I can see a coworker doing work for me incorrectly over her shoulder — can I step in?

A reader writes:

I wonder if you could help me with a bit of office etiquette.

There is a designer who works for my company. She is not my direct report and I don’t manage her in any way, but she does split her time between doing design work for me (she does two days of work for me a week) and the rest of the company. So I delegate, prioritize, give feedback, etc. over those two days.

Because of the way our desks are positioned — I am behind her and slightly to the side and we are facing the same direction — I can often see her work over her shoulder. On multiple occasions now, I have seen her doing something incorrectly, or working on something I didn’t want to prioritize while the priority work hasn’t been finished, or just designing something in such a way that I know I will want to change, even if it isn’t necessarily incorrect.

How can I address this — and should I? If it was just once, I’d shoot her a quick message and laugh it off as “Oh, just spotted this in the corner of my eye, actually it should be X…” but if it’s multiple occasions, that just seems like weird and creepy micromanaging to me! On the other hand, it would save us both time and her a lot of work if I did step in instead of waiting for her to send me the work at the end. There also must be a different level of appropriateness dependent on whether it’s actually doing something wrong, or just not my design preference.

If it gives any context, i’m only 23 and new to this company, and she has been here for a few years. I am not her manager at all and have never managed anyone before. I am having some other issues with her at times as well, in terms of meeting deadlines — I always give her a deadline of one to two weeks before I need to use something to leave time for revisions, but she often just goes by the final, final date and doesn’t leave any time for changes so I end up having to chase up on work all the time or risk pushing back deadlines. Addressing these issues earlier would help greatly with that.

Oooh, that’s tricky.

You definitely don’t want her to feel like you’re watching all her work as she does it, even though the reality is that you can see it. People need space to work and make mistakes and fix them, and no one wants to feel like everything on their screen is being scrutinized. On the other hand, though, if you can see her putting time into something she doesn’t realize she’ll need to change later, it feels weird not telling her that.

I think you can intervene a few times, but not on a regular basis. It’s fine to occasionally say, “Hey, I think you’re working on X, and I might not have been clear enough — can you actually take care of Y first? That one’s more time-sensitive.” Or, “Sorry to intervene while you’re right in the middle of it, but I’m hoping it might save you some time — I saw you’re doing this in blue but it’s got to match the green and gold color scheme for the event.”


If it’s something you’re doing regularly, it’s going to drive her batty, and understandably so.

I’d actually look at this from a different angle: Take this as a flag that something is keeping the two of you from being aligned on projects from the start. Think about the sorts of things that you’ve seen her getting wrong, and think about what kind of info you could have given her earlier on that would have prevented that.

It’s really, really common in any kind of delegation (and especially with design work) for the person delegating the work to have all sorts of info in their head about what they want the final product to look like … but not to give that info to the person doing the work until later on, when the work comes back to them and they have something concrete to react to. The trick in delegating well is to learn to articulate much of that info as possible at the start — so that the person doing the work has all the same info you do about what you want. Right now it sounds like you might not be doing that, so she’s making decisions on her own — and they’re not lining up with what you want. (If I’m wrong and the mistakes she’s making are things you explicitly talked about earlier, that’s a different situation, but since you didn’t mention that, I’m going to assume that’s not the case here.)

The same need for clarity is true with deadlines, in a way. If she’s not meeting your interim deadline because she knows the “real” deadline, have a clear conversation with her where you explain that you’re setting interim deadlines to allow for revisions, and that you need her to use the deadlines you give her. If you have that conversation and the problem keeps happening, then you get more serious about it: “I need things back to me by the deadlines I give you, and it’s causing problems like X and Y when that doesn’t happen. Do you need me doing something differently so that you’re clear on those interim deadlines, so that I’m not having to chase it down after the deadline I give you passed?” (And if it still continues, that’s a performance issue to bring her boss in on.)

So for now, I’d focus on your pieces of this — on how you can be more clear. And when you see her screen and she’s doing something you know you’re going to want to change later, instead of saying something immediately, I’d use that as an exercise for yourself — a chance to figure out what you should have told her up-front but (apparently) didn’t. And then use those insights as a way to get better and better at the info you’re giving her on the front-end when you first delegate something. Over time, this should cut down on how often you’re spotting her screen and realizing she’s way off-base. (Of course, keep in mind that the goal here isn’t for you to have zero edits/tweaks when the first iteration of work comes back to you. It’s normal to still need to give input and you don’t want to try dictating every tiny detail — you just want to make sure that you’re setting her up to get reasonably close to what you want on the first try.)

Also, changing the amount of constant visibility you have into her work will help too. Can you move the angle of your desk or put up a small barrier that would keep you from seeing everything she does? That’ll force you to handle this the way you would if she were off in her own office, and it’ll be healthier for both of you not to have her right in your line of sight at all times.

Read updates to this letter here and here.

{ 195 comments… read them below }

  1. Sam Sepiol*

    This is really really helpful for me! I’m senior to someone on my team who is in a similar role to my old role and while I don’t manage her I do delegate some work to her. And I’ve struggled with this and I know my own lack of clarity sometimes doesn’t help.

    Thanks Alison.

  2. 42*

    OP, this stood out to me:
    >> I always give her a deadline of one to two weeks before I need to use something to leave time for revisions, but she often just goes by the final, final date and doesn’t leave any time for changes so I end up having to chase up on work all the time or risk pushing back deadlines.<<

    In my universe we use nested timing, where there's a final hard deadline, but then intermediate timing for all the steps it will take to get there. If there are art edits, we will have a deadline for them to make those changes, then timing for all the revisions that may still be needed if they weren't quite right the first time, and then the hard deadline for all final approvals.

    Would something like that help you? It really works well for us, and gives everyone involved a clear picture of when every part of the process has to be completed.

    1. 42*

      PS: Forgot to add, that everyone involved agrees upon the nested timing from the outset, and it’s considered a ‘commitment’ to have their part done by that time. If everyone can’t agree, then alternate proposals are made by the team who can’t commit…but the final set timing after everyone buys in is set in stone.

    2. OP*

      OP here!

      I am trying to implement this as that’s how I’ve always worked. I’ve moved to this job from a very regulated, oodles of red tape to get anything approved, company. Now I’m in a fairly chaotic start-up!

      I’ve been laying out the artwork deadline and the final deadline, but it doesn’t seem to sink in. I’m now shifting to using a task management website that will notify everyone of their tasks. :)

      1. Snark*

        No. Don’t do an artwork deadline and a final. “Jane, your deadline for the artwork to me is April 16th.” That’s her deadline. Yours is for you.

        1. epi*

          Strongly agree. Knowing the hard deadline is a responsibility not everyone can handle. By default, I never tell unless the person has shown they will use the information wisely.

          1. Rose*

            OMG, I used to have a colleague follow me around the office asking “But what’s the REAL deadline?” when I told him I needed his work by X date for edits and changes. I would tell him that the deadline established was a real deadline that he needed to meet, and then he would go behind my back to find out the submission date and work to that deadline. I wasn’t his manager, just the person who edited/created the final product. I finally had to go to his manager and lay out the situation. He never hit my deadlines, but after that, at least he was accountable for the missing part, rather than it being me. I know it impacted his performance evaluation because he was a jerk about it to me. So yes, make it clear to her that the deadline you are setting is her deadline and be prepared to follow up with her or a manager for accountability if she can’t/won’t meet it. Any designer should know that there is lead time for edits.

            1. londonedit*

              Ugh, yeah. I have a colleague who always pushes back on any deadlines – ‘They might be telling you they need it for the 25th, but come on – we all know they build an extra week into their schedules. Why are you panicking about it now?’ It’s so irritating because we ask him for things that we need according to our own schedules and deadlines, and he acts like we’re being goody-two-shoes.

        2. OP*

          It’s not me that tells her – it’s a tiny start up and she overhears ‘when is this going out’ etc between me and other people. I think there’s some mixed messages going around!

          1. Vemasi*

            Could it be that she allows that to override the deadline you give her because that deadline is not visible? Do you assign these projects verbally and through back-and-forth emails? If so, you might want to consider a sort of “ticket” or “assignment sheet” system, where once you have explained the project and agreed on everything, you follow up with a technical, standardized document outlining the parameters and with the due date at the top, which becomes what she refers to thereafter, rather than having to dig through emails or remember it herself.

            That’s only if she is allowing hearing the end date to override her memory of your deadline. If she is consciously ignoring your deadline because she thinks she doesn’t have to meet it, that’s a different matter and I don’t know that it would help. And of course you might already be doing something like this!

            1. Emily K*

              Yeah, I’m actually going to disagree with the people saying “hide the true deadline so she can’t misuse the information” – like the salary transparency post today, I think it’s almost always a mistake to try to shape people’s behavior by withholding information.

              You generally can’t control information as perfectly or predict human behavior as accurately as you would need to be able to make that a viable strategy. If someone hears something they weren’t supposed to and your strategy began and ended with not telling them the information, then all bets or off once they find out. Someone may also get only the information you wanted them to get, but you failed to anticipate how they would react to the information they had access to, and they did something you couldn’t have predicted that messed things up anyway. E.g., “I know Fergus told me the deadline was Wednesday, but he doesn’t know that I heard him telling Sally it was Friday, so I know it’ll actually be fine if I missed it.”

              Be transparent with your employees, both in terms of what is going on around them and what you expect of them.

              One of the standing project teams I’m on has a PM who sends around a daily email that lists every project our team is working on, with every deadline listed, including color-coding that shows who is responsible for which deadlines, and if a deadline gets missed, it gets struckthru rather than deleted, as do all the subsequent deadlines that had to be adjusted because it was missed. There’s no possibility for anyone to think that own of their color-coded interim deadlines isn’t a real deadline because they can see that it’s just one of many dependent steps that needs to be completed before the project can be delivered. We all see that there are always X days built in between steps Y and Z because that’s how long the person who owns step Z needs to do their work. The “Step Z deadline” is plainly not the “every step along the way deadline” and seeing it all laid out that way makes that obvious.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Give her a due date that is reasonable and works for you… and gives you time to come back for revision. Don’t tell her the final deadline—all she needs to know is her internal deadline with you. You can set up a revision timeline, also, so that that process is transparent for her and she knows to expect feedback at specific times.

        It may also make sense to build in more regular check-ins with her about pending design work so you can give her feedback earlier in the process (ideally saving her time, as well). OP, you’ll have to thread the needle to avoid being a micromanager, but I would consider reframing all of this as project management. As long as you’re respectful, clear, and not overly controlling or nit picky, I think this could work out without relying on over-the-shoulder review of her work.

        1. 42*

          I agree PCBH, it’s fully a project management issue; and mastery of that is just as important, if not more so, as one’s ability to perform their particular skill.

          I work in a deadline-driven environment where several teams have to coordinate and work together, and if I couldn’t manage and prioritize my different projects, I’d sink and have a lot of people very frustrated with me.

      3. Reed*

        This – she doesn’t need to even know the final deadline if it’s causing confusion. She just needs to know you want the artwork by Wednesday.

        When I started managing I always wanted to explain everything and give all the context (I like knowing these things myself), and for a couple of my reports that was cool and they also liked knowing how their work fitted in to the bigger picture; but for one poor woman, I just confused the daylights out of her and she couldn’t work out which was her bit and when to get it done by and why I’d tell her all this if she wasn’t supposed to be doing something about it and she ended up getting hurt by my impatience and I felt infuriated by her inability to just DO HER BIT BY THE DEADLINE. Until I just started telling her ‘finish this list by Friday, please,’ the end. And we all cheered up and the work got done on time.

        Currently she’s being jointly managed by another team and I am tearing my hair out all over again because they keep trying to explain the whole project to her and she is regularly so confused she messes up.

        1. OP*

          It’s not me that tells her – it’s a tiny start up and she overhears ‘when is this going out’ etc between me and other people. I think there’s some mixed messages going around!

          1. boo bot*

            It might actually be worth telling her the final deadline – and also showing her exactly what YOU need to do with her work once she’s passed it to you, and how long it will take you, and therefore why her own deadline is earlier.

            That seems obvious (surely she must know there’s another step in the process!) but the fact that she’s ignoring her own deadlines may mean that she hasn’t internalized it, and she sees the deadline you give her as arbitrary. Spelling it out for her might at least force her to be aware that she’s inconveniencing someone, which could help.

            1. boo bot*

              Ah, and I see that Alison actually added a more thorough version of this to her response – apologies for the repetition!

      4. Liz*

        If I need work from somebody before the final deadline, I never even TELL them the final deadline if I can possibly avoid it. I just say “in order to get this project done on time, I will need your info by [deadline I made up].” I myself am a person who will often leave things to the last minute, so I’ve learned how to work around the same trait in others!

        1. OP*

          It’s not me that tells her – it’s a tiny start up and she overhears ‘when is this going out’ etc between me and other people. I think there’s some mixed messages going around!

          1. Aurion*

            Then it’s time for a come to Jesus talk (politely and professionally, of course). I understand you’re not this person’s manager, but you do delegate and give feedback, and presumably your feedback will affect her performance review from whoever her line manager is.

            Sit her down and tell her that despite what the Final Deadline TM is for the project as a whole, the deadline you give her is her deadline, and is not negotiable by her. When you give her tasks with attached deadlines she needs to complete them by the deadlines you give her, and if for whatever reason that won’t be possible, she needs to inform you posthaste.

            If you were her line manager, that should be the final word. Since you’re not, you need to have her line manager back you up on this. (I imagine her submitting things late causes ripple effects for you and others down the pipeline too, so I bet her line manager wouldn’t have a problem backing you up for this.)

            1. Happy Lurker*

              Can you make time to have a weekly/ daily chat about projects and deadlines? Not a full blown conversation, but a quick back and forth before you both get into projects. If she only works with you 2 days a week, she could be focusing on her other work.
              If that doesn’t work it may make sense to email her a day or two prior to deadlines to ask if everything is on track for X deadline.

          2. Meg*

            You may want to think about how clear the rest of the process is. I was running into issues with something I produced for our board meetings…people contributing materials (I think) didn’t fully understand why their deadline was “so far” before the actual board meeting. I worked into the roll-out meeting some brief explanation about production–we don’t bind the books in house, so we need to allot time for the printer. And we send the materials to board member a week in advance. Now, some of them may just be blowing off deadlines because they don’t care, and that may be the case with your person. But I choose to believe that some of it can be attributed to not knowing what the rest of the process was. They didn’t know how the sausage got made, and they don’t need to, but spending like 3 minutes contextualizing the deadlines helps.

          3. KRM*

            Just remember, that isn’t “mixed messages” if she’s overhearing others talk to you about deadlines. She needs to understand that, no matter what she may hear in other conversations, HER deadline is X, not Y. You can tell her that people are discussing dates for other aspects, but that doesn’t change that you need her work by X so you can make appropriate tweaks and edits.

      5. SignalLost*

        I used to work in publishing, and I’m now a designer. The way to keep your sanity is to tell her the artwork deadline is her deadline. If you need to blow a deadline for some reason, you can use some of your padding, but in general, decide what your deadline for her is and present it as final. And if you wind up working with someone who always blows a deadline by two weeks, give them a deadline two weeks before final.

      6. Robin Sparkles*

        I saw that you said that others “reveal” the deadline to her. As a few people said, you should show her a project plan explaining that her deadline is final for you and that you need X-days lead time from that final deadline. Then show her how if she delays- it actually means you are PAST deadline because of that lead-time. Hopefully that is all it takes to sink in…

    3. epi*

      It sounds like the OP is doing that though. They give the designer one deadline, but the designer seems to know the final deadline and they go by that. That strikes me as really problematic behavior– for anyone, but especially for someone like a designer where revisions are going to be part of their workflow. It’s also not clear how much leeway the OP has to nest lots of deadlines if they only have the designer for two specific days a week.

      I have been in that position before, setting an earlier deadline to accommodate revisions when the other person knows the “real”, hard deadline. Not realizing that other people will want to review and maybe revise your work before it goes live is not an isolated issue IME. It usually reflected ignorance about the whole process and the importance of the product, not to mention the arrogance of assuming people will want to put essentially your first draft out into the world without comment. The people I had to do this with were trainees. Those who were willing to say, “I reject your deadline and substitute my own,” almost always had other problems.

      1. Mr. Shark*

        I think putting forth the timeline including the subject her deadline, and then explaining that the final deadline is different because of the need for revisions and comments, is better than just telling her about the OP’s deadline. Transparency is better for all involved, so they know that you are not just pushing up the deadline for no good reason.

    4. Amethystmoon*

      We also do that a lot where I work. Not my job specifically, but a job I used to have and is a major role here, for proofing ads. So there will be a first proof, a second proof, and a final, final proof, and everyone has a calendar of when these are, and there are meetings and such to catch errors or last minute changes.

  3. MuseumChick*

    “Take this as a flag that something is keeping the two of you from being aligned on projects from the start. ” THIS! OP, I think you can solve this really easily, as Alison lays out here. By being very, very, very clear at the start of the project you can head off this problem.

    I think VERY rarely (like a half a handful of times a year) you can say something to her along the lines of, “Hey Jane, sorry but I just happen to look up and see X on your screen. For this project I actually need Y. Sorry if I didn’t communicate that clearly.” Keeping your tone light.

    1. OP*

      OP here! Alison nailed it on the head really.

      I think because I’m new here and don’t know the brand in and out yet, I’ve been making my briefs too vague and leaving it up to her when I shouldn’t. There have been some occasions where I’ve been explicit and it still hasn’t worked out right, but this would minimise the instances at least. Something to work on!

      1. JJ*

        That’s awesome you’ve found the core of the issue! People not communicating everything they want/need to designers until they have something concrete to react to is really really really really really really really really really really really really really common, so do work on it but definitely don’t give yourself a hard time about it, experienced designers are used to this. Generally it happens because the information-giver either doesn’t know what info designers need or just don’t really know what they want/need the designer to do. Perhaps add in some in-progress or concept meetings before she gets too far into the project: you mention you only see things at the end-end, reviewing things when they’re looser or conceptual will probably save you both a lot of rework later, and mitigate the annoyance of trying to add in some previously un-conveyed info to what is basically a finalized design.

        1. Designer Whisperer*

          Just an anecdote about the trouble many people have communicating with designers: I work with a very very good designer, but the EIC of one publication is a terrible player of the “I don’t know what I want, but that isn’t it” game. One layout in particular that should have been pretty straightforward went back and forth far too many times, and all he would say is he wanted “More.” “More what?” the designer reasonably inquired. “Don’t ask me, you’re the designer.”

          Then we received a layout that was based around magenta, bright orange, and electric blue. (Still beautiful, because this is a very very good designer, and not off-brand for this pub.) The EIC approved it — but I also think he was well aware he’d been treated to a rare instance of Sarcastic Design :)

          1. Designer Who Has Been Watched Before*

            Sarcastic Design! I love your designer’s response! There is nothing more frustrating than spending hours or days or weeks working on something based on vague instructions just to get an “I don’t know what I want, but it’s not that” back.

            1. Vemasi*

              My friend works for her father, and he is totally incapable of communicating what he wants at the outset. It’s almost the reverse problem–“I know exactly what I want, but I won’t put it into words, so please do an entire website design so I can point to each element and say how I want it to be different.”

      2. Vemasi*

        You also might want to build checkups more frequently into your “two days” with her. Keep notes on the things you see over her shoulder, and when you have your usual time with her, ask to see how far she’s gotten on stuff, and have her show you where she’s at on everything she’s working on for you. Then you have an excuse for bringing up things that you’ve seen “illicitly.” Just a quick look, and that way if something needs to be totally re-configured you catch it early.

        Also if you have time and you don’t already, when you assign things you might want to work out a quick sketch with her or refer her to earlier designs, so you’re clear at least on the basic structure of the design. This is just one way to be more explicit about your expectations, if you do struggle with that, although perhaps you are good at it but have just been holding back because you’re new.

      3. designbot*

        on the other hand, if you honestly don’t know what you want it’s also okay to set priorities. Like you don’t need to say “this should be big and blue” it’s okay to say, “this is the most important piece of information, then this, and all the rest of these details are tertiary.” For a good designer, knowing the hierarchy desired is pretty much the most important thing, and a lot of the futzing over color and size and placement can be avoided if you’re aligned on this.

    2. BethDH*

      I’m wondering whether you could also make more use of wireframes or other types of visual guidance? Sometimes that takes too long, but I find that those help a lot when a design concept is being passed off to other people to implement.

  4. Sam*

    It sounds like the letter writer might be doing what you advise with regard to the deadlines – but the designer sounds like they know the ‘final, final deadline’ independently of the letter writer’s timeline, and are working based on that.

    1. Camellia*

      Came here to say the same thing. You must be very concrete to her that you expect the work to be delivered on the interim date, not the final deadline. Then if she doesn’t deliver, you can address that.

    2. Audrey Puffins*

      Yes, that’s what I read. LW is giving the deadline of April 23rd and expecting the work on April 23rd, but the CW is going past that and turning in the work at the last possible second before it MUST be printed.

    3. Adlib*

      You’re right. I forgot about that while reading Alison’s advice and the comments. I don’t have any advice for OP other than to specifically lay out for her that she can’t go by the final deadline for [reasons].

    4. CupcakeCounter*

      That’s what I thought too – OP needs to make it very clear that the designer’s work is due on X date, not the project due date. I would say don’t even give her the actual project due date if you can help it, just the date the assignment is due.
      I would also add that since you seem to have different priorities, on the days she works for you send an email in the morning with a “here are the projects on our plate right now in order of priority so please start from the top and work your way down” or “here are my revisions for project Y but project X is our top priority at the moment so can you focus on getting me the proofs for that by lunch/EOB/whatever a reasonable timeline is”.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        And yes, you need something detailed like this:

        first proof due to Jane … 4/16
        Jane’s edits to Lucinda … 4/18
        second proof to Jane … 4/21
        Jane’s final edits to Lucinda … 4/22
        final proof to Jane for sign-off …4/23
        proof to printer…4/24
        mail date…5/1

        1. Antilles*

          The only caveat with this is that you need to be willing to hold firm on those first deadlines. It’s very VERY easy to slip into “well, actually…” mode at various stages because, c’mon, the client isn’t seeing it for two weeks anyways, is one extra day really a big difference? …But then at the end, you really wish you’d hit all those earlier deadlines because the one extra day for the first proof and then the one extra day for the second proof suddenly means your final proof comes on the 24th when you’re staring down a hard-set deadline of the printing company.

        2. skadhu*

          Freelance designer here. Over the years I had a lot of problems caused by clients setting deadlines and then failing to get me content to work with in a timely fashion, and all too often there was an expectation that if there were delays the designer could easily catch up—by doing a week’s worth of work in two days. Um, no. This happened often enough that I built a couple of things into my contracts. One was a detailed timeline like Alison’s example above, which helped a lot. The other was a clause that said roughly, “Client failure to meet deadlines will result in adjusting all subsequent deadlines by the equivalent amount of time.”

          This applied to everyone involved, not just my clients; if there’s a schedule, everyone is responsible for meeting their deadlines. I occasionally asked if deadlines were firm or could be moved, and if they were movable we negotiated. But if they were firm I did what I’d committed to do and did it to the schedule set.

          My point is that you can’t assume that a specific amount of work can be done by ANYONE in a reduced time period. Maybe try emphasizing that in an email, copying your boss (“please note that if you are late with your project component, I will not be able to finish my part in the time left and we will miss our final deadline”) and in verbal discussions (“you wouldn’t be able to do your work properly if I cut your time in half, and the same is true for me”). It might bring the point of why her delays are a problem home more clearly.

    5. Washi*

      Right, I also came here to note that the LW is trying to set earlier deadlines but the designer is finishing things at the last minute before the final deadline. So yeah, as the others said, you have to be more firm and explicit about your deadline IS the real deadline for her purposes.

      And if she’s regularly giving you stuff late and not meeting deadlines without any warning, that might be something to flag to your manager.

    6. OP*

      You’re all correct in this! We’re a small start-up and our CEO is heavily involved in everything, so I think in some cases there have been some mixed messages on deadlines, even design preferences, coming from us both. But he hired me because he knows nothing about my job, so, I’m trying to lay down the law a bit!

      I’ve implemented a new task management website that tracks deadlines etc, spoken to the designer and her direct manager about how best to brief, and basically told the CEO to stop interfering and wait until i’m ready to show him and get his feedback. Hopefully it helps us both!

      1. BRR*

        Those all sound like excellent things to straighten this out. Depending on your office, maybe it would help to let the designer know to come to you if they have received mixed or unclear messages?

      2. Rose*

        Good call! And doing this also gives you something concrete to hold her accountable to if you need to address it with her and/or her manager. That is much easier on you when you aren’t the person with authority.

  5. Friday Nights*

    I think Allison may have misread the letter slightly. LW says

    ” I always give her a deadline of one to two weeks before I need to use something to leave time for revisions, but she often just goes by the final, final date”

    Which suggests she is setting early deadlines and the coworker is blowing past them…

    1. LSP*

      I wonder if the situation is something like: OP says, “I need this by April 16th, but it’s not due until April 29th,” and the designer isn’t understanding what is actually being said here. If it is the case that the designer is just blowing past deadlines ( a much bigger problem) then OP should just give her one deadline, the one that will allow for revision time. Don’t tell the designer when the final product is due.

    2. Snarkus Aurelius*

      You are correct. I have a coworker who, if she ever finds out the final, final deadline, she’ll turn the product in the day of or the day after instead of a week before like we ask for review. It’s equal parts arrogance and laziness respectively.

      When you address it with her, you have to really convey the message that the few days prior to the final, final deadline is essential for review for everything from everyone, not just her stuff. If her ego doesn’t take a hit, she may act differently.

    3. Snark*

      I read it the same way, which suggests to me that in addition to the rest of Alison’s suggestions, there needs to be a come to Jesus about deadlines and accountability.

    4. LadyByTheLake*

      It is important if providing deadlines to have them actually mean something. Through years of observation, if a deadline is provided, but it isn’t a “real” deadline and there are no consequences to missing it — that’s the same as providing no deadline at all — hence her blowing through the actual deadlines. It’s critical to say “this has to be at the printers by X, so I’ll need the first draft by Y.” Also, in reading this — it seems like you and co-worker could benefit from some check ins — “this has to be at the printers by X, so I’ll need the first draft by Y. Let’s check in the week before Y to see if you have any questions and make sure we’re aligned on the design.”

  6. Overeducated*

    In addition to Alison’s advice, I also think perhaps a standing weekly check-in (say, 15 minutes of “let’s update each other on project status, deadlines, and priorities for next steps”) could help a lot. That way you’d be providing that feedback without looking over her shoulder or haranguing her about deadlines, and it might help you both with planning.

    1. OP*

      Our start-up actually holds daily stand-ups where we each briefly outline our plan for the day, so we often branch off from this on ‘my’ days and go into it in more detail. Weirdly though in these cases we’ve discussed it and then i’ve seen her working on something else anyway.

      I’ve noticed in some cases she’ll send me an initial design for feedback and I’ll respond via email with my comments/amends, but she’ll not act on them (and start on something else) until I go around and also talk to her in person about it. I’m not sure why that is!

      1. sunshyne84*

        Maybe you should follow the daily meeting with a personal one on one and just put everything out in the open and try to get clarity on certain things. Make sure she knows ahead of time you’d like to meet so you’re not blindsiding her.

      2. Anonym*

        She may have the otherwise reasonable expectation that, assuming she knows all her tasks and deadlines, she can decide when and how she prefers to work on them. Of course, given that she’s not really making deadlines, that changes the situation. But ideally, employees should determine how best to use their time. (For example, I concentrate best in the mornings and late afternoons, so if I get a concentration task at noon that I need to turn around by tomorrow that will take half an hour, I’ll probably slot it in at 4, knowing I’ll work more easily and effectively on it then.)

        If something is urgent and you need her to work on it immediately, say so. If she starts making the deadlines, don’t worry about what she’s doing moment to moment. :)

      3. No Longer Working*

        It could be because once she’s sent you that initial design, she’s turned to another project and is deep into it. She’ll go back to yours at some point, but unless the corrections on your project higher priority than what she’s working on, it’s a pain in the butt and inefficient to interrupt her concentration. Unless it’s drop-dead priority, hot rush must get out today thing – I’d her her finish what she’s working on at the moment. Then she’ll get back to making corrections on the other one.

        1. OP*

          I meant she’ll not reply for a few hours/days, then message me again asking me to go over and tell her my amends. Not just that I take it on myself to go over there! I generally assume she’s cracking on with it in her own time.

          1. Ethyl*

            Ack! This is starting to sound like someone who is very unclear about her role in the project process and not good at managing time, workflow, and expectations. It may be worth flagging with your/her manager at this point because I’m not sure that anything *you* can do will fix it.

            1. valentine*

              You can resend the email and say you’re happy to elaborate in person, if necessary.

              While I generally prefer to work on something ’til it’s done, having options is a blessing when I despair, as I can take a break without breaking and return fresh and determined. I wouldn’t correct her prioritization, just nail down the deadlines.

              1. Ethyl*

                This would be “as per my previous email” territory, which in my mind is always said with clenched teeth lol.

          2. Blue*

            I think it’s worth asking her how she’d like to handle these things. If she prefers to talk through your feedback before making any revisions, would it be productive for you to always follow up your emails with a brief chat? Is there a reason she prefers to talk to face-to-face – maybe she feels like she gets more information? If you work on giving her more precise briefs and you still find that she’s occasionally going off the rails, would she want you to interrupt and ask about it? Maybe not, but maybe she’d be fine with it. I definitely think there are some things you can improve just by paying attention to what she’s asking about/where she’s going wrong, but also think it can’t hurt to ask what she’d find useful.

          3. No Longer Working*

            It sounds like she’s not ready to work on it when you send the email, and then when she is ready to make the corrections, she wants to discuss it with you in more detail. Seems totally normal. Maybe you don’t need to go into detail in your email that lists the corrections – You could say you have some corrections to the design, and will go over them with her when she’s ready. Sometimes the persons describing the corrections thinks they are being very clear, but on the receiving end they they are not. (I speak from experience in this field.) For instance, I have gotten emails that simply say “I have corrections on X, let me know when you’re ready to go over them!” I have also gotten emails that list the corrections, and if they are minor corrections, no further clarification may be necessary.

      4. Klingons and Cylons and Cybermen, Oh My!*

        Keep on top of it.

        Maybe you and she should have twice-daily two-minute update meetings during which you ask specifically, “What is the status of the Farnsworth project?” If she is working on the Wernstrom project instead of the Farnsworth project, you can redirect her before she gets you into trouble.

      5. M. Albertine*

        I think this will resolve itself once you’re more clear about deadlines and priorities (and if it doesn’t, that’s something you can address). There are days when I will choose a project that’s less brain-draining to work on first, for example because I need something to ease back into work, or I know I’ll need to take a break in 15 minutes and I’ll be more productive working on an easier project for that short amount of time and the break will provide a clearer head to dive in later. If someone asked, I could explain my reasoning, but I would find it odd to have someone micromanaging that if I were meeting deadlines otherwise.

      6. Frank Doyle*

        Maybe she feels as though she gets more/different feedback from you in person, so she’s waiting to hear the final verdict before she begins on revisions? Or maybe she’s moved onto something else already and wants to get some further progress on that project before she returns focus to the original thing.

        Sometimes I’ll choose to work on something really basic in the mornings, because I’m not really at my sharpest first thing. I prefer to do revisions on stuff in the morning, and then later in the day I’ll do more design stuff that requires original thinking, because I’m thinking more clearly then.

  7. Camellia*

    I just want to say that I come here and I read these kind of letters and focus on the direct question – “Do I say something or not?” – and I agonize over what I would do.

    Then Alison totally changes the focus, in this case “use it to improve your own initial communication”, and I think, “That’s genius! How do you think of that?”.

    And that’s why she writes this column and I don’t, and why I’ve come back for years to read it.

  8. LSP*

    I work very closely with our lead designer at my company, and we work very well together in part because I am as clear as I can be about everything she needs to know from the start. I’ve also found that if we speak about the needs of a project it’s helpful to her if I send a follow-up email with everything we discussed, because, like your designer, she is working for the whole company, and has hours to work on just about every project.

    Make sure you are clear on priorities and due dates (as in “I know I gave you X project first, but I actually need Y done by this Friday, so X can wait until next week). Tell her the dates you need to see a first draft, second draft and final. If there’s flexibility, share that with her, but if these are hard and fast, it’s important that she knows that, too.

    If you have any design inspirations that can help clarify what you want to see, share those with her, so she has some idea of what’s in your mind. If you need images, specify if you want illustrations or photos (and if those photos are of people, what should they look like/be doing). If there is something you know definitely won’t work, tell her that too.

  9. Snarkus Aurelius*

    I would also add that she may be putting stuff down initially to get it out of her head and onto paper and going back over it later to fix and adjust other details as needed to the expectations. That’s okay! For example, she may use a blue font instead of red. There’s a decent chance she’ll go back over what you said before she turns it in and change it to red. Or at the very least you have to give her the chance to do that. But if you say, “No that’s supposed to be red, not blue!” when she does it at the time, you’re going to drive her up the wall.

    When I had an anxiety-ridden boss, I had to deal with her literally standing over my shoulder as I was trying to write an executive letter. Every time I’d start a sentence, she’d flip out and say I forgot a detail. Keep in mind I wasn’t done writing the sentence. I realize that boss is very extreme example, but my point is think how much time would be saved if I had been left alone to figure it out, including the finer details, and then turn in my product. Her being over my shoulder actually decreased my concentration and productivity. THAT is what you don’t want happening at all.

    1. Bostonian*

      Yeah, I was thinking the same thing. It seems like OP can only get away with making so many comments based on what she sees over coworker’s shoulder, so OP should focus on “mistakes” that are actually derailing, not things that the coworker could feasibly be leaving to “clean up” later.

      1. Collarbone High*

        Agreed. I used to do print newspaper design and headline writing, and I’d do a lot of “incorrect” things as part of my brainstorming process. Especially with headlines, which often involve a lot of false starts as you work out how to sum up an article in the allotted space. I always hated people looking over my shoulder for that reason, and if someone kept interrupting me to say “those words are in the wrong order” I’d be driven to rage.

        LW, you might also ask yourself if the finished work is unusable, or “fine, just not what I would have done.” I struggled with that a lot when I moved into management at the paper, and had to learn to let a lot of things go that fell into the second category.

        1. Designer Who Has Been Watched Before*

          “LW, you might also ask yourself if the finished work is unusable, or ‘fine, just not what I would have done.’”

          Yes, this! I used to have a manager and a peer who couldn’t separate the two and it was so demoralizing. It was frustrating from the manager but even more so from the peer. I definitely wouldn’t have been willing to prioritize her work as much if I had other projects to work on that would be less taxing in that way. I think this can be a huge issue for creatives and shouldn’t be ignored as being a potentially larger contributing part of the problem.

    2. CMart*

      I was going to say something similar to your first paragraph. I would be incredibly annoyed – and much less functional – if I was expected to only complete one task at a time in the order of priority.

      I need time away from things in order to get perspective on them. “Spinning your wheels” is something we like to try to avoid on my team, and sitting there staring at the same project for 2 hours because my eyes and brain are tired of thinking about it is completely unproductive. So I’ll switch over and work on Lesser Priority Task for an hour so that when I return to First Priority I will be like “oh yeah, duh” and quickly finish up whatever I was stuck on.

      Seeing someone work on lower priority projects shouldn’t be an issue in general. If you’re an hour from a deadline and that project hasn’t been sent in, sure. Or if timeliness in general is an issue (which it sounds like it might be from the OP) than a conversation about overall task prioritization is needed. But the generic act of working on lower priority things shouldn’t be troublesome.

      1. sofar*

        Came here to say the same thing. I’d go nuts if I had a coworker telling me which order to do things in. Sometimes I need a break from Project A, and Project B seems more appealing in the moment, so I take the opportunity to get a bit ahead on that and return to Project A when I’m ready. If Project A is done before the deadline, there shouldn’t be a problem.

    3. OP*

      Hi all

      I completely agree with this – I was only referring to these ‘priority’ cases when I need something that same day and we’ve agreed that she is able to do it and dedicate one of her ‘me days’ just to getting that done. But this would all still apply if she meets those deadlines – she doesn’t always.

      1. BethDH*

        I wonder whether it would be worth asking her about this. Not in an accusatory way, but it seems like several of these problems are related to her workflow (including the discussion above about whether she might go back and correct some “wrong” things herself). Maybe some parts of a project require her to have a certain kind of focus that she can’t deal with right after lunch, or maybe if she’s been doing a lot of finicky detail work she needs an eye break or she starts to make mistakes. These might not be things that end up being okay for her to do given the other organizational needs and deadlines, but at least you might know more about why she seems to miss things that are obvious to you about timing and structure.
        You also might be able to come up with other ways to manage the handoff if you had her explanation of how she thinks through a project. Ideally you wouldn’t have to do this, but there might be things you could change or change temporarily that wouldn’t mess up your end and would help her workflow.

    4. sofar*

      Re: the anxiety-ridden boss.

      Sometimes when we’re all in a deadline crunch, I share a Google doc of something I’m drafting so that everyone on the team can see the broad strokes of what I’m doing. That way they can start working on their piece.

      I had to stop doing that for a while, due to one coworker (who has since left) blowing up the doc with comments and, when I turned commenting off, with Slack messages with suggestions and feedback. All of which I was planning to address/include but just hadn’t put on paper yet.

      When I write, I jot down tons of random fragmented thoughts as placeholders and then come back and weave them in. If someone were looking over my shoulder and telling me those things were “not complete sentences,” I’d totally snap.

  10. Heidi*

    I’m guessing that I wouldn’t be okay with being watched that closely. It would be anxiety-provoking for me. I’m kind of leaning towards pretending that your desks are far apart and you can’t see the work while she’s doing it. A lot of my work product looks like crap in the middle of the process, and then it gets better by the deadline. If these are longer projects, it might be helpful to schedule a check-in meeting to go over things so that you can correct things early before they get too far off course.

    1. Washi*

      Yes! Alison actually talks about this in her book (she calls it taking slices) so I’m surprised it wasn’t mentioned it here. If you have 1-2 mini-deadlines where she needs to give you a draft or mockup or whatever makes sense, you can check that she’s headed in the right direction and also have earlier notice when she’s not on track to meet the final deadline. I don’t do design, but when I have ambiguous writing assignments, I like to take a rough stab at it and then make sure that my ideas are lining up with my supervisor’s before committing hours and hours to going in the wrong direction.

    2. dramalama*

      I think I remember a letter where the complaint was about being micromanaged to the degree that it was causing them to make *more* mistakes because of the stress of being constantly watched. I really agree with the suggestion of check-in meetings: try to come by the knowledge that the project isn’t going how you want honestly, not by spying.

    3. OP*

      I am the same, I can’t stand people even standing behind me to use the printer, I get so self-conscious and make mistakes! That’s why I asked the question, because I’m trying so hard not to see what she’s doing and can’t figure out what to do when I do see it.

    4. epi*

      I agree, this would be really tough for me. I would get a big plant or something– maybe a snake plant because they are already tall by the time you buy them– and just stop looking.

      From the letter and the OP’s updates, it sounds like there are some legitimate problems with how the designer is working– like ignoring the OP’s deadlines and working to the final due date. Then there are some other issues that may affect the OP, or may not. Taking away the ability to watch the designer’s work process should clarify that.

      Responding to what is on the designer’s screen, which most people wouldn’t like, will risk muddying the legitimate issues by making the OP look like they are micromanaging.

  11. dramalama*

    I’ve been struggling with a similar issue for a while: I’m working on a massive data entry project with 2 other people, where we share an excel sheet. Google Doc rules, but I wonder if it does more harm than good that I can literally watch them entering stuff in real time. I think the only thing more demoralizing than having somebody watching over your shoulder (literally in your case, figuratively in mine) for mistakes is watching someone making mistakes and feeling like you can’t say anything about it.

  12. Sarah*

    Hi, designer here. Contrary to the beginning of Alison’s answer, please try to avoid commenting on what you see on her screen in real time, even occasionally. It makes a person feel like they’re always being watched/monitored/spied on, even if it only happens a few times.

    As far as priorities, there’s no way or reason for you to know why she might be working on one thing or another, and like it says above in the answer, it may not affect her deadlines at all. She may be getting the easiest thing out of the way, or waiting for materials for the other project. For mistakes, that’s what revisions rounds are for. And if she makes the same “mistakes” over and over, I do agree that it’s an opportunity for you to be more specific about what you want!

    1. Sarah*

      Just saw the advice in above comments about nested deadlines. I missed that detail in the letter. Agree some more structure would be really useful for everyone!

    2. ragazza*

      Yes! I have a coworker who looks at my screen every single time she walks past my desk. She’s a peer, not a manager, but it’s annoying. I never look at people’s screens when I walk past them.

    3. Chuck*

      As far as priorities, there’s no way or reason for you to know why she might be working on one thing or another, and like it says above in the answer, it may not affect her deadlines at all.

      Came here to say this, as well as add: I’m not in a creative industry but I have creative hobbies, and sometimes you need to switch between projects to clear your head and think around a roadblock. You can’t always work straight through until a draft is done! I wouldn’t worry that she’s not working on everything in the exact order of priority as long as she clears up her issues with deadlines.

      1. Forrest*

        >>sometimes you need to switch between projects to clear your head and think around a roadblock. You can’t always work straight through until a draft is done! I wouldn’t worry that she’s not working on everything in the exact order of priority as long as she clears up her issues with deadlines.

        I think there’s a bigger question here about how much management this employee needs. My instinct was also, “but sometimes you need to swap between things because…” but at the moment she’s *not* meeting her deadlines. It might be reasonable for the OP to be more directive about what co-worker should be prioritising if she’s not effectively getting all the work done at the right time.

        So firstly, I would review the conversation about deadlines and decide whether the problem is poor communication / mixed messages about the deadline and priorities, which OP can fix herself, or Co-worker’s time management / executive function. If it’s the latter, then it makes sense for OP to be more involved in prioritising work.

        Hopefully this is a case where you can solve a lot of the problems by being clearer about priorities, deadlines and brand guidelines at the start, and then letting Co-worker do her thing. But if you do all of that and the work product still isn’t what you want and when you want it, assume that you do need to be more involved in managing what she actually does and when she does it, even if it doesn’t sit brilliantly with Co-worker.

        1. CM*

          I think missing deadlines is more of an issue for the designer’s manager to work on with her, if it’s actually an issue. It could be that the soft deadlines aren’t reasonable (which actually happens a lot — people who don’t work in design really underestimate how long it takes to do something) and/or the designer’s manager might be telling her to just push it to the hard deadline instead. It’s worth having a conversation about it to find out what’s going on, but it’s not really a coworker’s job to tell you how to prioritize your work.

      2. sarah*

        Came to say this too- sometimes you need to switch to the “easier” project because the first is giving you a headache, or sometimes you’re struck with the perfect idea for another project and want to implement it while it’s still fresh, etc. I wouldn’t bring up “why are you working on x when y is due sooner?” unless it’s an extreme circumstance (y is due in an hour, etc.)

    4. KayEss*

      Exactly… I dislike it even when someone walks by and comments positively on what I’m working on. It’s not done! The final version will probably be different! I don’t want to hear your thoughts until I specifically send/give you something, or if I ask!

      The exception is probably something like if it’s completely the wrong color scheme or print orientation or something else where I’d have to redo a TON of work… especially if you didn’t/forgot to mention that detail in the project specifications, because being suddenly told “oh, we actually can’t use that photo because it shows a bottle of wine on the dinner table” is massively annoying.

    5. History Chick*

      I am also a designer and wanted to agree on getting interrupted with workflow. With design it sometimes is a process where I’ll design something multiple times/ways before I submit a version for the review/proofing stage. Much like a writer might write something, re-read it, re-write it and then get it proofed. It doesn’t sound like that’s exactly what is happening here, but it might be part of it. Agreeing with Sarah that she may be working on one project over another because that’s the creative head space she’s in at that moment. Someone micromanaging that would drive me crazy.

      I find that the design projects that end up needing the most revisions are ones where the client doesn’t give specific enough direction. I find that using an intake sheet to be very helpful because it facilitates a useful conversation about what *exactly* is needed, including any ideas that they’ve seen themselves in other designs. Maybe a process like that – instigated by you with an intake form – could be helpful.

      That said – she needs to be meeting her deadlines and delivering her items appropriately, and if she isn’t that’s a different conversation to have. Maybe workload is an issue.

    6. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

      Not a designer, but my work requires a certain amount of creativity. Sometimes when you’re blocked on one task, you can get unblocked by working on a different task. So to keep the project moving forward, you start working on the low priority task and let the high priority task simmer in the background. Likewise, if you don’t have all the materials you need to do the task “right”, you might use placeholders that are “wrong” but let you move forward on other parts of the task. Someone looking at the screen in the middle of either of these situations would see the designer (or other creative) doing the “wrong” work, even though that’s the most effective way to keep momentum on the project.

    7. OP*

      I really am trying to do that, I am a copywriter too and completely agree with the headspace comments etc – Really my question was in reference to bigger things that I know we absolutely can’t do, for example designing 5 versions of an events stand, but none of them had allowed for tv monitor space on the wall, which I had laid out measurements for clearly on the brief – so none of them were usable!

      What would your preference be in that case?

      (I didn’t actually see her do this ‘over her shoulder’, but it is an example of something that happened, and then a huge amount of work for her to redo it when she sent it over)

      1. Natalie*

        Assuming she was following the correct timeline (and the deadline issues you’ve had were resolved) would you have enough time for her to redo stuff to fix her errors? If so, maybe that’s just what you have to let her do. And if not, where possible I would build in that extra time, or where not possible have a mid-task check in, where you can ask things like “where are the TV screens going to go?” before it’s too late.

        I appreciate you’re motivated by a desire to help and save her time, but that can also push you into that overfunctioner/underfunctioner dynamic. In the long run, it’s probably better for her to screw up and then have to redo her work than to have you catching every issue but making her paranoid.

        1. Designer Who Has Been Watched Before*

          I agree. It would be better to let her have to redo it than to watch and comment.

          1. valentine*

            none of them had allowed for tv monitor space on the wall
            Give her a checklist that reads something like:
            The design is ready when it has:
            ~TV monitor space
            ~x booths
            ~brand colors

        2. EventPlannerGal*

          Agreed – the check-ins are a great idea.

          OP, I would not let yourself get into the habit of commenting on what’s on her screen at all, even if it does look like something major. If you set up your procedures so that you have opportunities to catch up with her before the task is completed, that will allow you to catch those big mistakes before too much time has been wasted; and really, if they continue to happen frequently then that’s a whole other thing to deal with.

      2. History Chick*

        If there was a detailed creative brief that she didn’t follow them that’s a big problem and that’s on her. If she made such a mistake and had to redo the project I would think that she would learn her lesson from that. Has she?

        That said, maybe it’s also worth discussing with her the format of the creative briefs. Was it in long paragraphs of text where is was easy to glance over? I worked for a PM once whose creative briefs were novels and it was so much detail that it was too much detail! Maybe a clear checklist with specs would be easier for her to follow?

        From what you’ve said, I’m pretty sure your creative briefs are just fine, but it may be something to consider.

    8. CDM*

      I came here to comment on the “not working on the highest priority” bit too. Interestingly, I just discussed this last week during an interview. I often find that while I’m working on a lower stakes, lower priority task that my mind is really working on the higher priority, more challenging item. I tend to use a fast, easy task as both a break from stress and pressure and as planning time for how to best attack that stress and pressure and to wrestle it into submission.

      And there are days when I just need to get something, anything, finished and off the quagmire of suck that is my desk or I will run screaming into the void and never return.

      Missing deadlines is absolutely a problem to be addressed – but otherwise employees should be given the leeway to manage their workload as they see fit.

    9. OP*

      Hi all

      I completely agree with this – I was only referring to these ‘priority’ cases when I need something that same day and we’ve agreed that she is able to do it and dedicate one of her ‘me days’ just to getting that done. But this would all still apply if she meets those deadlines – she doesn’t always.

      1. LunaLena*

        I probably should have finished reading this thread before commenting below! My advice would be to work out a specific timeline. Say something like “I really need to have this project finalized by the end of the day today. Could I get an initial mock-up by 10:30am, so we can go over it?” An email check-in around 10am of “just wanted to make sure we’re still on track to meet at 10:30. Do you need some extra time?” may not go amiss, depending on her personality. At the meeting, end with “can you have all these revisions done by 3 p.m., so we can go over it one more time?” And also make sure you are responding to any communications from her in a timely manner, so she’s not left hanging on a project because she needs info from you (on the flip side, she needs to respond to you in a timely manner too). This way, you’re letting her work at her own pace and on other projects if necessary, but still have firm deadlines and check-in points throughout the day to ensure that you’ll have something you can use in hand, even if it’s not quite 100% complete.

        The biggest time-stealers, in my experience, are lack of communication and lack of clarity. Don’t be afraid to say “I specifically want it to look like this and this.” People seem to think that I need creative freedom to execute my vision or whatever, and quite often I hear things like “I trust your judgment, make whatever you want!” It’s a compliment in a way, but in fact I absolutely LOVE it when people send me reference images and say “can we do something like this, only X instead of Y?” or tell me “my target audience is sarcastic teenagers, so I want it to be friendly but edgy at the same time” because I won’t have to throw blindly at a target. I also often sketch out ideas on paper during the initial consultation phase, and I am happy to let clients draw their own as well. Drawing it out during a face-to-face meeting helps immensely, since you have something physical to look at and discuss, and it reduces the potential for nasty surprises down the line.

        I don’t know if you do all this already, but I hope it helps!

    10. LunaLena*

      I’m a graphic designer as well, and wanted to say the same thing as Sarah. Sometimes I do lower-priority tasks first because I know I can get a whole bunch of them out of the way quickly, and then I can focus on the more important big project without worrying that half a dozen people might interrupt me asking for their materials. And sometimes I’ve been staring at one thing for so long that I need to work on something else to get my sense of proportion back, so I’ll work on something quick and easy for a few minutes.

      Ditto on looking over someone’s shoulder, but I’d also like to add that it’s even worse if the person doesn’t have some knowledge of graphic design. I have had bosses who had no graphic design background, and they would inevitably freak out about things that were easily fixable, make suggestions that just plain didn’t work, and assume that large changes (as in, “will need to be re-built from the ground up” changes) would only take a few minutes. I remember one (who did in fact have a habit of watching what I was doing over my shoulder) almost had a total meltdown because I had designed something in black and the client asked to see it in blue, and my boss thought it meant I’d have to re-design the entire thing, we’d miss the deadline, etc etc. She only calmed down when I showed her that changing the color literally took two clicks of the mouse.

    11. CM*

      This. I’m a designer, too, and I think it’s weirdly intrusive to look over someone’s shoulder and given them unsolicited feedback no matter what they’re doing, but, with creative work especially, people go through multiple iterations of an idea before they present it for feedback. If you jump in the middle and start judging something while it’s still at an exploratory stage, you’re derailing the whole process — even if you think it looks “wrong.” Even if it’s like, “You’re making it blue and I want it to be green.” Blue might be a necessary stepping stone in an ideation process that you’re not part of. Chill out and wait to see what’s delivered on feedback day. And then, if the thing delivered on feedback day is blue, listen to the explanation and rationale for why it’s blue and have a discussion about it like you would discuss any other difference of opinion when you’re working together.

      For the order of projects — I agree with that, too. You can’t order your brain to have an idea at a specific time, so, if you know for sure what approach you want to take to project X, sometimes it makes sense to hammer that out and let project Y gestate in your mind for longer, regardless of which one has higher priority. Also, sometimes you start working on project Y and there’s just something about the way it’s coming together that bugs you and you need to step away from it and come back with fresh eyes. Either way, doing project X first can be a really good use of time, because you’re maximizing how much you’re actively designing as opposed to staring at a blank screen in frustration.

  13. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    I honestly wouldn’t comment on what you can see at all. It’s weird and I would be creeped out knowing my co-worker was “watching” me all the time. I think the most important piece is the second part of Alison’s advice. Make sure you’re being clear about expectations up front, and provide deadlines that SHE needs to meet, not that YOU need to meet. If you need a week in between for corrections and revisions, then give her a date of a week prior to your deadline. If you believe you’re being clear about your expectations, and she’s still not getting it, it may be worth a conversation. Everyone works in a different way, so maybe ask her what you can do for her, so she can do her work properly and there aren’t as many do-overs. You may think you’re being clear in what you want, but she may not see it that way.

    1. Washi*

      Yeah, I think if the OP and the designer are able to work out a system where the designer is turning in high quality work by the requested deadline, a lot of the troubling things the OP mentions when watching will be moot points. Like if she’s doing it in blue but she’s always met the design parameters before, you can have faith that she will realize correct it before the deadline. And if she’s working on a lower priority project, but she always meets deadlines, then you can feel confident that she’s just taking a break or something, and will finish the high priority stuff on time.

      People need to feel like they have some ownership over the way they structure their day, so if she continues to not meet your expectations, it’s better to either find new systems or raise this to your manager, because micromanaging is never a good solution in the long run.

    2. OP*

      Hi! I think in some cases I have been clear from the start, and some I haven’t, so it’s work needed on both sides. (I’ve given an example of one above)

      The deadline thing I am always clear about the deadline I need first draft by for revisions, as I am used to this way of working. I think she’s been hearing the ‘final’ deadline from somewhere/someone else and reverting to that.

  14. Nita*

    As Alison says, the work not matching what you envision might be expected to some degree. If someone is making a complicated drawing for me and I’m struggling to explain what I need, I KNOW that what they make won’t match the image in my mind. I just ask them to make a draft and get it to me before the deadline, with enough time to make edits. That way, even though it will not be perfect right off the bat, I don’t need to hover over ten correcting everything.

    The only thing is, if OP is talking about the kind of “incorrect” that means the work has to be done over…. they should definitely say something as soon as they spot the issue. And Alison’s advice is spot-on that if this is the case, there’s some kind of communication problem, or you’re used to different templates, and this needs to be addressed before she even gets to work.

  15. KayEss*

    Regarding the deadlines issue, as a designer: are you getting her all the necessary content in a timely manner? If I had a nickel for every time I wound up doing a 3-week project in less than a week with no time for revisions because people further up the pipeline dragged their feet on sending me a document, I could retire early and stop putting up with that nonsense.

    But it’s also possible from your description that she’s just a jerk and you need to have a conversation (with her and/or her manager) about work timelines.

  16. Naomi*

    For the deadlines part of it, OP says “I always give her a deadline of one to two weeks before I need to use something to leave time for revisions, but she often just goes by the final, final date and doesn’t leave any time for changes.” This sounds to me like OP is already saying something like “We need this done by the 26th, so let’s make your deadline the 23rd to leave time for edits,” but coworker is ignoring the earlier date and hearing “you have until the 26th.” So what does OP do in that situation, where she’s letting the coworker know her expectations upfront but the coworker is either misinterpreting or not paying attention?

    1. Samwise*

      Make a chart or list or use some sort of project management software (?) where you enter all the steps/products/deadlines/who’s responsible — right at the start, let her have time to look it over, have a meeting where you adjust based on everyone’s responsibilities and needs, send out the revised chart/list/whatever, send periodic reminders and have periodic check ins. If you can have the chart/list/whatever online so much the better.

      I do something like this with my freshmen when I assign a large, takes-most-of-the-semester project, explicitly telling them they will have projects like this throughout college and very likely when they are working, and they need to learn how to manage them. I also do it with my colleagues when I’m in charge of a big project.

      1. OP*

        I actually have started using software for this (both wunderlist and clubhouse) but the designer has not signed up to view the task despite repeated e-invitations, conversations with me and her manager. I’m going to now try and put my foot down that she has to use this for any tasks for me so I can be secure in the deadlines being clear.

        1. Heidi*

          Hi OP. In reading the additional comments, I’m increasingly heading towards the conclusion that your designer is not good at being employed. I’m hearing habitually missing deadlines, ignored requests, and doing the substantive work incorrectly. In which case, there’s a larger problem than you seeing her monitor. This might need to get kicked up to her manager. I’m guessing that it’s not just you having issues with her work.

        2. alphabet soup*

          Based on your comments here, it sounds like this isn’t really an issue of being able to see the designer’s screen, or you being unclear with directions/deadlines. It actually sounds more like a performance issue– doesn’t pay attention to briefs, doesn’t meet deadlines, refuses to use the tools required to do their job. That should be addressed with their manager.

          1. Designer Who Has Been Watched Before*

            Maybe she does need more structure, but it sounds like she is resistant to the structure you’re offering. I think it is time to sit-down and talk to her about what works for her. I would be resistant to a peer telling me to sign up for Wunderlist. I wouldn’t be resistant to a discussion about the workflow process where we both laid out our needs and decided to use Wunderlist together.

            1. OP*

              Wunderlist is already being used by the rest of the company and they told me I had to sign up, so to be honest I assumed she had it initially and then asked if she was willing to/planning to get it.

            2. Aurion*

              If the OP is the team lead/project manager (sounds like it, since they delegate and give feedback), OP’s directive to get on Wunderlist and track the deadlines is not optional. This designer is missing deadlines and, at this point, willfully resisting directives to get back on track. That is a performance issue even if OP is not the line manager and does not sign on the dotted line of paycheques or performance reviews.

        3. BethDH*

          Are there any systems you could use that she’s already using, even if they’re not designed well for project management? I have a lot of trouble using new applications with people because they can’t remember to use them, but if I use something like a google spreadsheet, they check it because they’re already logged into that account. Though honestly the more of this I read the more frustrated I am on your behalf!

  17. Troutwaxer*

    Maybe the best thing for the OP to do is to say, “I see that X is happening, how can I better communicate my needs to you.” That way it’s a question and the OP is asking the designer for input.

  18. RandomU...*

    Hah… I used to have a similar situation, except it was people I managed. The way our offices were set up I could basically hear normal spoken conversations in the office where 2 of my employees sat. This means that I’d often overhear normal work conversations between the two and the rest of the team if they were working on something. (This building had no privacy due to the way the offices were situated and the way that the offices were built (thin walls))

    I would often hear them trying to solve a problem, most of the time I would tune it out or just passively listen. Every once in awhile I’d hear them going down a path that was going to cause pain and misery of epic proportions. In those cases I’d yell out something like “Try looking at X!” or “Don’t Do Y!” and go back to work.

    This still earned me a nickname that I won’t share here (think movie/book character that was ‘all knowing’) , but they called me it to my face so I think it was meant in fun… but it illustrates that even innocuous and not micromanaging behavior can be perceived by those that this help is directed to.

    1. valentine*

      It’s not innocuous because it feels like micromanaging and scary surveillance. Especially if they knew you could hear every word, this would make it seem like you were listening the whole time instead of tuning them out or ignoring them.

      1. RandomU...*

        Except they could hear every word of me having a normal conversation with others in my office. The soundproofing is just that bad that you accept that everything you say is going to be overheard. It was normal to carry on conversations with everyone across the hall or in the office next door through your wall.

        Hard to explain but I’ve been in open office environments that had better sound reduction. I was convinced that our walls and ceilings actually amplified sound.

        Now, if I had done this on a daily basis I would agree that it would be micromanagey, but that was not the case. I guess the alternative would be to let them crash and burn in spectacular painful fashion (and this is the only time I’d actually comment) or go in and start quizzing them to ‘discover’ what I had already heard.

        Yeah, I’m ok with with what I did. I had a good enough relationship with my employees that they knew I really only cared about results, I’m wasn’t a micromanager in other ways, and they turned it around on me more than once. I remember one incident when I was talking on the phone, and said out loud in a normal voice that I didn’t have that information, but I would get it and get back to the person I was talking to. Before I knew it, one of my employees dropped off the info before I was off the call and had a chance to request it.

  19. Diana*

    The other thing to note, as someone who juggles a lot of different document deliverables, I usually ask “what’s the priority” or “how should I prioritize”. It’s also possible that when the OP sees the coworker working on a non-priority item there is a reason for it, wanting to go back to it with a “clear head” or timing. In my mind, I always take, the time to completion, difficulty, and priority into consideration. For my work its less about deadlines and more this needs to be done ASAP.

    1. Cherith Ponsonby*

      +100 to your second point (I was coming here to say that). I know when I’m working on an important document (I do content and layout), I like to step away completely between iterations so that I’m reacting to what I’ve actually put onto the page rather than what I think ought to be there. It definitely frustrates some of my more linear coworkers but I know from experience that it gives much better results.

  20. Ethyl*

    LW, something to keep in mind is that when people are watched while they do a task, or if they *feel* line they’re being watched or monitored, that can actually cause their work to get worse. So in the long run I don’t think commenting even occasionally would be a great idea if you can help it. I can easily imagine a scenario where if this happened to me even just a couple of times, I was start getting edgy every time I saw you stand up.

    I’d stick with trying to work on clearer communication and being more clear about deadlines. I’m also a little confused about her inability to meet the deadlines you’re giving her. I would imagine, from my personal experience, that designers typically understand that their portion needs to get done before the final project is submitted. So I’m not sure if you’re being unclear or she’s being obtuse or what here. Good luck!

  21. nonymous*

    One thing I also do to manage deadlines when I have no organizational authority is to send a reminder email out about 24 – 48hrs before I’m expecting their bit.

    Especially with people who have a history of procrastination or disorganization, it’s easy to inquire whether you need to push downstream deadlines (or confirm that deadlines for downstream events XYZ can’t be pushed). Some people really need that type of email cc’d so the others chime in requesting the deadline be held firm.

  22. 2 Cents*

    I’m not excusing (or addressing) her blowing past deadlines and maybe lack of proper prioritizatio , but I will say that sometimes I’ll give a bit of attention to something that’s not the 1st priority as a breather. Like, I know I have report A due first, but I’ll spend 30 min – 1 hour in the middle of it to give Report B attention so that I can take a mental break from A and get a start on B.

    FWIW, if I knew someone was scrutinizing what was on my screen all.the.time, it would drive me nuts.

    1. fposte*

      Yes, as long as the deadlines are met I don’t think it matters whether what’s being worked on is the priority or not. The problem here seems to be that the deadlines aren’t being met, and then the OP sees the person working on a task that isn’t due yet instead.

    2. OP*

      Hi alI completely agree with this – I was only referring to these ‘priority’ cases when I need something that same day and we’ve agreed that she is able to do it and dedicate one of her ‘me days’ just to getting that done. But this would all still apply if she meets those deadlines – she doesn’t always.

  23. BRR*

    I think I would sort of separate your issues out depending on the nature of your roles and how your office works. I take requests from my coworkers but as long as I am meeting deadlines, they would be overstepping if they told me how to prioritize (we’re all peers if that matters). But, since your coworker is not meeting deadlines, I’d bring that up. Make sure you’re clear on the different between her deadline and your deadline (maybe she won’t even know your deadline at all going forward if she doesn’t need it). And as Alison said, reflect on how clear you’re being. Is she being told that you need it by X so you have time to revise? So for the deadlines, I think that I would focus more on that you need X by Y and less on telling her how to prioritize.

    The errors are a little bit trickier. I’m applying this to my own field but I think I would probably just let them go. You have a small amount of opportunities to say something about the errors if you choose to, but in my opinion they would use up a lot of office capital.

    1. BRR*

      Also, as someone who receives multiple requests from individuals, I find it helpful when they recognize they have multiple requests with me and state which is more urgent. If they don’t, I usually ask but you might need to spell out what your priorities are. She may not work on them in that order but at least she knows what is a priority for you.

  24. AKchic*

    I’m also going to ask if age and the newness to the company is playing a factor here. Is this other designer older than you? Could they be thinking that they “know better” than you on how deadlines should be set and that their judgement is “fine” or are otherwise not used to having someone else (especially someone new and/or younger) double-checking and/or otherwise approving their work?
    Everyone else has given great advice, so I really can’t add on to it.

    1. OP*

      I’m not sure it’s a case of thinking she knows better for a couple of reasons:
      1. The company is new enough that they’ve never done any marketing before hiring me, so there’s no ‘We always did it this way before’ when it comes to that particular work

      2. My general vibe of the designer is that she just does as she’s told, isn’t particularly invested in it, doesn’t matter if she likes it or not, she just gets her head down and gets out at 5pm.

      Worth considering though!

      1. Jack Russell Terrier*

        I get the feeling that you’re right – and more, that everyone there isn’t used to being a collaborative part the team. You had to ask the CEO (if I remember) not to start getting involved too early. I get the feeling of everyone just assessing how to processed from their point of view and not bothering to consider how this affects the overall smooth running of servicing the client. Do you think that’s a fair assessment?

  25. SusanIvanova*

    Since she’s missing deadlines this is less relevant, but from an employee perspective: I know X is the higher priority. So why am I working on Y? X and Y are both on track, and I sometimes need a break from X so I can come back to it with a fresh perspective. Or I’m waiting for something I need before I can do X, and while my manager really cares about X, it’s a lower priority for the other team. Not so much that I’m going to *miss* X, but no, I don’t want you to “light a fire under them” – that’ll just annoy them, and they’ve prioritized things the way they did for a reason.

    Sometimes it just feels like managers would rather see you sitting around doing nothing rather than doing a lower-priority task.

  26. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    I wouldn’t put too much stock in the fact that she’s working on something different when you glance over. Sometimes you have to put a project down and reset yourself by finishing up another project in order to get back into the priority one. This was an issue with my last designer, she had to be in the right head space, which meant that she’d need to take breaks regularly enough. However she was kind enough to flag it for me in terms of “I’m not slacking off your request but my brain is fried over here, so I’m finishing the one I was doing for Nancy because it takes less bandwidth right now.” sort of thing.

    I just let people go with their own flow. However with pushing deadlines where there then is no longer time to make adjustments, that’s saying that you need to give her a different deadline for your end. There should be “Draft is done by X, Final is done by Y, project is wrapped at Z.”

  27. Anancy*

    Do you know how well she meets deadlines and completes projects correctly with the other departments she designs for? Are these issues cropping up in all her work or just with the work she does for you? If you can find that out, it would help determine if it is communication between the two of you, or if it something overall her manager needs to address.

    1. OP*

      There isn’t really any other departments involved as we are a small start-up:

      – There’s the design team who are primarily meant for designing the product UX etc (it’s an app). She is a member of this team.

      – When I joined, she was reassigned to two days for me (marketing) and 3 back with the product.

      I’m wondering if no one clearly communicated to her this change so she hasn’t fully realised that these two days are now part of her JD and equal priority, so she’s treating them as side tasks and getting back to her ‘real work’ ASAP

      1. nonymous*

        I would also wonder if she is still expected to take on all her previous duties. It seems obvious that it’s absolutely not possible to get as much done on her old team being only assigned to them 3 days a week, but for some reason doing more (with less or the same) is a common mantra by management.

        1. DJ*

          This is what I’m wondering too. If OP is not already sure, they might want to sit down with the employee and her manager and be sure everyone’s on the same page as far as priorities and job duties. If she’s still expected to get all her other work done, it would make sense she’s prioritizing that, even on the days she’s assigned to the OP’s tasks since OP isn’t her manager. And I would actually ask if her other duties have been decreased so that she has the time for your stuff because if not, well your stuff is probably what will end up falling by the wayside because she’d likely prioritize the work given to her by her actual manager.

      2. Anancy*

        Yep, it would be worth clarifying if she understood her new job duties in the same way that you understand her new job duties. Other possibilities could be that she’s now working a job and a half, or that she’s juggling your priorities with her other priorities and there are conflicts. Or perhaps she doesn’t see it as Monday and Wednesday she is assigned to you, rather she sees it as giving you around 16 hours of work a week overall.

  28. LaDeeDa*

    I would hate if someone did that to me. You don’t know my creative process, or how I prioritize things. I may work on something of a lower priority for a while, while I am thinking about and planning something that is more complicated or my high stakes. It is part of my creative process. I will stick a place holder square in a place I need to have something awesome in– again it is part of my creative process— I believe that we all must pretend we can’t see someone else’s screen, just as we all pretend no one else is in the bathroom and it is a cone of silence.

    1. OP*


      I’m well used to seeing placeholders etc and I am never thinking of commenting on something minor like that, or font colour etc. Just bigger, whole project level stuff that will require significant work to change! Some of my comments above clarify your concerns a bit. :)

      1. LaDeeDa*

        I believe you deal with them the same way as you would if you couldn’t see her computer. When she presents them to you. If there is a bigger issue of her not having the skills, not delivering on time, etc- then you address those. Her screen is private, and you should treat it as such.

      2. EventPlannerGal*

        I think that even if in this case there are major errors going on, it’s not a good idea to let yourself get into the habit of commenting on other people’s incomplete work.* Major whole-project mistakes are the sort of thing that are best tackled either before they happen (as per Alison’s advice) or by telling her to redo the work and escalating it if they continue to happen.

        *Even quite major things can be a legitimate part of someone’s working process – my work is logistical rather than creative, but I will often investigate options that are deliberately very “wrong” or not what the client has asked for purely for comparison, to try to understand their reasoning or if I have a good reason to think the “wrong” option might be more suitable. I’m certainly not saying that this is what your colleague is doing, but rather that you will probably work with quite a few people who do work this way in future and IMO you shouldn’t train yourself into the habit of pulling people up on it mid-process.

  29. Designer Who Has Been Watched Before*

    Designer here! Please don’t look over her screen and especially don’t comment! The design process is so different from normal office work. She may be working on Y instead of X because she has a clear vision for how Y but not for X, yet. I know I’ve worked on less time-sensitive projects first just because I knew what I wanted them to look like. It’s a better use of my time to accomplish the project I knew I could pump out while thinking about how to tackle the other one.

    Please don’t judge her work by what you can see on her screen while she is working. Judge it by what she gives you based on the information you give her. Works in progress generally have place-holder art, colors and text. It’s not finished. And the design process isn’t always linear. She may have a specific process she goes through that you don’t know about or she might know that something could look better if she does it a slightly different way. Either way, there is nothing worse than trying to design with someone looking over your shoulder. I also would bet that if you gave her more information up front overall, she’d be able to meet your needs better. There is nothing worse than designing something only to get an essay of edits back listing things you could have done the first time if you had known.

    I think the deadline examples suggested by Alison are spot-on. I’m curious though…you say she always hits the last deadline leaving little time for edits. Has she always done this? If she hasn’t always done it this way, it could be that the editing process between the two of you is not working for her and she may be trying to minimize the time for feedback. I know some folks who have done that with people who made the editing process difficult on them. Not that she should be doing that! Or it could just be how she’s always done things in your office. Regardless, I think chatting about what the two of you need through the editing process and what you can do to make it run smoother might make her more inclined to meet earlier deadlines.

    1. OP*


      I’m well used to seeing placeholders etc and I am never thinking of commenting on something minor like that, or font colour etc. Just bigger, whole project level stuff that will require significant work to change! Some of my comments above clarify your concerns a bit. – as well as the priority issue :)

      Some of my above comments also clarify that she’s only ever worked for one department (product design) rather than working between teams so they haven’t had this same editing and deadlines process. I’m wondering if this change wasn’t clearly communicated to her so she hasn’t fully realised that these two days are now part of her JD and equal priority, so she’s treating them as side tasks and getting back to her ‘real work’ ASAP

    2. Designer Who Has Been Watched Before*

      Also, I have found it frustrating to have peers nitpick my design work. It can come across as condescending. Obviously, make sure to comment when things are incorrect, but don’t use up all your capital with her nitpicking on small things or things that might just be a matter of taste, especially while she’s working on it. Remember, your company hired her to know company branding and create things that look good. She’s not working for you, she’s working with you. How does she handle other projects for other people? If she doesn’t handle her other projects this way, my guess would be that it’s a you-and-her problem instead of just being a crappy employee.

  30. Lora*

    Would it be possible to workshop the design? Like, set up a meeting with her where you both sit down for a few hours to work on drafts together so that by the end of the meeting you have a solid draft to start from and she just needs to polish it up?

    I do this sometimes for technical drawings – I might have a half-assed back of the envelope sketch that I pass to the CAD folks, but then we sit down and go over it for a couple of hours together to talk about what I really want that I didn’t put into my sketch, what needs to be considered, would I like the whatchamacallit with this symbol or that symbol, etc. Then by the time we’re done talking they might still need to fix some notes and important details, but they don’t need my input for that. It works a lot better than sending 056ty7n2vy08 revisions around for redlines, and deadlines really don’t get missed.

    1. OP*

      Unfortunately I don’t have much time to spare to do that for a few hours at a time and my boss has made clear that he wants me to focus on other things, and the designer should be able to do this independently. We do often go through drafts together at her desk though.

  31. Lepidoptera*

    Not only will being firmer about the sub-deadlines help you in general, but also you may need to build in enough padding time to push back and make her correct things that didn’t comply with the specs. Obviously if the project doesn’t match the murky version swimming in your head, that’s one thing, but a hard requirement being missed is absolutely her responsibility to fix, and shouldn’t fall on you.

    “Jane, the banners for the Deuteranomaly Society are green text on a brown background. This isn’t acceptable. I need this work to match the color requirements I gave you.”

  32. StaceyIzMe*

    I think that this is a “you” issue, OP, as much as a “her” issue. You need to get all of the instructions out there specifically, clearly and in a timely fashion. Maybe try communicating the basics verbally and follow up with an email? You should also have an application that lets you see into what tasks are done, due and pending. (I don’t know what’s workable with your software, but this shouldn’t be hard to set up.) And definitely keep your eyes off of her screen and your nose out of how she lines up her day. As long as her work is done to spec and on time, the rest isn’t yours to manage. If, after getting full documentation of the workflow and deadlines in front of her, she continues to run late, THEN I think you go to her manager. That’s the person who has the visibility to see whether she’s overloaded or not. You can go to YOUR manager, if needed, about slow-downs/ stoppages that she creates after you’ve done your due diligence with being concrete, specific and documenting everything you’ve presented to her. (You can probably do that now in a “head’s up” kind of way about the fact that she misses deadlines and leaves you chasing work when it’s too late to do so, along with demonstrating the systems you’re putting in place to address any lack of clarity or details needed to do the work.)

    1. OP*

      Hi, some of my comments above address this!

      – I do brief verbally and follow up by email, and use software also.
      – She has ignored my invitations to the software and not registered to use it despite requests from me and her manager.
      – I have been in regular communication with her manager too about how this new process is working, and she’s working with her by keeping updated on her workload, schedule, having visibility of her briefs and progress etc.

      Really my issue was more with the errors and the deadlines were a sideline, so I don’t want to get too bogged up with that on this post, we’re working on her meeting deadlines in a few different ways. Some of my above comments will clarify your points!

      1. LaDeeDa*

        “Really my issue was more with the errors and the deadlines were a sideline, ”

        Then you deal with those issues at the same time you would deal with them if you couldn’t see her computer.

      2. nonymous*

        > She has ignored my invitations to the software and not registered to use it despite requests from me and her manager.

        I want to point out that if her manager “can’t” get her to do the simple task of registering for and using software required for her position, this is a flag. Either her manager is abdicating the responsibility of holding their staff responsible and not managing OR they have somehow signaled to the designer that she should de-prioritize your tasks (my own boss does both of these regularly instead of negotiating directly with his peer).

        Why should she prioritize work for you if she doesn’t want to? There’s no penalty to her for delaying, and possibly only upside (because she gets to spend most of time working on her preferred projects, reduces the amount of time in the uncomfortable edit stage, and possibly is advancing her own manager’s perspective).

        If this is the case, I would focus on using your experience to come up with techniques to reduce her hands on efforts. I am not advocating that you do her work for her, just be clear in your direction how doing ABC will be faster/easier than doing XYZ.

        1. Aurion*

          In that case, the fact that this is a small startup might be to the OP’s advantage. Assuming the CEO is a somewhat reasonable person, OP only needs to present her case to one person, rather than a battle between departments. Unless the CEO is unreasonable or ineffective even after being presented with the full story, I wouldn’t spend time and effort to work around this colleague.

  33. Kudzuuu*

    OP, how are you communicating deadlines?

    I’m getting a sense that it’s all one-directional, “This is the deadline; meet it.” I get that and I prefer to work that way myself. Sometimes it might be the best way to do it.

    A lot of people have found this helpful instead, though:
    “For us to get this BIGGER PROJECT done, we’ll need you to complete your part (clearly defined) & deliver it using METHOD by DATE. Can you commit to that?”
    The key here is defining the terms and asking for her commitment – will she do it, or won’t she?

    A few things might happen with this. If she’s commitment-averse, she’ll show it, and her manager needs to be brought in to help her with that. If she misses the date or ignores the date in favor of a later one, she’s not keeping her commitments, and her manager needs to be brought in: and now (since you documented the prior commitment) the manager will have something to work with. If she doesn’t think she can make the commitment because of other projects, again, her manager can help her decide what she can commit to and what she can’t. This is buy-in, and most of us respond better to being asked for our cooperation than to having tasks dictated one-way. Even if you have the authority to do the first thing, you may get better results with the second thing.

    1. OP*

      I usually phrase as:

      “In order to feed back and make amends before the final deadline, I need this by the morning of DATE. Will that be ok for you?”

      Usually she always says yes, if she says no, we loop in her manager to discuss how best to proceed.

      1. Kudzuuu*

        It may seem pedantic, but “Yes, I’m OK with you needing this by that morning” doesn’t really get her to commit to “Yes, I’m going to deliver this to you by that morning.”

      2. JSPA*

        When you have a good sense of how much time a task should take:

        “Let’s see; the internal deadline for you to have this to me is the end of day, of DATE.” (DATE is at least one day BEFORE the morning you need it.)

        Don’t ask if it’s OK! Let her initiate the push back if she feels that the timeline is just not reasonable.

        You’ve seen her process, you’ve become a decent judge of the time it takes, you’re no longer asking for feedback and buy in and collaboration all that jazz. (That can be its own meeting; but handing off a task is exactly that). Say it nicely (it’s nice to be nice), smile all you like (if you like), but don’t verbally undercut yourself.

  34. OP*

    OP here!
    Just a few comments based on stuff that keeps arising:

    I’ve been working with designers for my whole career (granted, 3 years, lol) I’m well used to seeing placeholders etc and I am never thinking of commenting on something minor like that, or font colour etc. Just bigger, whole project level stuff that will require significant work to change or a complete do-over!

    Some of my above comments also clarify that she’s only ever worked for one department (product design) rather than working between teams so they haven’t had this same editing and deadlines process. I’m wondering if this change wasn’t clearly communicated to her so she hasn’t fully realised that these two days are now part of her JD and equal priority, so she’s treating them as side tasks and getting back to her ‘real work’ ASAP.

    I do brief verbally and follow up by email, and use software also. She has ignored my invitations to the software and not registered to use it despite requests from me and her manager.

    I have been in regular communication with her manager too about how this new process is working, and she’s working with her now by keeping updated on her workload, schedule, having visibility of her briefs and progress etc. With regards to ‘priority’ issues I really just refer to cases where I need something that day and she’s agreed that she’ll be working on it all day to make that happen. In one case, I saw her working on something no one had briefed to her – she just thought I should have it!

    1. OP*

      (When it actual fact, I didn’t need anything designed for that particular thing for another 3 – 6 months, which is why I hadn’t briefed anything for it yet..)

      Drawbacks of a small start-up I think, everyone overhears everything and thinks it applies to them.

      1. JSPA*

        Ah yes. She’s showing gumption. After all, if she does work before it’s given to her, it proves she should be a level up, in the company. Sigh. : /

    2. CupcakeCounter*

      After you see something on her screen could you wait a short time (15 minutes or so) and then send an email/IM/call her/walk over/call a quick meeting and announce you have additional detail on the project that you feel need addressing? You mentioned in a previous post about no space being left for a TV monitor. So start with “I believe I gave you the dimensions for the TV needed for the set up but after talking with the client they specifically want it placed in either X or Y area for most visibility. Since I know that might cause some changes in your design mock-ups I wanted to get you that information right away. While we are talking, are the requests for A and B giving you any major design headaches?”
      Obviously only do this for MAJOR changes not the little things that you and others have addressed that take a very small period of time to fix.

    3. Anataya*

      As a designer, I will say that when non-designers brief me they sometimes give me a timeline that doesn’t really fall in line with the reality of the requirements of work I’m asked to do. Sometimes I’ll be given a week to design a simple card, the logic being “there’s a lot of text so you’ll need more time” (no, that’s maybe a day), but only a couple days for 100+ page book, the logic being “the Word doc is short so this should be easy” (there’s dozens of graphics to design and book set up is more complex than setting text up in Word, that’s at least 3 to 4 weeks).

      These are work details that I don’t expect a non-designer to know, because that’s just not their job – it’s mine. Sometimes when there’s a big disparity in timing I’ll flag it (like the book example) and other times I won’t bother as it’ll just add confusion to the conversation and I might just take advantage of the down time for another thing, or use the opportunity to deliver early. These aren’t decisions you can glean from looking at my screen.

      The part about “I’d like this designed differently” in your post irks me. This may be different where you work, but generally designers are hired not as Photoshop producers who bring other people’s ideas to life, but to work out creative ideas and solve problems themselves – that’s what we’re trained on in school (software is honestly bottom of the list in terms of our education, there’s much more important stuff than that). We also apply our knowledge of design in terms of how people interact with a piece, needs around legibility and readability, colour theory, and general rules of design, usage, and technical specs. Again, non-designers don’t know this stuff because it’s not their job, and that’s fine. But it becomes hard to do our jobs well when you have somebody without this background come around to a piece of work that’s mid-way complete and ask for a different colour or font they personally prefer, when there is actually a lot of reasoning and rationale behind the designers choice. That is the work we do, let us do it.

      Finally, the timeline thing. It’s typical in the creative field to have an “internal” mid way through the project (meeting with all stakeholders of the project) before showing work to the client (if this is the kind of work you’re doing). It serves as a check in point to look at work that’s about 60% done to make sure it’s headed in the right direction, and look at 2 or 3 options and narrow it down from there. It can be a real time saver for designers actually, since we avoid sinking time into work that needs to be changed. Maybe set up those meetings and then frame it that way to your coworker. That said, if the tasks are very easy design-wise and you’re working to a template or brand standards, there might only be one way for her to do her work and she’s just getting it done as efficiently as possible.

      1. Designer Who Has Been Watched Before*

        I think this is really well thought out and explained! The work process for designers can feel so foreign or so easy that a lot of micromanagement seems to be able to crop up compared to other fields.

        The part about wanting it designed differently irks me, too. I think you described it well when you said that designers aren’t photoshop producers. I think too often people think design is easy and that anyone can do it. And when you try to interact with any coworker with that mindset, you are setting yourself up for an interpersonal communication failure. I think it is important to remember to trust this person’s training and experience and remember that they can’t read your mind and will make different design choices that are likely due to their experience, taste and training. It’s best to trust designers and let them work in order to get the best materials out of them.

        I know you said there were some major mistakes. Those things will happen occasionally and could be due to any myriad of reasons. It doesn’t mean you need to micromanage to prevent them from happening. I do think more clear communication upfront and an internal meeting mid-way through could help though. Also checking with her workload and her manager’s expectations. You might be at the bottom of her list. And she isn’t likely to bump you up if she feels like you don’t trust her expertise.

        OP, I think you should consider what Anataya said and see if there is anything you can implement to help get things back on track.

        1. Anataya*

          Thanks! Glad you agree. :) I would also add a note about the priority thing: I commented about how timing for designers can sometimes be estimated incorrectly due to the non-designers lack of knowledge around this kind of work. I’d also say that that can affect the order in which I make things sometimes.

          If I have Project A that’ll take two hours and is due in three months, and Project B that’ll take three weeks and is due in three weeks, I actually might do Project A first. Once I’m briefed on something, those project details are fresh in my mind, and if a job is easy I like to get it done while I have all the information in front of me, rather than coming back later and having to remind myself what the project is about again. This also allows me to focus completely on Project B without interruption or keeping a third eye on my deadline for Project A. That increased mental space makes a big difference in my productivity.

          I would also add that if OP is handing out quick turn around projects with long timelines at the same time as the bigger, higher priority projects, then OP should probably rethink their assigning schedule to start with. If you want a person to focus completely on one thing, just give them that one thing (when time allows). But if you’re going to give them a few projects at once, let them manage their hour-to-hour time as they see fit since they know their own needs best.

      2. only acting normal*

        Not in design, but I do bespoke analyses which requires an analysis methodology to be designed to suit each project (i.e. not the same topic nor method each time), and our process is very similar to yours.
        I’ve also worked for a micromanager who will drop by and demand to see a work in progress (almost always a hot mess), then proceed to pick it apart because it doesn’t look like the finished product he envisions. Which, of course it doesn’t because *it’s not a finished product*, and my vision is not his vision but that’s not necessarily wrong (and sometimes I plain know better than he does).

        For OP: definitely work on improving the initial requirement communication, and plan check-in points where your designer can show you presentable work and you can ask for a course correction, but for the love of dogs don’t do the over-the-shoulder corrections.

  35. Cucumberzucchini*

    I have experienced this very problem where one of my team members will be working on the wrong project even though we discussed which is the priority project. My solution has been during busy times where deadlines are critical is to give my team members a sticky note with numbers next to project names. This has helped a lot.

    When I see something on people’s screen that’s wrong I typically ignore it until we review it. I don’t want my staff feeling self-conscious about what’s on their screen. It may seem counter-productive but I can address the problem with them when we review. Sometimes in design the process to get to the finished design requires making things that look bad. So giving feedback too soon to a designer can be very stifling. I address trends of design issues with me team members. For example I might say, “You seem to be struggling coming up with good color palettes. Here is how I’d like you to address this.” or “Your compositions are never balanced, here’s how you can work on that.”

  36. Mel*

    As a designer I super appreciate this answer. I have frequently put in a lot of work to a project and found out later that there were secret requirements and deadlines I didn’t know about. The project was worthless and I had to start over.

    On the other hand, being creative means that I’m probably going to make multiple iterations of a project before I hit on what works – and I can’t do that effectively if I have to constantly worry that someone will see my unfinished work and start critiquing it.

    Being clear up front is the most helpful solution, but so many managers seem to find the very idea irritating.

  37. Azyaria*

    As a designer…I would hate for someone to be looming over my shoulder. I’d get self- conscious if I was trying something new. Let me have space to experiment and work, if there is time.

    However – if the deadline is approaching, I think its absolutely okay for you to walk over and “check in on the progress”. You can say, “i know this is due for end of day and i havent seen anything – can you give me a peek?”

    If she resists, you can bring up that for the past few projects, you havent beem given anytime for revisions and werent 100% happy with what you ended up with.

    Abd next time you meet with the designer…you can maybe just be upfront. “Sometimes I can see your screen. If I see something subjective that I want to change, I’ll wait until you show me but if I see something that is going in the wrong direction, I will bring it up to you sooner since we keep missing the deadline. Or do you prefer a different way for me to handle?”

  38. JSPA*

    bulletpoint priority list, including not only the task, but the “internal” deadline, and the degree of completion required by that deadline, and any “with specific attention to A, B and E” instructions.

    That may include breaking a number of tasks down into two phases, that you currently have as a single task.

    You can play with the internal deadline to create a natural priority stream (or not; you may prefer to handle those separately).
    You can set “percentage of time” guidelines (or not).
    You could even ask to see how she structures her own “to do” lists, so that she can integrate your lists more easily into her own (or not, if that seems intrusive).

  39. gyrfalcon*

    This was really timely for me because I’ve been asked to hand off a project to a coworker. It’s a project while main outline is simple, but the details are a mess of strangeness and exceptions. So this is a good reminder and motivator for me to get as clear about all of this as I can, for when I hand it off to him.

    After the handoff I’ll be available to him as an advisor on the project, but I think it will be a lot less frustrating if those conversations are about things like “here’s a possible way to handle this wierd detail” or “gee, good job catching that wierd detail, what do you think is a good approach?” rather than a constant litany of “oh yeah, I knew about that but forgot to tell you about it.”

  40. TootsNYC*

    And when you see her screen and she’s doing something you know you’re going to want to change later, instead of saying something immediately, I’d use that as an exercise for yourself — a chance to figure out what you should have told her up-front but (apparently) didn’t. And then use those insights as a way to get better and better at the info you’re giving her on the front-end when you first delegate something.

    This kind of self-training is SO valuable!

    I always joked that I essentially taught my high school algebra class, because I grasped the concept right away. And then I had to sit there and wait while other people learned it.

    Since I had nothing to do, I ended up focusing on WHY the other student didn’t understand it. What could I glean from the questions they were asking? How did the teacher’s answer help or not help them? Was there another way to say it that would make it click into place for the other kid?

    And then I’d say, “Mr. M, could you also describe it X way?” And the other kid would go, “Ohhhh!” just as Mr. M was nodding. It got so that when someone didn’t get his first re-explanation, he’d turn to me and say, “Toots?” Because I was sitting there mentally picking apart the communication and formulating alternate ways to explain the same thing.

    But really, it gave me the opportunity to focus on how to communicate. I learned so much from that experience.

  41. Working Mom Having It All*

    I used to do graphic design tasks in a similar context to this question. I had a coworker who I didn’t report to, but who was senior, who was ultimately responsible for reviewing my finished products. He was a HUGE micromanager and would stand behind my desk and criticize what I was doing constantly, often before I was even remotely close to finishing and showing him my work.

    For example, my work often involved designs that had a lot of copy, and my workflow was to add the raw text to my project before deciding on fonts, sizing the copy appropriately, etc. So he would see a bunch of text on my screen in Arial or whatever the default font was, and come to me all upset because obviously Arial isn’t the appropriate font to use, and why is it in 12pt, and why is it black, etc. And I would have to explain that I hadn’t even really started working on the copy yet, I’d just added the text to the project up front because that’s the way I preferred to work.
    (I guess this guy liked to wait until the absolute last minute to add the copy and decide the typeface, color, and size in his head beforehand?) Not only was it intimidating and stressful in a way it just totally did not need to be, it was also a huge waste of everyone’s time.

    So I’d err on the side of not butting in unless you know FOR SURE that this is either impacting overall time management issues (working on low priority projects instead of high priority projects), or you’re seeing her make a mistake that you’ve definitely had to correct in her finished projects several times. Not everyone has the exact workflow you would have if you were doing that project.

  42. LilyP*

    This is totally the mirror of the podcast episode from a few weeks ago (title is “help I work for a micromanager”). You should listen to it if you haven’t already — it’s a vivid perspective on how lots of “helpful” comments on in-progress work can land.

    In the meantime move your desk!! So this doesn’t keep distracting you from the real work issues you need to deal with here.

  43. SierraSkiing*

    Maybe this is a sign you guys could use more frequent check-ins- say, a quick “10-minute, show me your progress” that happens every week during the time you’re working with her. You could wait until that check-in to talk about minor things you happen to spot, and that might help with the problem of her giving you a poor final product at the last minute.
    (Sorry if someone already said this; I looked at a few comments and then declared thread bankruptcy!)

  44. MCMonkeyBean*

    I think when it comes to priorities, if you see her working on X when she should be working on Y you could try going to the bathroom or something and when you pass her desk on the way back, stop and casually be like “Hey, I just wanted to check in on the status of Y!” And if she says “I’m working on X now but I’ll get to that soon” then you have a reason to tell her that actually Y is really the higher priority of the two.

  45. jbdesign*

    good god. As a designer, this whole email made me cringe. One—I can’t count the number of times a coworker wanted to “sit” with me and direct my on-screen work. No No No. As others have said, do not assume what you see on screen is what is going to be presented to you. Two, do not assume her priorities are messed up. I often need to “marinate” on a project before starting it, and will often work on other things while my unconscious mind works out the design problem. Many many designers are like this (certainly you have heard the old adage—the idea came to me in the shower/while driving/etc). Three, there are *some* designers that will not be able to squeeze out an idea till they feel deadline pressure. I don’t advocate for this, but I’ve seen it many many times. Overall, communication is key, especially when first laying out the project. You are right in that you are not expected to tell her everything about how it should be designed (it should be blue and all caps), but communicating your audience, desired outcome, concept, etc can go a long way. Do you expect to be presented with several concepts to choose from? It also sounds like your timeline in general is unreasonable if she has other work to do as well. We often told our internal clients we needed 4-6 weeks to complete a project in order to work around others’ deadlines (depending on the size of the project—a single page flyer is obviously going to take less). Also, as others have said, lay out interim deadlines for first/second/final proof stages.

  46. Jamie*

    Hi, professional graphic designer adding my two cents!

    1. Be really, really clear in your guidelines. It’s a little hard to tell from your letter if her mistakes are informational or just structural, but even then, the more info you give the better it’ll be. Example like:
    Hi, can you make a flyer for SANSA’S TEA PARTY? Here are the details:
    * North Team Only
    * 3-5pm
    * Winterfell Room
    * 5″ x 7″
    * Color PDF

    And if there’s any information you’d want emphasized over something else, call that out too. “Please make sure the “North Team Only” line is really clear and easy to see!

    2. Please leave the over-the-shoulder / backseat designing to a minimum. I truly abhor whenever someone comments on a design I’m working on when I’m clearly in progress. A lot of creative/design work involves playing around with stuff until you feel happy with where it’s at. UNLESS it’s a clear miscommunication of information hierarchy (which should hopefully be solved with point 1), keep your creative feedback to yourself until it’s asked for.

    3. Deadlines: oof as a creative I’m really bad about this. The trick used in my company is we’re often given “fake” deadlines by the team who needs work from us, i.e. 2-3 days before the “real” deadline. That way you should hopefully be able to have time to do the edits needed. If it’s a trouble of her pushing back and not wanting to go through a round of edits in general, that’s a larger issue, but if it’s a time issue this would be my best suggestion.

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