how much is it my responsibility to remind coworkers of deadlines?

A reader writes:

In my current position, I do a lot of writing for my department and for my organization. I’m relatively new (I’ve been here a few months) and I’ve been adjusting to working for a larger organization with processes for review before work is published.

My problem is that my work must get reviewed by X, Y, and Z before being finalized. This is fine, and I am happy to do so … but X, Y, and Z are often putting me in the awkward and stressful position of either meeting deadlines at the absolute last minute or, rarely, missing them altogether.

I’ve been told that its okay to give X, Y, and Z reminders, but I also feel that, if this is part of a standard process, it shouldn’t be my job to hold others’ hands. However, I also understand how busy everyone is, and I want to be accommodating to others’ needs. There’s also the awkward point of everyone else being in higher up positions than myself.

What would be the best thing to do here?

If your work has to be reviewed by specific people before it can be finalized, and those people are particularly busy, then you should see it as part of your responsibilities to remind them when their deadline is nearing.

That’s especially true because you’re being told “it’s your responsibility to do what you can on your side to make this happen on time, including giving reminders if it’s needed” … so you can’t decide you’re not going to because you think you shouldn’t have to.

I’d just go into these projects assuming that a few days before the deadline for people returning something to you (or whatever timeframe makes sense in your context), you should check back with them and say something like, “Just wanted to make sure you’re on track to have X back to me no later than Thursday. I need to finalize it by then in order to make the printer deadline.”

If that doesn’t work and people continue not to get you stuff on time, then you’d say this: “I know you’re super busy. I’ve missed a couple of deadlines recently because I didn’t get your edits on time. Is there a better way for me to do this when I need your sign-off — do you need more lead time with it, or should I check in with you earlier?” And if that still doesn’t work, then you talk to your boss for advice because at that point you’ve done all you can reasonably do on your end without being overly pushy, and at that point it’s time for your boss to weigh in. (Which could result in your boss saying “yeah, this is just how it goes and we’ll have to deal with it” or “hmmm, let me see about skipping Jane when we do these” or “I’ll talk to her myself” or “next time it’s happening, let me know and I’ll step in.”)

I can see why all this feels like hand-holding — but it’s pretty normal to have to do this when you’re dealing with busy people who are senior to you.

It’s interesting, because if you were senior to them or if you were peers, I wouldn’t tell you that. In that case, it would be reasonable to expect them to manage their own workload and to address it as a problem if they were missing deadlines that impacted your work. So you might ask, then, why is it okay for people above you to need reminders when it wouldn’t be okay for others?

The answer to that is partially just power dynamics — meaning that it doesn’t really matter for your purposes whether or not it’s “okay” that people senior to you need these reminders; what matters to your work is that they do, and that you’ll need to issue them if you’re going to get what you need to turn in your own work on time. You don’t have any authority to require them to operate differently, so the best thing for your own work is to figure out what it’ll take to get what you need and then do it. (Within reason, of course. If it meant that you always had to show up at their house at midnight for them to complete their parts, I’d give you a very different answer. But just having to issue a reminder isn’t that big of a deal.)

The other part of why there’s a double standard is that things really are different as people get more and more senior. In general — not always, but most of the time — as you move into more and more senior positions, there are more demands on your time and more priorities you’re juggling, and you’re more likely to be constantly pulled in different directions. Given that context, there’s often more slack cut for “you need to remind Jane if you want to get that back on time.”

{ 148 comments… read them below }

  1. Kayleigh

    I have this fun challenge too in my role, and fake deadlines are the way to go! I give the worst offenders a deadline at least a few days prior to my real deadline, and I’m not shy about sending them reminders as that date approaches. That way, even if they get their edits to me a day late, I’m still on time. I appreciate that you may not have the luxury of such long lead times, but it’s saved my skin plenty of times!

    1. Goya de la Mancha

      Fake deadlines – ALWAYS.

      My boss just shakes her head in amazement that the printer always needs the work so early before we are scheduled to get it in house :-D

    2. Eeyore's missing tail

      I love “soft” deadlines. I work with a lot a professors and this (along with reminders) is the only way I can keep things moving.

      1. Birch

        As a postdoc, I get this deeply from both sides. Bottom line is, if it’s your work that has the deadline, you’re responsible for getting that work from the higher-ups and not waiting till the last minute. If I didn’t send reminders up I’d never publish anything.

      2. nonymous

        Academics and deadlines are the absolute worst! whenever I was obviously stressing about a publication deadline, my PI would make some matter of fact statement “oh, the deadline is really a couple weeks later”. Maybe for her, but lowly grad student me did not have the political capital to personally email the organizer a couple weeks after the submission date!

        1. Mine Own Telemachus

          I went through this when I had to get the head of my department to sign off on my thesis assessment in order to graduate from graduate school. I sent reminder after reminder, and eventually had to track him down with the paper in the mailroom and stand there while he signed it. Sometimes, you really do have to be the nag to make things happen because your graduation deadline just isn’t going to be their top priority.

    3. KHB

      The problem with fake deadlines, though, is that when the offenders realize that the deadlines are fake (and it does start to become obvious to them when they’re repeatedly late and the world doesn’t end), they start thinking that all deadlines are fake, and in the worst cases, they stop taking anything you say seriously at all.

      1. Tuxedo Cat

        FWIW, rarely do people meet the fake deadlines but they do manage to get their part in sometime between the fake and real deadlines.

        Some people need deadlines, regardless of whether they’re absolute deadlines.

        1. KHB

          I guess, in my mind, there’s a difference between “setting fake deadlines” and “setting an overall timeline with some slack in it, so that things can slip a little bit and still be relatively OK.” The latter is definitely smart practice – the deadlines you give people shouldn’t be the absolute last possible minute that they can get their stuff to you for the project to still get done in time. But that doesn’t mean they’re fake – it means that you deserve to have some slack in your own part of the timeline, so you’re not left doing all your work in a state of eleventh-hour panic.

          So, set deadlines that you can afford to have slip, sure. But also hold people accountable to the deadlines that you set, to the extent that you can.

          1. Czhorat

            Setting a fake deadline only works until you’re “caught” the first time. Then you’ve set the messages that you don’t trust your co-workers and that they shouldn’t believe you when you give a deadline. It creates a poor dynamic.

            I agree with KHB here – you need to give actual deadlines for each part. If you say, “I need to review this ASAP so it can get to the client on Friday” then they might not get it to you until Thursday evening or Friday morning. Better is, “I need this back from you by noon on Wednesday so we’ll have time to review your edits and make Friday’s deadline”.

            If you’re an email culture this can go right in the body of the email with the documents. If it’s a multi-week commitment you can even reply all on the entire message a day or two before to confirm that you’re on schedule.

            It might feel like a pain to send a reminder, but remember that this is ultimately your deadline and you are responsible for meeting it; part of that is reminding/nagging/escalating input from others as needed.

            1. Artemesia

              But they aren’t ‘fake’ deadlines. If a proposal has to go to NIH on June 30 then the deadline is not June 30 if it still has to be processed by 3 officials, signed off on and edited a final time. So the earlier deadlines are the deadlines needed to get all that done, factoring in the normal expected slippage at any step. The consequence of missing one of these steps should be the crisis claxon goes off.

              1. KHB

                Right, that’s exactly my point (and Czhorat’s point too, I think) – intermediate deadlines that you set so you have ample time to get your own work done are not at all “fake.”

                To me, a “fake deadline” (of the kind I’m bristling against) is something like: The proposal has to go out the door on June 30, and I’ve cleared my own schedule on June 29 to make edits based on the feedback I’ve gotten from various people. But I tell Fergus I need his comments by, say, June 25, even though I know I’m not going to do anything with them until four days later, and I don’t plan to start bugging him about being late until midday on the 28th. If Fergus gets me his comments on the morning of the 28th, and I’m perfectly happy to receive them then, he starts to get the idea that when I say I need something by day X, I don’t really need it until day X+3.

                1. TardyTardis

                  That would depend on Fergus–if you *know* he won’t get to things till you sit on his desk and hit him with a stick, then that’s kind of on Fergus, not the stick industry.

      2. Alex

        I run into this too, and this is how I handle it:

        The deadline for this is X, because the deadline for me to get it into the system/to the next person/out into the world is Y, and we need that time to resolve any issues that might come up.

        “Issues” mostly mean “You missing the deadline or sending me incomplete work,” but at least I can point to a HEY THIS IS DUE TODAY deadline that is essentially not really the deadline.

        1. Blue

          I just say, “I need this from you by [specific time/date] so I can wrap up my part by the deadline.” I don’t tell them what that deadline actually is, because then they start doing their own math and ignore the earlier due date I give them. And yes, I’m all about the you-missed-the-deadline pressure. (I work with faculty. You always have to give them a “due by” date, and you always have to build in a sizable cushion, or nothing will ever get done.)

      3. SoCalHR

        But I don’t think they are really “Fake” deadlines that are being described here. If the project is due 9/1, but I need to do a decent amount of work after they are done with it, then I might tell person Z that their part is due 8/30 (or 8/29) close of business. Sure its a “fake deadline” in that the project isn’t due until 09/1 (i.e. the world will end), but it is a legitimate deadline based on what has to happen after the fact.

        1. Lil Fidget

          Agree, don’t think of it as a “fake” deadline, think of it as the interim deadline that gives you the time you need – the review deadline, maybe.

          1. Nita

            Exactly! And it’s kind of necessary to set the review deadline in advance of the real deadline if the reviewer’s input must be worked into the report, and if any processing is needed before the final report goes out (printing? PDF production?)

        2. KHB

          I agree that that’s absolutely not a fake deadline – that’s just a deadline, based on the unassailable fact that you need X amount of time to do your own part of the work after they get their part to you. If you were giving people the deadline of 9/1 in that case, you’d be doing in wrong.

        3. Computer Says No

          Particularly if the people you’re waiting on may have edits, it’s entirely reasonable to tell them a deadline is a day or two ahead of when the piece is “due” due. That gives you time to make changes or confirm questions that may come up. If you get a fully marked up piece with an hour to go, it’s really putting you in a tough spot. Likely the people reviewing want you to have time to respond if anything comes up (even if things rarely come up), so it’s not a lie or misleading – it’s YOUR deadline, not THE deadline.

          If you get push back, which seems unlikely, just a simple “I need this back by September 5 to make sure I can respond to any feedback” usually does the trick. If there’s a hierarchy to the people you’re waiting on, “I need this back in time to combine with other comments from [most important person on the list]” can help poke people lower on the totem pole.

          Also, if these people have admins or other support, make friends and enlist their help in reminders. For very long pieces (if applicable) sometimes they can get you a few pages before Head Honcho has fully completed the review.

      4. Jady

        This is something important to remember, but it’s going to depend a lot on the industry and situations.

        I have this problem a lot at work where deadlines are decided upon arbitrarily (literally, management has admitted this). But the work required to meet the deadline will often take longer than that deadline (another management-caused problem).

        This works the first few times. People put in extra hours and rush to get it done, but that means corners are cut and it causes a lot of other problems that then take even more time to get resolved after the fact.

        Once the team realized that these deadlines mean nothing, all respect for ANY deadline goes out the window. Rushing causes more problems than it solves. The work takes as long as the work takes to get done, and the people who need it will get it when it is done.

        This causes its own set of problems, of course, but they are problems that are not the worker-bee’s problems anymore.

    4. Manders

      Yes to fake deadlines! When I had a boss who was chronically late with work (in a field where turning in work late can be an absolute disaster), I started using fake deadlines. He still blew them once in a while, but over time I learned how much padding to add to a deadline and how many reminders to send him.

      I didn’t like doing this, and I’m glad I don’t have to do it anymore, but it worked at the time.

    5. OhGee

      For real. This, or telling someone that if you don’t hear from them by X (generous deadline) you are moving on without them (this only works in certain circumstances, but it can help certain kinds of managers realize that they don’t have the capacity to review everything).

    6. Emily K

      My family has to do this with my sister and BIL and dinner reservations. Always pad by 30 minutes.

    7. BurnOutCandidate

      Fake deadlines, yes!

      Never, ever tell someone the drop-dead, because then they will abuse the drop-dead.

      1. TardyTardis

        Been there, done that, especially with people who run late on invoices that *must* be input by a set time in order to be in that month’s financial statements. There are two people in Tijuana who still owe me bottles for all the problems I’ve gone through and the extra hours worked to get the invoices in my hand (scanning and emailing should not really take two days, there aren’t that many, honest). Sigh. If only they would have gotten Antonio an assistant (English not required for data input for what I needed) instead of loading him with three different jobs.

    8. The Doctor

      The danger of fake deadlines is that the people in question will eventually find out — and they won’t want you ruining their efforts to sabotage you.

    9. Patty

      Yea on the fake deadlines, for sure!

      I also send appointment / meetings that are intended as a reminder. They just say x due to Patty.. with the date and time,

  2. Murphy

    I also feel awkward reminding higher up people about deadlines, but sometimes it just needs to get done.

    I actually had someone thank me for a reminder the other day, so that was refreshing.

    1. Ashley

      I always try to ask what is the best way to remind you – text, email, face to face, etc. Also for people I work with repeatedly I ask when should I remind you again when I get a half answer. For the true hard noon type deadline their phone is blowing up an hour (or however long I think they need) beforehand or I am lurking outside their office door until I get an acknowledgment.

    2. AnnaBananna

      Well…it’s called leading UP for a reason. Just because they’re higher up the ladder doesn’t mean they’re any less busy or that their work is somehow less valuable to the organization. Hence why it’s necessary to lead up. It’s in both our best interest to make sure it gets done by whatever (smooth) way it can be accomplished.

  3. Canadian Jessie

    Also, if these people happen to be senior enough to have an administrative assistant, sometimes the best thing to do is keep them in the loop, and ask for their help in making sure the edits are done.

    1. TardyTardis

      Oh, yes, if I ever needed something signed by a certain superior out of normal channels, I went to the assistant and did a little song, a little dance–and some chocolate, because the assistant was a bit on the diffident side and I wanted to offer some chemical assistance .

  4. I'm A Little Teapot

    OP, I consider this to be part of “managing up”, and it can be a significant part of the process of getting YOUR work done timely and well.

  5. Persimmons

    I’ve moved to an opt-in system rather than an opt-out system wherever possible. I send out a draft with language along the lines of “Those failing to respond by Friday the 10th are assumed to be in agreement with the attached draft.”

    There are of course people who absolutely do need to have their changes incorporated no matter how long it takes, but if you can separate them out into a different “Urgency Tier” then you’ve at least hacked away at the number of people you need to chase down.

    1. Susan Calvin

      That’s exactly what I do for most time-off requests, where for me, technically half a dozen people may have veto power but no earthly reason to use it, and really only need an FYI.

    2. Feline

      I do that with drafts, too. Sure, you still need approval by certain people on the recipient list, but sending a draft with the language is CYA.

      I also send reminders. I don’t like doing it, but they work. Generally, I get responses one of two times: Just after I send the original draft, and just after the reminder goes out. the rest of the time built in for reviewers is just so no one can say they didn’t have enough time to review it.

    3. Anonymeece

      We’ve started doing this with our boss and it works beautifully. She misses deadlines regularly and this is sometimes the only way to get things done.

      Since this is people above you, I would maybe soften the language suggested, as it sounds a bit pointed to me.

    4. nonymous

      I can send all the opt in messages I want, but my boss will either fail to read or only partially read it. Then after it goes out, he’ll find something else he wants to change and be all like “why didn’t you do XYZ, nonymous?”. In a meeting setting. sigh.

      1. Free Meerkats

        Then your reply there should be, “I didn’t do XYZ because you failed to get back to me by the deadline you knew about.” If he’s going to throw you under that bus, grab his waistcoat and drag him along with you.

  6. M_Lynn_K

    Depending on the work flow, it may also make sense to just do weekly reminders with a list of all the projects. I find them to be more helpful when framed as a status update rather than sending individual reminders for each task. This works if you always need X to do their part and are waiting for reviews on multiple documents, or if it’s an established part of their responsibilities as an editor or something. Every Monday morning, or whenever you think it will be best, send an email saying “Hey, here are the 3 things I’m waiting on your reviews for” with a list of their deadlines. This can be helpful for them to know they need to schedule time in their week to do these things. And if your boss recommends it and depending on workplace culture, your boss can be copied on this email so they’re in the loop on who’s holding you up.

    1. peachie

      I like this idea a lot–I think I’m going to try it out! I think I’d be much better off just blocking off a few hours on a specific day every week to get this out of the way.

    2. Ophelia

      I also found, as a more junior employee, that a weekly reminder to the entire team for that project, with a list of status of tasks for *each* person on the team worked well. It was both a “yay, Fergus has completed all his tasks!” and a “Sansa still has 4 things outstanding and now you all know about it.” That way, everyone could see what was completed, what was outstanding, and where the holdup was. These days, you can just use team management software, but for something where you just need to highlight periodic reminders, email might be simpler.

      1. TardyTardis

        That’s good, because the reason for Sansa being behind might be that the Quarterly Report of Doom landed on her desk from someone else, and that someone else might realize she needs to give Sansa a little more time dealing with the latest dumpster fire. (hey, it could happen…).

  7. Trig

    I’m a tech writer, and I need product management to review my stuff. They are important people, ALWAYS busy, and ALWAYS leave things to the last minute. An initial deadline, multiple reminder emails, verbal reminders in meetings, reminders on chat… The works. It was intimidating to do when I first started out, but I got used to it.

    One strategy that can help if they haven’t reviewed by a few days before the deadline: If possible, schedule a short meeting. If it’s a relatively small piece, it can be a lot easier to spend 30 minutes walking through it in person/on a web conference, get your questions answered right away, and get their signoff right then. You can send a recap in an email to confirm any changes and finalize their signoff. I find my reviewers have good intentions but too many competing priorities, so scheduling 100% of their attention for 30 minutes really helps. Sometimes you’re just sitting there on the phone in silence while they read through it, but hey, at least you know they read it!

    1. CM

      I was coming here to say the same thing. If possible, schedule a brief recurring meeting with them where you check in and get their approval. I also agree with the internal/external deadline approach above, where you set an internal deadline for approval 24 hours before the actual deadline.

      Overall, if you can set up a schedule of checkins, reminders, and deadlines, and be consistent about maintaining it, you will make everyone’s life (including yours) easier. You could start by saying, “Here’s my draft for your review. Please send comments by the end of the day THURSDAY, AUGUST 30. I will send you a reminder on Tuesday and will stop by on Thursday if I haven’t heard from you.” And then do those followup actions, so it becomes a weekly routine and not just you bothering them. They will appreciate that you’re staying on top of it and it’s not one more thing for them to keep track of.

    2. New Job So Much Better

      That’s the only way I could get old boss to sign off on files… sit at his desk and stare at him until he reviewed. If I left a file with him it would sit… for weeks.

    3. Frea

      Fellow tech writer, these are basically all of my tricks. I’m not above tracking engineers down with a paper copy, a sign-off sheet, and a fixed polite smile—and they know it. One of the things I also do is segment everything into the smallest chunks possible. They’re usually more willing to open a 2-page document that I can incorporate rather than the 80-page manual where they have to find their spot.

      And if push comes to shove, I recruit the Quality Manager. He’s way more senior than I am (and also not a millennial or a woman lacking a STEM degree, but that’s a whoooole different issue).

    4. Le Sigh

      Yeah, this is really helpful with some people. When I first started at my old job, I learned by trial or simply by asking people what they preferred/worked for them. I had a few people who were slammed all the time but preferred that I email them material and let them do the review during blocked off time so they could digest it and send back notes (though of course I still had to check in with their assistants to make sure they’d hit their deadlines). I had a few people in my office who were also incredibly busy with meetings and worked better face to face, and I had much better luck scheduling 30 min, paper copies in hand, to review and discuss. It was a bit of a time-suck for me, but I just scheduled it in to my work flow. And I knew that it would get done, instead of constantly pestering them and pushing deadlines.

      Also, I do set “fake” deadlines, but they’re not really that fake. I create internal deadlines and build in some wiggle room, but I’m also very clear with people about what I need and when, so that they take things seriously. Sometimes people ask if they can have an extra 24 hours (because something on their end legit blew up) and I say yes, because I can afford to. And that way, when I say to someone, no, you cannot reschedule this check in because this is due to so-and-so by 5:30 pm, they know I’m not kidding.

      And also when I mess something up, people are more willing to rally for me since they know I’ll do it for them when I can.

      1. Trig

        Yep, adapting to the individual’s style is definitely the tech writer’s trade!

        I’ve had to be careful with asking what works for them though, because usually they’ll say “oh just send it along, I’ll look at it this week”… And then forget. There’s often a gap between what people think they want/works for them and what actually works!

        1. Let Sigh

          Absolutely. This method still requires diligence and reminders. And if it’s not working despite the person’s best intentions, I’ll usually fine a diplomatic way of suggesting an alternative. “Hey, seems like things are slammed right now for you. Why don’t we try X — I think it will save you time and I don’t mind doing it this way….” etc.

          If they’re blowing me off I go to my boss or theirs, whatever makes more sense.

    5. Catherine from Canada

      I came here to suggest the short review meeting too.
      I eventually went this way as well, and would put the review content on screen and edit it as they watched and made comments and suggestions. Review, revision _and_ approval sign-off all in 30 minutes! Sometimes, towards the end of a project, I’d have to have 2 or 3 meetings a week, but always 30 minutes or less, always targeted to one subject matter, and once they got used to it, always well attended.

      1. Misquoted

        Yep! All of this! Everything the other tech writers have said — I’ve done ’em all. Review meetings, desk checks, sitting in their cube until they review the printed doc, bringing in someone higher up, finding the best way to communicate with them, reminders, opt-in reviews, etc.

        I also rely on stand-up meetings (we are a Scrum environment) — those meetings give me the chance to say, “I still need document X reviewed by Peter, Paul, and Mary by 5pm Central time” (clarifying the timezone if necessary because we are global). This keeps everything transparent and serves as a reminder.

        Sometimes I set what I call “document lockdown” deadlines, meaning the date after which I will not make any more changes to the document unless it’s a showstopper. This gives reviewers their review deadline, and it gives me x days to incorporate comments, generate the docs, check links, etc. before publishing.

  8. peachie

    Ugh, I am so so so bad at this. I guess for me it’s less of a “deadline” problem and more of a “following-up on x/y/z” problem, but it seems to play out the same. I’ve become de facto responsible for making sure our projects (of which there are 100+ outstanding with 1-3 new ones coming in every day) all get followed up on, and people don’t always respond internally or externally. It’s especially a problem when the workflow is “I’m connecting you to [coworker with the same role as me] who will respond to your question” and then they don’t respond.

    (Not saying Alison’s not totally right! It’s definitely a part of my job and I don’t think it’s unfair–I’m just terrible at it. It does not help that my predecessor was great at this. I have a tough time both managing and doing the projects.)

    1. peachie

      Sorry to double post, but I forgot to say that one thing that does help a bit is setting up a “delay delivery” email to myself as soon as a deadline is mentioned set to deliver before the deadline as a reminder to myself. For whatever reason, I don’t find calendar alerts/reminders effective, but a “REMINDER THIS IS DUE” email from myself seems to do the trick.

    2. Lil Fidget

      Yes, Alison is 100% correct on the path when it’s “delegate up” and “delegate down” but the the extra tricky one is the lateral delegate. I often wonder how much I’m responsible for managing the workload of my peers … sending them gentle reminders and ensuring they follow through. In some cases, it’s my work product that’s affected to so I do it for that reason, but for the most part I think that’s not your job (and I don’t often find its rewarded, I just become de facto office mom).

    3. Cat Herder

      This sort of thing does not come naturally to me either. What I’ve learned to do is to spend time right at the beginning working out the tasks/pieces needed for the project, breaking it down into steps, setting intermediate deadlines, and then checking my schedule with either the team or with one or two people who are good at sort of thing. Revise, then let everyone know their deadlines, etc. Reminders can go up, laterally, and down.

      And have a backup plan for what to do if some piece does not arrive on time or at all. Can you live without it? Is there a stopgap? Do you need to bring in your manager?

  9. Regina Phalange

    If possible, build time in the schedule for things to be late. (so people who submit by the due date are early, and the ‘late’ people are meeting your actual drop-dead date). I pull together submissions for a quarterly magazine, and learned early on that changing the timeline so there was time for things to be late helped a lot!

  10. TheCatLady

    I run into this all the time in what I do. I take a couple of different approaches:

    1. I set my review deadlines such that even if I get items back at the absolute last minute, it still gives me time to make edits and move the piece forward. Build in whatever time you need so that the very last minute of your deadline is still manageable (i.e. if you say you need a review by the EOD Wednesday, make sure that even if they get it back to you at midnight on Wednesday you have time to move it forward). Basically, if you know that people are going to run right into the deadline, make that okay for your workflow. Sometimes this means moving up your own writing deadlines, which can be a hassle at first, but eventually just becomes your new schedule.
    2. I had one boss who was okay with having a system wherein if I didn’t get her reviews back on time, I was allowed to just move forward with it. She was aligned that it was on her to do her reviews on time, and she accepted that if she couldn’t meet that I could move forward as-is. This wouldn’t work for every situation, but it worked for me.
    3. I love Allison’s suggestion to see if there are people you can bypass for reviews, even if it’s just for certain types of content. I.e. press releases don’t have to go through Jane, just Bob and Tracy, etc.
    4. Check in with everyone who does reviews and see if you should be giving them more time. If you’re giving them a couple days, they may say they’d prefer to have a week. Adjust your workflow accordingly.
    5. In my situation, I’m totally cool with reminding people that they owe me a review on something a day or two in advance of their deadline, even people who are above me. Like Allison said, in most offices it shouldn’t be a big deal as long as you’re friendly about it. I’ve even had to tell people that if they don’t get their review in by X date it will delay the publish date (not as a hollow threat, but because that’s the truth), and that usually gets them to prioritize it.

  11. youg

    Is it possible to do calendar pop-up reminders? For example, actually schedule the deadline IN THE CALENDAR as though it were a meeting, with at least one pop-up reminder (and maybe make their deadline a day or two before your own drop-dead deadline).

    I do this for myself (but have never scheduled someone else on such a “meeting/project.”) However, my company does a podcast and I was once selected to be the person interviewed for it, and they DID treat it this way, scheduling it within the calendar and setting at least two different deadlines for me, including maybe an overview that they would okay and then a script deadline about a week before the interview.) So maybe, as with so many things, it’s just in the tone you take in setting it in a calendar schedule (just make it seem routine — like, after confirming the deadlines, say, “Great! I’ll just put this in the calendar and send you an invitation” or whatever language makes sense — and as though of course this is how it makes sense to do it.)

    1. Stayc

      I do this a lot for my projects. We have regular meetings to discuss progress, but I’ll also put calendar invites as “REMINDER: xyz due” that has a pop up reminder a couple hours before the due date/time. This has worked really well – no one can say they didn’t know or “forgot”. It’s actually gotten to the point that my counterpart wasn’t doing the calendar reminders for her projects and the project managers asked for them because they really help with not dropping the ball. I also do give myself a buffer (for me, a couple hours) before I really need something back.

      1. Lucille2

        I do this too and came here to suggest it. For some reason, having this step automated softens the reminder a bit. I guess because it’s sent to all recipients rather than singling out someone who has delayed in responding.

    2. seller of teapots

      As someone with many, many meetings, this would drive me bonkers. I know why you suggest it, but I have such limited “white space” in my calendar as is, this would just stress me out and make me resentful of the deadline/project.

    3. TardyTardis

      Group calendars are *golden*–it’s the mean evil calendar and not pestering you who’s doing the reminding.

  12. Mad Woman

    I’m currently having a problem where I’m responsible for posting teapot events on a calendar, but the events are planned by someone else. They say they will get me the dates by X date – and then totally just fail. I always check in the shared spreadsheet to see if they are there around that date, but I don’t get an alert when the sheet is updated, and they don’t bother to tell me when they update past the deadline.

    So – an event completely didn’t get listed. And several events have been noticed (by me, just checking in to see if they happened to do their job) too late to promote ideally.

    Their supervisor knows and has said they need to meet the deadline – but they just don’t thus far. It really makes me look like a bad guy.

    1. Kivrin

      This sounds like it might be a problem with a technological solution. In Sharepoint, you can “subscribe” to a document or a folder so you get an email whenever it has changed. When I was in charge of maintaining template documents that everyone used, I used to subscribe to them so I could check on whether someone had actually changed the template accidentally instead of using it to start a new document. I always emailed them and asked them to roll it back when I saw that happen, which did also gradually train the worst offenders to do it right the first time.

  13. Not In NYC Anymore

    Reminders let your reviewers know that your deadlines are real. When you have a lot on your plate, it’s easy to think (or at least hope and justify) that some things can be pushed off if no one is asking for them or following up. That squeaky wheel thing is real.

    1. Obelia

      Totally true. I am sometimes guilty of this. Often because, as with a lot of jobs, a big urgent piece of work has landed on my desk and I have been asked to “drop everything else” to deal with it. In that situation, if you send a follow up email to remind me of your deadline, there’s a better chance you’ll get a quick priority reply rather a (boss-approved) apology after the deadline.

      I wish it didn’t work this way and try to avoid it as far as possible, but sometimes it does.

  14. AdAgencyChick

    Assuming you have your boss’s support, you can also send reminders with “Any feedback that arrives after X date will not be incorporated.”

    Sometimes it really is that, to the senior person, reviewing your work is far less important than 17 other things they have to do — and even giving you a heads up about that is not something they have time for. In that case, the fair thing to do is either to relax YOUR deadline to incorporate feedback, or to forgo giving feedback. Talk with your boss to find out which is more important — that all the pooh-bahs see and bless it, or that it go out on time. If it’s the latter, a CYA like the above may be all you need.

  15. Still here

    Even with peers, sending them reminders helps you accomplish your own goals. Yes, they should manage their own time…. but if you end up scrambling at the last minute you end up with extra effort on you part anyway.

    As for fake deadines: yes, they work. Until people figure out your deadlines aren’t real. Per M_Lynn_K’s suggestion: using interim milestones and review meetings goes a long way to avoiding last minute delays and surprises. Also, if people are expected to show and discuss their work it makes it harder for them to procrastinate and leave the work until the last minute.

  16. BlueWolf

    I have to send reminders to higher-up people as part of my job, but the frustrating thing is that the deadline is the same every month, yet we are still required to send reminders. And some people just completely ignore my reminders and don’t do the review. In the end, they’re the ones who suffer the biggest consequences if the items don’t go out, but if I didn’t send reminders it would be my fault (even though they ignore the reminders anyways).

    1. Bea

      If I had a dollar for every time a monthly deadline popped up and I had to scramble…it’s easy to get swept up in other business processes and forget that the 15th or 20th or whatever is now upon us.

      Understanding not everyone absorbs time the same way helps to relieve the frustration. It’s why there are assistant jobs and most operations can’t run without multiple employees readily involved in the process.

      1. justsomeone

        Monthly deadlines are my bane. I can do weekly and quarterly just fine, but BOY do monthly ones sneak up on me EVERY MONTH.

      2. Deadlines or bust

        Not trying to be adversarial but if you know you have something due on the 15th or 20th, why not just set a reminder for yourself a week (or a few days) in advance to remind you instead of relying on the other person to remind you on the 15th? That way you make your life easier (because you don’t have to scramble) and their life easier because they get what they need from you on time and don’t have to spend time following up with you.

      3. BlueWolf

        Yeah, I can sort of understand the argument that these people are busy and it’s easy for it to slip their mind because it’s not their highest priority, but on the other hand there are plenty of busy people I never have to remind. Just different working styles, I guess. Its just frustrating to send reminders to people and then they just ignore me. If I’m going to send you a reminder, at least acknowledge that you’ve received it so I don’t think my emails are all going to spam.

  17. Dr. Johnny Fever

    I got burned by this badly a few years when I was working on a virtual project. I felt like we were all adults and knew what needed to be done; unfortunately the work didn’t reflect that.

    After dropping balls and having nothing to say other than people wouldn’t attend/respond/contribute/whatever, I was scolded for running with the project like a singular task and given feedback much like Alison describes.

    I now send heads-up emails when I’m sending something someone’s way, a reminder for approval, and acknowledgement of approval in my workflows now. It took being more assertive to get to that point of simply asking for what’s needed without feeling controlling.

  18. Bea

    I have to constantly remind my boss, the CEO to review documents by deadlines. These are tax deadlines so it’s a “if we don’t do it by X date, we pay Y fines.” It’s really just part of the grind when you get used to it.

    They’re dealing with multiple deadlines and often need the reminders since other people are pitching different reviews at them too or they’re doing other various, equally important to the organization, duties.

    It’s not handholding or doing their jobs. It’s team work and keeping yourself on track.

    I’ve never had a job where I didn’t need to remind people of things I need by X date. Usually payroll processing or tax deadlines. So yeah, it’s just part of keeping things flowing properly. Not letting others screw your deadlines over.

  19. Ali G

    One other thing you can do – is look at who is reviewing the piece – does every one actually need to review the entire thing? If Bob is your technical expert on Llama Hoof Polishing, and there is a section on that, just copy that section out, put it in an email with a note asking him to review it for any errors.
    If Legal needs to review, give them a high level overview of the content and guide them to the sections they may want to focus on – give them page numbers and whatever else you can to make it easier.

    1. Feline

      This is good advice. Alternatively, if there’s a reason you need to send a larger document so the reviewer can see the material in context, highlight the stuff that the reviewer needs to focus on and let them know it’s a 30 page document, but I really only need you to approve the highlighted passages on pages 7, 12, and 29-30.

      Adding a line to your email to the reviewer that assures them the attached is a 2-page document can help them stop avoiding the task, too.

  20. Four LIghts

    It’s annoying but you’ve got to do it. Also think of it as CYA. If something is late you’ll need to show all you did to try to get the reviews done on time.

  21. Nanani

    Before I went freelance, I had a similar situation.
    The workflow was something like, someone wrote a document, I translated it, then sent it off for checking, and made revisions based on the checks. The checks usually included clarifications and fixing inconsistencies in the original spotted during translation.
    We were working on time scales of several weeks, so I usually sent reminders by email on Monday for anything due that week, and if I didn’t hear back I’d IM/call (depending on that person’s preferences) or even drop by their department, which was more important overall than mine.

    However, that workflow was pretty well-oiled when I was there, and if the checker couldn’t meet the deadline THEIR department would handle pushing back the schedule for the rest.

    So, OP, what is the process if other people don’t get back to you on time? Do you have to take the penalty for their delays? If so, maybe push back on that.
    Since the busy people are senior to you, they presumably are better positioned to arrange a delay for the deadline or deal with the end client than you are. Check with your peers on how they handle it, maybe there’s a process in place already.

  22. designbot

    One way that I think about the issue of managing the time of people more senior is, what is each of our job descriptions, our roles in the business overall? In my role I am in charge broadly of making many projects happen, which means managing schedules and budgets and expectations and assigning work to people depending on their abilities and availabilities. Once I’ve assigned an area of a project, they are responsible for delivering—if they need my input on how it fits into the whole or it’s something where approval is needed, it’s their responsibility to seek that approval. And the folks I report to aren’t responsible for projects, they’re responsible for the business as a whole. They are not responsible for my project—I am. So when something bubbles up that needs their input, it’s not their responsibility to know that unprompted and find a way to give it, it’s my responsibility to alert them, schedule time with them, and get what I need out of them.
    If you’re like me, and the people above you aren’t project-focused, then it is absolutely 100% your responsibility to alert, schedule, remind, and seek out whatever you need from them for your deliverable. This is what people mean when they say you need to “take ownership of” something.

  23. Lemon Bars

    I feel like that is 85% of my job to keep the people on their deadlines, and I send out a ton of deadlines so they all know ahead of time (start of the project) when their pieces are due. However it never fails that almost everyone needs reminders. The more you do it the easier it gets, you learn who is going to need a lot of almost threatening reminders and who needs just a nudge. Figuring out what works best for people as reminders (IM, email, phone calls, face to face) will help you feel less like you are hall monitor. Email and IM are best because you can keep a history if issues arise, so take notes of time and date if you need to do phone calls and face to face.

    1. mark132

      Exactly, I’m not going to accept the blame for someone else not doing their job. I will make an effort to remind them, but if they don’t complete their part, I’m going to point it out in as matter a fact manner as I can.

  24. Sloan Kittering

    I am still working on improving my own thinking about these issues, and it sounds like OP is coming from a similar place as I was when I started. Big picture, you are supposed to just believe (absent any real confirmation) that higher-up people are extremely busy and important all the time. I have long suspected that being higher-up does not actually mean you are busier or doing more work, or even harder work … I had early VP bosses that I could clearly see were faffing about all day, while frontline staff ran around with their hair on fire. But now I just focus on the fact that senior people’s time is *literally worth more* than mine. This isn’t a judgement call, like they’re more valuable humans than me – but literally they cost the company more per hour. So the more I can take off their plates (like the task of remembering stuff for them and reminding them), the better for the company. In some jobs, that’s literally what you were hired to do. I don’t know if this helps but it helped me when I was struggling at the start.

    1. Robin Sparkles

      This is a great way to think about it because regardless of what you visually see – you really don’t know what they are doing behind the scenes. Our president takes the time to chat and talk to people when she is in between meetings and from a glance looks like she is not busy but I have personally worked on enough projects to know that she is working often late at night and early morning, she responds to key issues immediately, and her decisions carry far more weight than those of us lower on the ladder. So while I may be physically working during working hours and she may be chatting -not only is her time worth more than mine, she is on the clock WAY more hours and expectations for her are far higher than for me. It’s OK if I need to remind her of a deadline every now and then.

      1. designbot

        Also most likely projects or reports or whatever aren’t really her job—her job is managing business units, which are comprised of people. So checking in with people and maintaining relationships isn’t her not being busy, it is probably her doing her job.

  25. ToodieCat

    I’m a tech writer and I’m always screeching at people to turn in their edits, as well. Aside from managing the deadline end of things, you might want to check to see if the format you’re using for the edits is the one that is easiest for them. (Do they prefer hard copies or tracking revisions in Word or some other format?) Luckily most of my pieces are very small so I can just include them in the body of the email. That gets the speediest replies for me.

  26. Green

    I may have dozens of projects pending my review at any time, so I have to prioritize. E-mails get buried, and I’m constantly triaging or re-prioritizing.

    Not everyone may like this, but I have a business partner who puts an Outlook reminder on my calendar – “Reminder – X Review Due Today” that I just accept, and if I am late on projects, it’s usually not hers.

    1. Sloan Kittering

      Yeah, unfortunately I think one of the quirks of business is that – the task that OP needs these staff to do may literally not be high priority to them. When I first started out, I was an admin tasked with putting together an internal newsletter. The higher ups knew the consequences of missing the deadline on this thing was much less important than, say missing a grant reporting deadline that was also due that day. Ditto the expense reports and timesheets that I was responsible for. But it was my job to get it done. I had to accept this as I thought through how to go about getting what I needed. Sometimes the staff would do it just because they liked me and didn’t want to get me in trouble, even though it was low priority. Or if I could make it really easy to opt-out. Or do a draft for them. Lots of options.

  27. CaliCali

    So this is actually a very big part of my job — my job is to organize bids for my company, which have hard, externally mandated deadlines. I need all components of the bid done in advance. And I’m usually reaching out to senior personnel to get the information. A few things I’ve found that really help with my mindset and getting things done:

    1) People APPRECIATE reminders. They’ve got a bunch of stuff going on; they like to know if something’s a priority, and given that I usually have a final deadline that’s not going to budge, I can push on that level of priority. It’s not about my level of seniority, it’s about the importance of the task — and I can go all the way to the CEO if need be.
    2) Always give myself slack — I’ll tell them I need something a few days before I really do. This isn’t some sort of deception; it’s giving me room to follow up if a deadline’s missed, or room for very real delays to them meeting a deadline.
    3) Reminding myself that what I’m asking them to do is often one part of their job, not the whole job (as it is for me), and being appropriately noisy about it as a result. If they’re not paying attention to this thing they’re supposed to be doing, the most likely culprit is not neglect, but competing priorities.
    4) Automation — I’ll send them an Outlook calendar appt with something like “Reminder: Complete X for XYZ bid,” which helps us both. If they still miss the deadline, I can follow up accordingly.

    I’ve been in this role successfully for 4 years, and these strategies have reduced my stress and angst quite a bit. Hope this helps!

  28. instafamous

    Does anyone have any tips on managing this? I have 20-30 items on the go with deadlines at any given time and need to remind my boss that she needs to follow up with [X] – I send her the stuff to send out, but there’s a lot of “have you sent this out”? How do I keep track without forgetting when in my head I’ve already sent “X” and now it’s her job to punt it to the finish line (i.e. email the client).

    1. LarsTheRealGirl

      Checklists and trackers. Trackers are golden and can be as simple as a piece of paper – or an excel spreadsheet, if that’s more your speed – with “Item” “Sent to Manager Y/N [date]” “Followed up [date]”

      You can also extend it as necessary, if you need to track her responses, or other comments or notes.

      1. zora

        We use lots of trackers in our office, often in Excel, but sometimes it’s just a list in an email for simpler lists. I keep a tracker of pending items in a simple excel spreadsheet and I send it to my boss every morning. Sometimes that email is enough to get her to act on a couple of things. Then when I do have a few minutes to talk to her, we can quickly go through the tracker and I can get/give updates, ask questions, etc.

        In Excel I like using colors too, to indicate status or whose court an item is in. So, I can see at a glance what I need to do.

    2. That Would be a Good Band Name

      I would do this in a combination of ways. Put reminders on your calendar, would be the first step. Especially if this is something that is recurring. For example: you always send the llama grooming stats on Tuesday, and your boss must send it to the client on Friday morning. I’d set a reminder for late Thursday afternoon to email boss and ask if the report has been sent yet. THEN, I’d pull that sent email out to my inbox and flag it and mark it unread so Friday morning you will see it first thing. (Or whatever timeline makes sense here for you.) If you hear from your boss from the Thursday email, then you just unflag and put it back in your sent folder. Otherwise, you’ll know to check again.

      I also have a “follow up” folder in my email. I use outlook and I use the flags to tell me when I need to follow up on something. Let’s say I have an email that I want to follow up on if I haven’t heard anything in a week. I flag that it’s due a week later and I stick it in the follow up folder. Every morning, I check that folder to see if anything is due today. I always put the flags to show that something is due by the date that I want to START the thing. That way I have a reminder to start on X or follow up on Y. I’ve been doing this for years now, so it’s second nature to check that folder every morning. I also try to keep my inbox clean. Emails are only in my inbox if they need worked on. Otherwise, things go into folders.

    3. Ealasaid

      I’ve used spreadsheets, lists in a word doc, and systems like JIRA (which may be my favorite at my current job, since everybody can see it and the engineers use it to track their other work) over the years. It’s a good idea to experiment.

      The spreadsheet method is my go-to when I have a bunch of little docs to track, each one gets a row in the spreadsheet, and the columns are for each step in the process (like: first draft, second draft, out for review, comments back, edits, out for approval, approval back, posted). I put the date I finished the step into the appropriate cell for the project. They’re usually all roughly on the same schedule, but you could put the due dates in italics in the appropriate cells, then make them bold/normal/something when they’re done.

    4. Jady

      There are a lot of free checklist apps (Android/iOS) and websites. Wunderlist, ToDoist, RememberTheMilk, Microsoft To Do, etc. Most of them typically have reminders/due date functionality.

  29. That Would be a Good Band Name

    At my last job, I used to jokingly say that it was my job to be annoying. It was actually part of my yearly goals that I sent “consistent, clear reminders to ensure deadlines were met”. Everyone getting these reminders were higher than I was, some a few levels above me. It does feel a little awkward, almost like you are telling a higher-up person what to do, but generally they do need to be reminded about the little detail stuff when they are so busy with the big picture.

    I recommend giving yourself as much lead time as possible. Also, if you are asking for the same thing over and over, I’d set up some email templates and a reminder on your calendar to send the reminder as well. That way your reminder to remind pops up and you just copy your standard email and hit send and it doesn’t take more than a few seconds for you. Also, putting something like “Action needed” in the subject line helps when they are quickly skimming their emails.

  30. Mockingjay

    Try developing a matrix of typical review times.

    Say Document X is due in 30 business days. Its ideal timeline might look like this:

    Draft (research, writing) – 5 days
    Edit – 3 days
    Review Mgr – 3 days
    Revise – 5 days
    Approve Mgr – 3 days
    Final Edit/Proof – 2 days
    Signature – 3 days

    (total time is under 30 days, allowing for slippage, holidays, etc.)

    Sketch this out for a few documents. Some items require multiple reviews and approvals, others need only a quick glance by a single manager and can be completed in a week.

    When you have all this info, meet with your manager and work it into an SOP. Providing a set period for each step allows managers and coworkers to work sufficient time into their own task schedules. The SOP should include alternate POCs: if Bob is unavailable to review, send to Sue. Also define the process owners – you can be the person reminding of due dates but your manager is the enforcer/arbitrator. T

    The goal is to standardize the process. There will always be outliers, but routine reports can be easily managed with a comprehensive SOP.

    1. Amy

      I came here to suggest something very similar to this, except talk with the actual people doing the approving individually and check with them how much lead time they feel they typically need to get something approved. Make sure to get their buy-in on the amount of time that is allotted for each of them, so when you do send those reminders it’s just part of the process they agreed to.

  31. mark132

    Whether or not I will repeatedly remind someone of a deadline depends on who gets blamed if the project is late and how important it is to me. If it is me who will get blamed, then I’m going to remind them as often as necessary. If they are going get blamed. I try once or twice, but I’m not going to be nearly as diligent, in part for plausible deniability. “Yes I reminded them, here is the email”. Also I’m going to be directing my efforts to projects where I’m the responsible party and consequently can shine.

    Fortunately “nagging” isn’t in my job description so I try to not do it.

    1. Free Meerkats

      Exactly this. Sometimes you have to let the balls fall if someone isn’t getting reviews back to you as they have been reminded them (and you can back up the reminders) they have to be.

      On this path lies (relative) sanity. Don’t take on others’ burdens to to their jobs. Do your job; let them do, or not, theirs.

    2. MissDisplaced

      I would often put a clause in the reminder emails and subject lines: “If you do not respond by x-date, it wiil be assumed you are in agreement and have no edits.”

      And then I’d typically wait another day. And STILL I would sometimes get people 2 ir 3 weeks after x-date asking if they could make changes. Uh, no. You can only do so much

  32. Whitneym

    Do we work for the same company? One way that we address this on projects where people are known to not pay attention to deadlines is to provide a table with everyone who needs to review in one column, and their deadlines to handoff on the other. Sometimes giving people the full scope of how their delays will impact their other colleagues helps to keep everyone moving.

    1. Former Admin Turned Project Manager

      Me too! But then I remind myself that the deadlines are top priority for me, while they are one of many competing priorities for the folks providing me the info. I end up doing a broad communication of the project timeline, a targeted email for whoever is responsible at each step, a reminder when the deadline is approaching, and a reminder on the day it is due with the consequence of not giving me what I need. Four notifications of the deadline ought to be enough, but folks are still spoiled by my predecessor, who added a reminder phone call and a personal visit on the day after the stated deadline (which is, admittedly, a softened one).

  33. Deadlines or bust!

    This is a major source of frustration for me where I work. I think we are all responsible adults who should be able to keep track of when things are due! I get that if you are C-level, you have a lot going on that’s why your assistant should keep you on track, but for entry level, mid-manager, etc. it’s not that hard to put a reminder on YOUR calendar that I need X from you by Y.

    If someone sends me an email 3 weeks out asking for a report by Y date, I add it to my task list/calendar and don’t need to be reminded again, and get it to them by their deadline (or earlier). If I think I can’t hit that deadline I’ll email back right away and see if there is any flexibility for getting it to them. Why should I have to set a reminder to remind you to turn something in? Especially if it’s something you have to do every week or month?

    I send out requests for things 6+ weeks in advance, with bi/weekly reminders, and STILL people turn things in late. I give them soft/fake deadlines, hard deadlines and still they turn things in late. Then I am left scrambling to finish by my deadline. And if I don’t hit my deadlines there would be hell to pay. Just once I would like to miss the deadline for payroll and see how they like it.

    1. Snark

      “I think we are all responsible adults who should be able to keep track of when things are due!”

      I mean, yeah, sure, but how’s that working out for you?

      The differentiator, for me, is whose baby it is. If it’s my project, it’d sure be nice if people would track their due dates, but ultimately, I own the project, and it’s my job to do what’s required to drive it home. And if someone else owns the project, driving it home isn’t my problem.

      1. Deadlines or bust

        So you should only care about whether deadlines are met if they’re related to your project and who cares about your co-workers’ projects deadlines? Regardless of whether the project is yours, meeting deadlines – yours or someone else’s – is (should be) part of your job.

        1. Snark

          No. But you can’t control whether your coworkers’ deadlines are met, only they can. You can, however, control how timely you are on their deadlines. And you can control how you work with others to get your own deadlines met.

          1. C.

            But if a significant portion of your job becomes tracking other people down for their deliverable(s), I don’t understand how that’s something that people seem to sit back and shrug their shoulders about here. BMaybe I’m being a snob or out of touch or something, but I would be mortified if my colleague had to check in with me multiple times for something that I’m responsible for and late in delivering.

    2. NW Mossy

      At work, we often have to choose between being right (in an objective/moral sense) and being effective. Sure, it’s “wrong” that other people are not consistently on their s*** all the time, but it’s ineffective to assume they are and then pick up the pieces later.

      It’s ineffective because you ultimately end up wasting more of your own time and energy dealing with a dropped ball than you do yelling out “Catch!” a couple of times. All that late-minute urgency you’re describing can be short-circuited at least some portion of the time by a couple “hey, checking in since I need your edits by EOD Thursday!” emails/voicemails.

      1. Deadlines or bust

        ” All that late-minute urgency you’re describing can be short-circuited at least some portion of the time by a couple “hey, checking in since I need your edits by EOD Thursday!” emails/voicemails.”

        I do this. I send reminders weekly, then 1-2 days in advance, then day of. The day after you miss my deadline, you get a phone call. Every day. Until you turn it in. But it is ridiculous to have to babysit adults like this, not to mention a waste of my time to have to follow up with someone multiple times for something that will literally take them no more than 10 minutes. It’s not about right or wrong, it’s about professional responsibility and respect. Disregarding your co-workers reasonable* deadlines is in the same vein of disrespect as when people are late. It presumes their time (deadlines) is more valuable/important. (If you’re the CEO then literally yes, but if you are my peer or subordinate then no.) It also means I have to rearrange my schedule or work late because now I’ve lost however many days or weeks of time that I planned to be able to work on the next step (which I built in time for and has been all used up by missed deadlines). Instead I have to cram it into an hour or a day along with all the other last minute things I’m working on because it wasn’t turned in on time.

        *If I were constantly asking at 4pm for something that by 9am the following day that is unreasonable. If I tell you I need something for X date 6 weeks in advance, it is reasonable to expect you to complete it BY THE DEADLINE without having to be reminded multiple times.

        I would be less frustrated if my reminders led to things being turned in on time, but when I remind people regularly and they still are weeks late turning things in it’s extremely aggravating – and makes it difficult for me to get my work done on time.

        1. NW Mossy

          “It presumes their time (deadlines) is more valuable/important.”

          Depending on what they’re spending that time on, it’s entirely plausible that Other Thing is, in fact, significantly more important to the organization than Your Thing. This can be true with peers and subordinates, because the power level of the person doing the work isn’t the only factor in knowing how important the work they’re doing is. Perhaps Other Thing is a “do this immediately or you’re fired” from that person’s boss, or a linchpin piece of work for a major organizational priority. When this is the case, it’s an entirely reasonable and rational decision for that person to do Other Thing, even if that means that Your Thing is late.

          It’s legit maddening to not have Your Thing count as much as Other Thing, but this is something that happens to all of us at work to some degree. People who work in support functions (HR, in-house legal, IT) often face this structurally, because their part of the organization doesn’t bring in revenue and only exists as an expense. Those that work in these areas understand that it’s critical “you must do this to exist as an org” infrastructure, but to others, it’s like the presence of air or the rotation of the earth – it just happens and you pay no attention to it unless something goes weird with it.

          It seems as though you’re viewing other people’s prioritization as an indictment of you and your worth, or a hostile act they’re engaged in precisely to make you feel small and valueless. That’s a pretty harsh view of them, and I don’t think the behavior you’ve described is so egregious as to read that level of malice into it. It’s far more likely that they’re just deep in the thick of caring about other stuff, and it’s showing up as not getting right to your requests.

  34. High Score!

    If your company is Outlook, set up review “meetings” for each project. Assign a reminder to each meeting. Even if it’s not an actual meeting, the reminders sent out will pester them to review. Outlook also allows you to assign tasks to others.

  35. AnotherJill

    After reading comments, I have a different take on this. It sounds like your coworkers are generally meeting your deadlines “meeting deadlines at the absolute last minute or, rarely, missing them altogether.”. If I am busy, I might prioritize something to the last minute but still meet the deadline.

    I get that it is stressful if someone waits until the last minute, but isn’t that what a deadline is?

    1. Deadlines or bust

      I think that means the Letter Writer is “meeting deadlines at the absolute last minute…” because X, Y, and Z aren’t getting her the information she needs;not that X, Y, and Z are meeting deadlines at the last minute. By definition, yes, at the last minute is still making the deadline, but sustaining having to meet last minute deadlines is really stressful and unnecessary if things could be finished sooner. I understand there are sometimes things that happen at the last minute, but I would argue that for most office things, waiting until “the last minute” is just a result of poor planning/time management and missed deadlines!

  36. Cassie O

    This was the bane of my existence when I worked in H.R. I spent way too much time reminding the branch offices to get new employee paperwork turned in, and in turn it affected my overall productivity. My employer blamed me for not getting the paperwork (I-9 forms) entered into the federal database and not getting W-2 paperwork forwarded to payroll. (I had never received the paperwork in spite of all of the reminders I phoned and emailed.) I was told that I just wasn’t working out and demoted to a different department.

    1. nonymous

      I’ve found that escalating stuff to my own boss helps in cases like this. Like if the field office has not provided required forms by some internal deadline, I’ll just tell my boss that we’re missing Things and maybe summarize what I’ve done to follow up, and what will happen if they don’t follow up.

      I’m in a tough situation at work because my supervisor has delegated me to the the person to coordinate with another department and their habit seems to be to de-prioritize requests not made directly by a supervisor, but so far my supervisor seems okay sending a quick one-line email up the chain to indicate his support.

      1. Cassie O

        I tried that and my boss wouldn’t help. She said it was my problem to deal with and to get it done. (Sigh.)

  37. Random Thought

    I’m in a position where I review others’ work and the work sometimes has a deadline, and I want to explicitly say what is implied by Alison’s advice: Make sure the people who are reviewing know there IS a deadline, what the deadline is, and WHY it is a deadline. I have experienced 2 things: (1) People will send me something, never check in, and then say “We missed our deadline! Why didn’t you respond?” To which I answer, I didn’t know there was a deadline and I never heard anything from you! Yes, it is my responsibility to complete work that is sent to me, but I expect that people will tell me when they have deadlines, and if they don’t hear from me in a reasonable time (in my job, one week unless otherwise noted up front), I expect– and really, depend on them to check in with me. It’s not malicious, but I am reviewing work from 40 different people (in addition to other stuff), and sometimes it just gets forgotten. But if I know the deadline up front, I can take action myself (i.e. by setting a calendar reminder, scheduling time to review, etc.), and I also have a sense of how it should be prioritized relative to my other work. Which feeds into my second point: (2) it’s really helpful to understand WHY there is a deadline. I have also seen people who will set deadlines for EVERYTHING, and upon inquiry, the reason is “this is why I want it done.” That generally won’t fly with me– but if someone can provide a concrete explanation of why a deadline exists (i.e. “The submittal deadline for getting this published is X,” or “Executive Bob has asked me to prioritize this,” it helps me understand the time sensitivity, and I can plan my workload accordingly.

  38. Lucille2

    I’ll admit that I’m often the person who needs the reminder. TBH, I don’t mind when I get a reminder, even from direct reports. I’ve taken steps to organize my tasks more effectively, but I’m a busy person and there are times when the Big Escalation gets in the way of ongoing stuff and moves it to the back seat where it’s forgotten. That’s what reminders are for. Please just don’t use the language “gentle reminder” in your communications. I see this from time to time – perhaps it’s just my industry. For some reason that phrasing irks me. It’s a reminder, I get it, no need to try to soften the language to avoid conflict.

  39. Snark

    And if you do find yourself burning out and getting resentful about having to “hold hands” or “do their jobs for them,” I find it helpful to reframe: your job is to move this project forward. It’s just to do the project; you need to drive it home. You catch the ball, then you run to the endzone with it. Getting approvals, signatures, whatever? That’s part of your role.

  40. Sara (A Lurker)

    Very sympathetic to the frustrations of having the success of your be dependent on other people providing information or review on time, but Alison is correct that this is just part of the job. A couple of things that have helped me:

    1. I give short deadlines! Not impossibly short, but maybe a few days for review (if I send it to you Monday, please have your comments back to me by EOD Wednesday) and a week or two if you have to provide me information.
    2. If it’s possible, you might see whether your coworkers respond better to a different method of providing feedback–if you printed it out and put it in their hand will they do it, or are they more likely to respond in Tracked Changes
    3. There are some tools that can help manage projects. My current job uses Basecamp, which is an enormous relief because I was always trying to get my old job to get on board with it. Basecamp lets you map out multiple projects in a calendar and assign milestones (provide content, review content, etc.) to different employees. You can discuss and post files in Basecamp, so if you need to go back and check previous projects you don’t have to sift through your inbox for old emails. And Basecamp sends automatic reminders a few days before a milestone, which seems like a good fit for this LW who doesn’t like that particular communication. It doesn’t eliminate the need for followup (sometimes the auto-reminder isn’t enough) and as my previous experience suggests, you do need buy-in from your colleagues to start using a tool like that, but if you have a lot of projects with time-sensitive deadlines you can make a good case for this.

  41. Cat Herder

    I suggest you also adjust the deadlines you give to other people so that you are not last-minuting (or missing) the deadlines you have been giving. How much time do you need to review the input from others? Push *their* deadline back at least that much (I give myself more cushion than that — say you need two days to review their work, I’d add an extra day).

    Also, I think that you *can* give reminders to peers and to people who report to you. I send out a reminder to all who are contributing that the deadline is X time away — make it short but pleasant: Website contributors, Just a quick reminder that I need your items by Date. Let me know if you have any questions or concerns. Thanks again for your help, I really appreciate it!

    If you’ve given yourself a cushion on the deadline, you can then check back in with anyone who misses that deadline (because you have a cushion) but without feeling frazzled or resentful.

    Otherwise, Alison’s scripts are great!

  42. KHB

    What sometimes helps, when I suspect I’m going to have to nag someone about a deadline, is to make the deadline specific to the hour, and to make that hour in the middle of the workday when I know they’ll be around. So I’ll say “Here are this month’s TPS reports. Please get me your comments by 2:00 PM tomorrow.” Then, if 2:01 PM tomorrow rolls around and I haven’t gotten comments yet, I’ll swing by their office and ask “Where are we with the TPS reports?” This helps reinforce to them that when I set a deadline, I mean it.

    If instead I’d given them a deadline of close of business tomorrow, everybody’s COB is a little bit different (is it 5:00? 5:15? 6:00? later?), and I don’t know whether their personal COB has come and gone unless I see they’ve already left for the day, at which point it’s too late to remind them about the TPS reports there and then.

  43. H.C.

    I’m generally “everyone’s eyes on their own work”, but if it affects my work being delivered on-time, I’m more than happy to CC my boss/client/etc. when sending 2nd/3rd reminders (depending on colleague & my prior experience with them – but 1st follow-up is almost always a 1-on-1), along with the original email chain so they know it wasn’t me who dropped the ball.

  44. nnn

    Some things I’ve found useful when I feel awkward following up with people higher up than me:

    1. At some point when you aren’t in the process of chasing them about an overdue deadline, ask the higher-ups “Is it more important to get approval or to meet the final deadline?” (Alternate phrasing: “If we’ve reached the final deadline and approval hasn’t come through yet, do you want me to wait for approval or to deliver as is?”) If they say approval is more important, they’ve basically given you permission to be aggressive about getting approval! If they say deadline is more important, they’ve basically given you permission to proceed without their approval if it doesn’t arrive in time!

    2. Ask them “How far before the deadline is it reasonable for me to follow up to make sure an item hasn’t slipped through the cracks?” (This can be softened with something like “I know how busy you are” or “I know you have a ridiculous amount on your plate”) Then, by following up at the timeframe they give you, you’re basically just doing what you’re told.

    3. I find I’m more comfortable having a brief standard script for following up. Mine is “Hi [name], I just want to double-check that [request] for [time] is still on the way. Thanks, [me]” That way it seems more like a rote part of work and less like anything personal.

    1. Elsajeni

      My pre-deadline follow-up script always includes something like “Is there any additional information you need from me?” — obviously it’s kind of a pretext, but it softens the “I suspect you have forgotten about this” message a little bit, and also, surprisingly often the answer is yes, there IS some extra detail they want to ask me about before making their final decision.

  45. Mynona

    If you frequently send projects to the same people, ask how they want to handle it. When I did, my boss asked me to block out review periods for her as a meeting on her calendar so the time was protected. Instead of having to budget 2 weeks, I know exactly when to send it to her, and it helps me enforce deadlines with any pre-reviewers (if you are late, I have to reschedule with grandboss…) But it works because she is on board.

  46. Overeducated

    I had to make this shift a couple of years ago when I moved from academia & small private orgs to a large public one. It was really frustrating, but I have come to see that as much of the work of completing and publishing any given project is shepherding it through the approvals process as writing it. That’s how you make sure that communication, authorization, and multiple stakeholder perspectives are a part of the process. It isn’t an add-on, it is a really significant component of the work itself.

    In a more practical sense, here’s what I’ve found:

    1. There is no one strategy that’s going to work for every approval you need, and when people are higher up than you, then you need to strategize according to their workflows. For instance, some people I work with like getting things 2 weeks in advance via email, while others I can only get an answer out of if I literally show up at their office door with a printout in hand and say “I really need this today” (so of course I send it 2 weeks in advance via email, but keep an eye on their calendars to see when I can ambush them); others prefer spreadsheets and checklists where they can see everything in one place instead of project by project, others find that totally overwhelming. But my point is that their jobs are not to help me, my job is to help them, so I have to take a pretty direct role in getting those answers. For peers, it should be more give-and-take, whatever’s most effective, and even then “this isn’t my job” is not a very helpful way to approach it.

    2. Make friends with better connections, if you can. Sometimes I have to get things approved 3-4 levels up the chain, which is a nightmare in terms of timing because I can only “manage up” one level, it’s my boss and my boss’s boss who have to badger the top people for answers, and that’s not always their biggest priority. There are a few people I’ve wound up working with who happen to work directly under the top person, and they can be fantastic allies in getting those answers faster.

    2. Some projects I just can’t do. Anything with a week turnaround time is a no-go. That means there are some platforms where I am relatively free (social media, conference presentations), others where I can effectively work on relatively long term projects (white papers and studies), but I simply can’t pitch articles to industry or popular outlets because the approval process is way too cumbersome. It stinks but it’s just never gonna happen.

  47. ch77

    I have been both people in this scenario.
    In a previous job, I was the writer needing the additional reviews before the deadlines. It would annoy me to no end how the same couple of people were late every single time. A combo of things seemed to work: reminder emails, fake deadlines, using their admins if they had one, hunting them down if needed, getting my boss involved if it escalated to there. To reduce your annoyance on this, I’d have a few standard sentences set up to cut and paste. Shorter the better, in my opinion. “Reminder, I need the Teapot report reviewed by 10 AM tomorrow morning to make the print deadline. Thank you.”

    Now I’m in a more senior role, and I get it. It does seem odd that there’s a double standard, but there is, and I’ll take all the help I can get with the ridiculous meeting load.
    My admin is a God send, she organizes this and prioritizes the items for review constantly. I still appreciate a fake deadline actually, even when it is being used on me. Also, email subject lines do wonders (For Review: Due XYZ, Title). That’s my own personal preference but it has helped manage the workload when I can. I use this for other people too, if they haven’t specified a preference.

    Good luck!

  48. RTC

    I am a contract grantwriter. I find that asking the editor for edits back by a certain deadline goes over better when you ask it in the form of a question. Ex) Can you send edits for this back by Wednesday 8/29?

    I also second a lot of the comments telling people to give “fake deadlines”. I would suggest thinking of the deadlines you impose more like internal deadlines. If you give the editor an internal deadline that is a couple days before the hard deadline, you can follow-up either in-person, with a call, or an email (depending on your work culture and relationships) to see where they are with their edits.

    I think it’s also permissible to not inform your editors of the hard deadline if you think that will also result in a last-minute scramble.

  49. Kinder gentler manager

    I’m one of those “higher ups” that everyone is usually waiting on. I know a lot of this may come off brash or conceited, and it truly is not meant to be – more insight into the other side of this story. Here’s a few things that do and don’t work with me with my employees in this situation.

    1. Email reminders don’t work. Or I should say, ONLY email reminders don’t work. Most people don’t want to hear it because it sounds humble-braggy, but I get between 500-1,500 emails a day. Your email will get lost, unless your timing is impeccable and I happen to be checking email when yours comes in. This is not on purpose – in fact it is incredibly stressful! I do not have an assistant, but at a company with thousands of employees, I also can’t control how many people email me or cc: me. Most of those emails are not strategically more important than most of my other responsibilities.

    2. Phone calls DO work. Everyone defaults to email, so a phone call signifies more urgency.

    3. Review meetings work best! It’s almost a win/win – either I will be able to prepare and come ready to discuss edits or issue approval, or you can leave me with the document and free time and I will get the edits done in that timeslot.

    4. Gentle reminders don’t work – again, doesn’t really signify urgency.

    5. Explaining the consequences of a delay in the timeline definitely works. I may not remember how this particular approval fits into the bigger picture, but if I am reminded of that, and it is an impactful and unacceptable delay, I will clear things off my plate to get it done. Unfortunately, some things come with an acceptable delay, usually because of shifting priorities that may not always be clear to the person owning the deadline.

    6. To that point, sometimes a weekly conversation about priorities can head a lot of this off, because I can communicate acceptable delays or changes in priority before they even happen.

  50. CM

    I agree that there’s probably nothing the OP can do about this situation, but I also think if you’re so slammed with commitments that you can’t even remember what they are, then there’s a problem with how much you’re taking on. People are really reluctant to let go of the opportunity to review things, but if they have to review so many things that they never get around to it, sometimes it’s better to assess whether there’s a serious risk in releasing something that hasn’t been reviewed and, if not, let that responsibility go.

    Again, not something the OP can make any of these people do, but it sounds like they’re not balancing their workloads very well.

    1. AdAgencyChick

      OMFG, I am fighting this issue SO HARD at my current company. It has grown exponentially in the last two years, but senior management wants to review everything like they did when the company was a third the size it is now.

      I keep waving the flag for “this timeline needs to account for senior management review” and “this is due tomorrow, tell your boss she can’t have any comments or we blow the deadline with the client” and it sometimes works. But it’s pretty dang frustrating to have to manage it constantly.

  51. Incidental

    This happens to me *all* the time. Our management has a review bottleneck, and they are just constantly bombarded with things that are immediately due. Things get lost in the shuffle easily and often.

    I personally feel that it’s totally fine to give them reminders, and I occasionally stray into nagging, despite being the least senior female staff member. Sometimes it’s just the way it is – it’s best if you can develop a friendly camaraderie and tease them about it so it’s less nagging and more giving them good natured sh*t over it, but that may or may not work for everyone.

  52. Freya

    If you’re going to do this kind of work, this really comes with the territory.

    Try to think of it not as something that impedes you from doing your job but as actually part of your job.

  53. Kitty

    This is a part of my role too, it’s not too bad though since the more senior staff are mostly good about getting stuff back to me on time, and my immediate supervisor is understanding and flexible in helping me negotiate new deadlines when it’s going to be late outside of my control. I see it as a natural part of my role in a project management kind of way – its my job to get this item done by the deadline, so I need to track it and keep it moving.

  54. Jj

    I mostly agree but partly disagree with Alison here. I’m in marcom. It’s all deadline driven and it always has to be reviewed, or I need info from people to write in the first place. Reminders are standard parts of the job, even if the person is a peer, and often even if they are less senior than you (unless they report to you). You need to think of it this way. You are responsible for your deadline. If there is something you can do to ensure you meet it, including reminders, then that’s what you need to do. If people are waiting until the last minute, start padding your deadlines to account for that. Or look into review systems that will automatically remind people.

  55. Noah

    I find that when people have to follow up with me about deadlines, it’s because they gave me the thing with a deadline either (a) without telling me the deadline when they gave it to me; or (2) waaaay too close to the deadline and now they are stressed about it.

    As long as you’re not that person, you should focus on following up. If you’re that person, fix this problem first.

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