is how I decide what goes “top pile” and goes “lower pile”, here are some built in fail safe strategies.

    I had to do it once and she never raised an issue again.

    1. YandO*

      also, you might want to request that all your supervisors email you their small requests. Unless project needs to be explained in detail, the tasks should be emailed

      This way nothing gets lost and everything is available for you to organize in your inbox.

      If that’s a non-starter, then I would email them once they give you a task. Depending on your load, you can add weekly task updates: here are all the tasks form this week and their progress.

      1. OP Here*

        I take notes of all meetings/phone calls/emails/conversations in a large notebook, and then pick out the specific items that are tasks for me, and write them on a separate to-do list that I carry around with me in my planner. I write the due dates in my planner, and my emails are organized so that items in my inbox are items that need to be attended to, and things that are finished are sorted and archived. I used to use a spreadsheet that my supervisors had access to but it became time consuming to track everything and they rarely actually looked at it, and my supervisors used to email me a weekly update of items, but they’re all super busy and forget to do it usually.

        1. YandO*

          sounds like a great system that works for you, now share it with the boss

          Specifically say “When you give me deadline “next Friday”, I write it down here and then fit the project sometime between now and then.” If she knows how you work, maybe she will have more confidence that things are getting done without following up/changing deadlines.

          Not bullet proof, but I’d try it.

  26. Ed*

    This reminds me of managers who set an 8:00 meeting and say anyone not there by 7:45 is late. I agree that I should be in my seat with coffee/water and ready to go by 8:00 but sitting there twiddling my thumbs for 15 minutes is a waste of my time. Don’t punish me because some people stroll in at 8:05 and then get coffee.

    1. Hlyssande*

      UGH, that’s the worst.

      I admit that I’m usually the first to join conference calls (I like to get in at the 5 minutes alert warning or I might get distracted and be late), but that doesn’t mean I hold everyone to the same standard.

    2. OfficePrincess*

      I know that feeling all too well. I have a quarterly meeting 8am on a Monday morning, which means I get myself into the office no later than 7 so I can triage my day and get some of the time-sensitive reports out. The guys who stroll into the office at 8:05 looking for coffee get some serious side-eye. I’ve started staying at my desk until the others are all at least in the building so I can get as much done as possible.

  27. TCO*

    I also report to several different managers on different projects, and one of them is more of a micromanager than the others. (She ‘ll be the first to own up to that, but it can still be challenging at times.) Over time I’ve paid attention to the kinds of projects/products she wants to review. If I assume that she wants review time for everything, even little stuff I think doesn’t require a review, we’re both happier. I can build in time to incorporate the changes she’ll inevitably request, which helps reduce the stress of being micromanaged.

    Proactive status reports really help, too, and I’m trying to get better at providing those. My other managers don’t want those as often, but it’s all about learning to meet everyone’s style. Even if she trusts me to meet deadlines, she is less stressed if I remind that I’m still on track to meet the deadline.

    It also helps to be on the same page about when she wants to review my work. Will she review a half-finished project if it means getting to see it a few days earlier? Does she want to give input along the way to ensure the final project comes out okay, or is she comfortable waiting until I’m done? This can vary project to project so I ask for clarification a lot.

    Fortunately, she’s generally a good manager and pleasant to work with, so I can be (at least somewhat) honest with her about competing deadlines my other managers may have in place.

  28. Not So NewReader*

    This sounds like she might be an okay boss who is constantly panicking.

    One thing I have done with a panicky boss is do the short projects first. Sometimes bosses lose sight of how long something takes. If I can report that A, B and C are done and I have only been at work for a short bit, it seems to ease the boss’ mind and she is less panicky for the rest of the day. It’s awful to say this, but sometimes appearances matter more than substance. It could be that the appearance of getting several things done would help her to calm down.

    Another thing to consider is that if you and she do not like like the change where you are working for others, maybe there is a way you guys can successfully advocate for you returning to work for her. This would be a longer term goal that the two of you could work on, it might be a pressure relief right now though to think about how to approach this.

    One thing that confuses me, why are the others okay and she is not? Maybe it is just the nature of the work, the others have less for you to do. But are all her needs legit? Is there someone under her that can take part of that off of you?
    Last suggestion: You know that you will be out of the office on certain days. Can you sit down with her and plan what should be done before you go? I think that out of contact thing has thrown her for a loop. Look at it this way, this is a planned absence, it’s not a surprise. So maybe she needs a little bit more investment in planning how best to utilize your time while you are with her. It’s almost like every week she is surprised you are gone again and there is really no need for her to be surprised every week.
    I work part time at my jobs. My one boss has many projects for me. Sometimes I have to stop and say, “I have x amount of time left for this week. What are the most critical things I can do to help you this week?” I don’t have an issue with my boss at all, we are in a situation that is similar to drowning. She needs me to bail the water out of the ship, put out the fire in the engine room and figure out what is wrong with the navigational gear. We have chats about the staggering amount of work and that how most days we just hope for the best. Those chats, alone, help to relieve pressure and panic a little bit.

  29. CAinUK*

    OP, having read through your comments up-thread, I see two main things:

    1. Your former boss is still adjusting to not having you support her full-time; this means highlighting your other projects when possible so she keeps those in mind.
    2. I do think you and her have different priorities. It sounds like you DE-prioritise small, quick tasks (print 10 flyers, insert this hyperlink) and she wants those done ASAP. This might be a crux of it – if I ask someone to print something, and they instead focus on a larger, more important project due the following week, I end up thinking “where are those flyers?” because it looks to me like you’ve done nothing with my request.

    And FWIW, I do think getting your boss the small projects ASAP gives you some quick wins – it proves you are responsive and could give you wiggle-room for less interference on larger projects.

  30. Mockingjay*

    You need a company-wide Document Workflow SOP describing the edit and review process, and required deadlines.

    I wrote one for mine. I included a matrix of all the document types we produce, and built in total timelines for drafting, reviewing, and submission.

    For example, a test report takes 10 days: 3 for draft, 2 for review, 3 for rework and final prep, 1 for signature, and 1 for electronic delivery and archive. Our contract specifies test reports are due 10 business days after test completion, so that’s a hard date which cannot slide.

    A matrix is a nice visual to remind people of all the steps and time required to produce a quality document, especially the parts they are not directly involved in.

  31. Mockingjay*

    Meant to add: I support multiple teams, so I understand competing deadlines and balancing workload. Spelling out the time involved to produce a document helped the team leads be more aware of each other’s deadlines and shared resources (meaning me and my fellow tech writer).

  32. Anon for the moment*

    Equally fun is when your boss refuses to set a deadline until it’s too late to actually meet it. Had this happen before, even though I repeatedly asked for a deadline so I’d know how to pace the work. It was a huge mess. :(

  33. nameless*

    It’s possible I’m projecting here, but the thing about how you “clearly keep forgetting” is red flagging me so hard. I mean, it’s unreasonable even without that language for her to move the goalposts the way she’s doing, but with that language it suggests to me some serious gaslighting or other manipulative/abusive behavior. Good on you for recognizing that she’s the one in the wrong, but if I were you I would spend way more effort on getting a new job than on trying to manage her idiosyncratic and poorly communicated expectations.

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