my coworkers keep dropping balls — is some of this normal in the workplace?

A reader writes:

How much ball-dropping is normal in the workplace?

I’m starting to feel gaslit because I can’t tell whether I am dealing with something completely normal and just unaware of how the real world works, or if my office is just unusually incompetent when it comes to follow-through.

This is prompted by my realization that someone who was supposed to set up a meeting with me about something non-urgent months ago never did, and now it is months later and the topic is suddenly urgent yet I have no memory or records of a meeting or any sort of follow-up.

One ball dropped is not the end of the world, but in the past year I have been establishing an extensive, color-coded system in my to-do list to prevent balls from being dropped (e.g., yellow for “I can take action,” blue for “waiting on someone else, will probably need to remind them,” pink for “my boss needs to take action and will need a reminder”—typically most things are blue and pink on my list) and yet things still slip through the cracks. It’s quite frustrating when this happens so often and it’s exhausting to keep track of everyone else’s tasks as well as my own, so a) is this just me, or is this how work usually goes? And b) how do you recommend dealing with a situation like this?

I’ve run into this with coworkers in every job I’ve ever had, but sometimes it’s A Problem and sometimes it’s not. The key is to be able to discern the difference.

These are different situations:

• Someone drops a ball because it’s not important relative to their other priorities, and it’s the right call for them to spend their bandwidth on other things. In this case, if it’s important to you, yeah, you’re going to have to follow up on it. Yes, in an ideal world that person would have said to you early on, “I’m not going to be able to prioritize this because of XYZ so if you haven’t heard from me on it by April and it’s important, please check back with me then.” In reality, humans are human and they won’t all do this … sometimes because they think they’ll get to it but don’t, sometimes because they don’t value super tight organization as much as you (and I!) do. In the work world, if they’re doing good work on things that are clearly more important to the employer, you probably need to let it slide.

• Someone drops a ball because they’re overloaded and juggling an unrealistic number of things. This is a problem, but it’s not really about their follow-through; it’s about their workload and probably about management above them. In this case, if the thing is important and you know the person is overworked, it’s smart to track it on your side (like you’re doing) and follow up at some point to put it back on their radar if it’s fallen off.

• Your manager* drops a ball because they see you as the owner of the project and assume you will tell them what you need from them and when (including following up with them if needed) because they are juggling the stuff of everyone on the team and handling things this way makes their job manageable. I’d argue this one is mostly a misalignment of expectations; your boss should tell you she wants you handling things that way, and you should ask if you see a pattern like this developing. It’s not inherently unreasonable for your boss to say that part of your job is sort of project-managering the stuff you need from her. (And if you’re getting the impression that she sees it that way but she’s never spelled it out, usually just starting to operate like that will solve it. Or you can have an explicit conversation to get clarity on it if you prefer.)

* You might see the same thing from other senior leaders, even if they aren’t your boss.

• Someone drops a ball because of miscommunication. For example, you said “it would be great to get your thoughts on X this month” and meant “please give me your thoughts on X this month” … while they heard, “It would be great if it’s doable — let me know if you end up having time.”

• Someone drops a ball because they’re disorganized or generally incompetent. We have all worked with this person. This one isn’t okay and when you start to see a pattern, you should name it for them and ask what you can do differently (“I’m having trouble getting answers from you before my deadlines for X — is there a better way to get those numbers?” … and who knows, maybe there is). If it continues, at that point ideally you’d flag it to their boss (who, unless the person is new, probably already knows and may or may not be attempting to address it, but either way they’re the next step).

• Someone drops a ball because all humans make occasional mistakes. This is like any other occasional mistake; it happens, and as long as it doesn’t point to a systems issue that needs to be addressed (like some of the above), you just roll with it.

So, where does this leave you? Well, it leaves you dealing with some balls being dropped! That’s why it’s important to have systems of your own that track what you’re waiting on, so you know what you haven’t heard back on/received yet, when you expect to, and when you should check back in. I look at it as an inherent part of the responsibility I have for ensuring my projects flow smoothly. Whether or not I should have to isn’t really the point; the reality is that I know I need to, and so I do. It’s less aggravating if you see it that way.

I use a system very similar to yours — although I dump it all into a  “waiting for” folder and go through it daily to see what, if anything, I need to follow up on soon. I often feel like I’m more organized than most other people on the planet and this system is why. (For what it’s worth, this was one of my most annoying traits for people I managed, because it ensured that I forgot nothing … and if they forgot something, I would check back on it at some point. People don’t necessarily want their manager to remember everything.)

I will also say — to people like us who strongly value organization, it’s easy to see people who don’t as a mess. Sometimes they are! But sometimes they’re really good at other things, and sometimes it’s reasonable for them to focus their energies there instead of trying to force an orientation toward organizational systems that doesn’t come as naturally to them as it does to you. (And frankly, most of us who use systems like this like them. I know I get a weird satisfaction from keeping everything so neat and contained in my “waiting for” folder; sometimes I feel like Gollum rubbing my hands together over my files and muttering “my precious.” But not everyone has that same pull to it, which means the barrier is higher for them to do it religiously, whereas it might be quite simple and natural for you.) It’s easy for those of us who are organized to feel like it’s a virtue that trumps nearly all others … but there are other things that can contribute more value, and it’s important for us not to lose sight of that.

Someone on a team needs to be organized or there will be chaos … but you don’t necessarily need everyone to be organized to that same level. In fact, lean into that and it can build your reputation for being unusually on top of things and reliable, and that will often be helpful to your career in the long run.

{ 222 comments… read them below }

    1. Just J.*

      This is an excellent analogy and something every young manager needs to discover, learn, and differentiate.

    2. Megaphone*

      I think that was indirectly addressed in the answer. She was saying the OG poster’s co-workers are dropping balls when it comes to the poster’s projects because to the poster’s co-workers, those balls are plastic to them. The co-workers have glass balls they are keeping in the air and are letting the plastic balls like the poster’s needs drop.

      1. Squid*

        It’s hard when there is a mismatch of plastic and glass among coworkers. If something is glass to someone, they need to a) make sure it is actually glass and not just plastic that looks like glass, and, if it really is glass, b) communicate that to others while ensuring they have systems in place to follow up.

        1. Koalafied*

          Often what can be just as important: the other team needs incentives that discourage glass-breaking. Even if they know one of the balls will break if it hits the ground and the others won’t, if their reviews/raises are based on keeping the plastic balls really clean and broken glass balls come out of another team’s budget, well… sometimes they’re going to drop the glass ball even though they know very well that it’s more breakable, because their management structure is telling them, even if unintentionally, “Try not to break the glass balls, because it’s good for the company as a whole if we can keep the glass replacement costs down – but if it comes down to it, letting plastic balls touch the floor is worse because the CEO’s toddler likes to lick them, and it’s not like the replacement glass is coming out of OUR budget…”

          1. GlitsyGus*

            I’m having flashbacks to elementary school dodgeball games. It is not an inappropriate comparison in many situations. LOL

    3. Smithy*

      And sometimes our glass balls are the other’s plastic balls…..

      I will say, when it comes to ball dropping, you can often expect it more the more you work cross team. If I tell someone on my team about a need for X, and then it doesn’t happen – it may be that we have the same manager or our managers share the same manager. So a discussion of why I didn’t receive the updated Teapot analytics doesn’t have to travel that far to involve levels of oversight. I’m more likely to be comfortable talking to my manager’s boss about the issue and resolving it comes from more of a “teamwork” perspective.

      When the ball dropping is cross team, a lot more calculation gets involved in whether or not you’d ever want to escalate. My manager may not want to talk to that person or their manager, and for the nature of the issue – I may not want to ask my manager to do that. Instead, I’m more likely to share with my boss how I’ll correct for it going forward and then if its repeated problem discuss what to do next.

      1. Squid*

        And that’s why you need to possess the ability to look ahead and anticipate which balls are likely to turn to glass, and when. It’s a difficult but important skill to learn and continually practice.

    4. Sparkles McFadden*

      Yes…and what seems like an emergency to me might be item #18 on someone else’s uglier list.

    5. Wintermute*

      THIS! I’d take it a step further too. Some are rubber, some are plastic, some are glass, some are filled with nitroglycerin and some are those little things from the movie The Rock where they’re full of enough poison gas to kill everyone in the building.

      I’ve been battling this at my current job. Because we are getting more and more balls thrown into our juggling pattern (and it’s already a job basically centered around juggling many things at once in real time) and eventually we will hit saturation.

      What I keep explaining we need is a list of what to set down when we can’t do it all. Because when you hit that saturation point you have two choices: intelligently choose to set aside specific tasks, or keep trying until you start dropping things. If you choose what to set down you can make sure it’s plastic and rubber balls. If you just keep trying until you hit failure point, you have no control over what gets dropped. It might be something that blows up and heavily damages the immediate surroundings (E.g. your teams’ credibility or internal processes) or it might be full of toxic gas that puts a lot of other things at risk (E.g. something that costs the organization significant money or causes loss of clients or reputation with customers).

      1. All Het Up About It*

        intelligently choose to set aside specific tasks, or keep trying until you start dropping things. If you choose what to set down you can make sure it’s plastic and rubber balls.

        I’ve definitely used this analogy the past few years as we’ve dealt with being short staffed. Sometimes in order not to drop those glass balls you have to purposefully set aside some others. I think that also allows for you to keep track of the balls easier. If I know that I set aside the balls HERE (in a specific folder, to-do list, etc.) I am much less likely to forget about them, than if I accidently drop one and it just rolls away until someone else finds it and throws it back at my head.

        I’ve probably carried this analogy to far, but I can’t help it. It’s one of my favorites.

        1. Just Another Cog*

          I once replied with a “need this by COB” from my boss, which was the third of th day, with “I can do all of these half—assed, or one of them really well. What’s more important?”
          She said “ I need at least something for all of them and I recognize it can’t be your best work.” So that’s what she got. But we both laid it out there.
          (I’ve always used the “juggling chainsaws” metaphor.

  1. Chairman of the Bored*

    Given my workload, I’ve spend my career operating under the expectation that 25-30% of the stuff assigned to me will never get done.

    The trick is picking the right stuff to put in this category.

    Usually I get it right and nobody cares, occasionally I’ll get it wrong and end up having to scramble to finish something that I thought was meaningless that wound up being important.

    People’s time and motivation are finite resources. It’s not reasonable to expect that everybody will complete 100% of the work that comes their way.

    This is very much how the real world works.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I’m working on learning this. I don’t really mind when other people drop balls because of exactly what you said, but when I do it then it feels like the end of the world. Now my job is oriented towards keeping the balls in the air but no one is actually expecting 100% from me, and I need to work on being as gracious with myself as I am with others.

      OP I’ve found it helps if you can try to understand the workload of others and extend some empathy. No one is sitting at their desk actively plotting how to ruin your day (or if they are, that’s a different letter). They probably had 99 other things to do and just lost track. Yes that’s frustrating! But not malicious.

      1. Ball Pit Worker*

        OP here–I’m definitely working on building that empathy muscle. I wrote this letter a while back, and I believe what was really driving me bananas was when people (particularly my boss) explicitly said “I will do this” and then didn’t. I get it! We’re all busy. But it weighs on me when I am the solo person driving projects forward, especially given I am the most junior person on pretty much any team I am on and only working part-time.

        I think the underlying problem here is that the company is understaffed, and the staff shortage is in conflict with a lot of big ideas from upper management, who then see me as the person to lean on to get the big ideas to happen. The bigger skill at play for me is learning when to push back on what is assigned to me, because even if I have the bandwidth to take something on as the leader, everyone else who needs to be involved in the project may not have the bandwidth to follow through on their steps.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          It sounds to me like a big facet of your concern is respect. Are people respecting your time, are people prioritizing your projects, are people following through on promises they make you – and WOOF I get it, these are big concerns in my role too. It’s great that they see you as the one that makes things happen, that reflects terrifically on you and the success you’ve had in your job.

          Pushing back and knowing your own capacity is definitely one thing. Creating systems to follow up and expecting that you’ll have to use them. Giving on-the-ground reality checks to people with big ideas. And also – pushing for staffing! They want you to implement these great ideas, you need resources to do it. Tell them what it will take. Be blunt.

        2. Tavern Wench*

          Thank you for adding this! I also tended to be the “logistics person” when starting out in work and while taking that on was good for my work reputation (like Alison mentioned, it eventually led to burnout because I wasn’t looking at it as part of my workload. I had the mindset of “if I don’t do it, no one will” which was not great long term. The resentment that built up just added to the negative stress and it became easy to get defensive and blame other people. Working on how to set boundaries (with myself and others!) and be a better self advocate helped tremendously in finding that balance between “I must track everything” and “I will only track my own stuff and it’s never my responsibility to follow up”. I also got better at bringing up possible solutions to solve more widescale problems, which I could see more clearly than other people because I was so good at tracking what was or wasn’t happening. It can get better!

        3. Hannah Lee*

          “I am the most junior person on pretty much any team I am on and only working part-time”

          Oh, unfortunately, those are two things that may lead what you’re waiting on to slide down other people’s priority lists. Not because people are malicious, but IME because they tend to prioritize tasks from more senior people and for people who are in their face more. And that’s even if the piece they owe you actually gets worked by you into something that’s a priority for someone higher up the food chain.

          It can be a delicate balance, and you’ve got to be sure to dial down any hint of ‘organized people are superior’ or ‘these people are incompetent because they never follow through’ in your interactions, but what I’ve seen work before with part time people trying to get deliverables, data from others is for the PT person to be very consistent in their follow ups.

          For example, if you work 5 days a week from 1 pm to 5pm, follow up on the things you need that week and next week every single day right after you come in. Or if you’re there 3 days a week, on the day you’re back in the office after a few days off, follow up on your priority items. And do it again early in the day on the day before you’ll be gone for a few. What you’ll be doing is ‘training’ your co-workers to expect you to follow up on a particular schedule, and that will be more likely they will try to knock whatever you need off their ‘to do’ list by your next follow up. I’ve seen it work so well that eventually the person who owes you whatever just raises it up as you approach their workspace, sometimes not even stopping what ever else they are doing. Yes it’s annoying that you have to remind them of what they owe you. But that’s part of managing up and managing the resources you have to depend on to do your own job well.

          The same thing could work for you dealing with more senior people, especially if you are able to tie what you need from them to something bigger a higher up cares about.

          It can also help if you really try to internalize awareness that they are likely juggling a lot of things, so they aren’t purposely letting you down … that will help keep your interactions professional and productive and avoid you seeming like a negative irritant.

    2. anonymous73*

      It shouldn’t (key word shouldn’t) be unreasonable to expect someone to complete 100% of all their work. But it’s become the norm because companies would rather overwork their employees instead of actually having the right number of staff to complete the amount of work that has to get done.

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        This really depends on the role. I work in a department that does a lot of research and analysis, and there are endless ideas that get generated for ways we could analyze things, new data sources we could integrate, new stakeholders we could involve, and so on. We’ll never actually do all of that, partly due to bandwidth and partly because not every idea actually merits the time it would take. So we all have back-burner projects that we’ll get to if and when we have time. That means we’ll never run out of work, and that some of those back-burner projects never get done or don’t get done for months or years until they become more urgent.

        If someone processing insurance claims or completing consulting work for clients or various other kinds of work can never complete their assigned tasks, that might be a problem. But that’s just not the case for everyone.

        1. anonymous73*

          Your example is not the same though. I’m talking about regular tasks that HAVE to get done on some sort of schedule. Most jobs have times of the year or larger projects that require us to work more than the regular amount of hours to finish the job, as well as having a backlog of items as you describe. But if you are NEVER able to finish your required work, (outside of someone being incompetent) it’s generally due to the fact that it’s not feasible for 1 person to do that work.

        2. Christina*

          Been there as well. There are plenty of jobs where you don’t do 100% of the work because only 50% of the work that comes across your desk is worth doing – as in it has consequences if it isn’t done. I’ve worked in portfolio/project management during my career, there are 40 things on the list of potential projects we are working on ten, and another dozen will get added next year. We aren’t ever getting to the bottom of the list, but we track it. SOMETIMES however we get to the middle of the list – once when we had a sudden cut to budgets that put all of the “buy a million dollars in hardware” projects on the back burner, so we moved all those “cost us nothing but time” projects in. Training in a new project manager we’d often pull from that middle of the list because they are lower risk.

      2. Chairman of the Bored*

        My approach is “if this task was actually important management would have bothered to make sure it was staffed appropriately”.

        Ergo, any work we cannot reasonably complete with our available resources must not be important.

        1. Hannah Lee*

          That’s an excellent approach! Especially if you combine it with some strategic upwards management, getting the boss’s input on priorities. “I’m planning to do A & B today, and complete C next Tuesday … will that work, or should C be the priority?”

    3. Chris*

      Yes! This is every person at every organization I’ve ever worked at. Balls constantly dropping because of unrealistic workloads. It kind of drives me insane that we can never get to more reasonable goals, but at least my org basically acknowledges that we all have the “must do glass balls” and “nice to do plastic balls” and we are always talking about priorities. I think good managers can manage this and, at some point, you have to acknowledge that some of the balls are so unimportant they should be tossed away completely.

    4. sofar*

      Yep. 100% this. Part of learning to do my job well is understanding which balls can be dropped …. because a lot of them will be dropped. I figure if a dropped ball is more important than I’d assessed, the person who is associated with it will circle back.

      In our office culture, it’s considered “admiring the problem” to raise your hand and say, “I don’t think I can take that on, considering my workload” or to say, “I know that initial deadline is coming up in a week, and I won’t be able to make it, can we discuss?” Instead, it’s considered more acceptable to drop balls and say, “I ran out of bandwidth” or “Our eyes were bigger than our stomach regarding that project, considering the open rolls that haven’t been backfilled” AFTER the ball is dropped. Our leadership would rather us say, “YES!” to everything and then not do it all. Aim for the moon, land somewhere along the stars.

      Once I realized that, things got easier. Because before that, I was like LW with my secret spreadsheets, fretting about dropped balls (mine and others).

      1. Sloanicota*

        Yep. I have generally worked in small nonprofits where there’s high hopes, big dreams, and not a lot of resources. A huge part of my learning curve starting out was realizing that it was not going to be possible to achieve about half of what we discussed and sometimes there wasn’t even an expectation that would happen. It’s really been hard switching between roles where that attitude is expected versus when it’s not, I will say.

      2. TechWorker*

        This is the wider company culture where I work, though it is not the culture of my site (we used to be separate and then were acquired). We generally do not miss dates, we agree deadlines and we stick to them, which can lead to some grumbles from a few levels up that our teams are ‘slow’ – objectively they are not, on every metric they are more efficient…. But there is a culture of over promising and under delivering. (Along with recognition for putting out fires… which I do think there should be, but it’s also a bit like giving loads of extra praise to the firefighters who don’t practice basic fire safety and wave matches around :p)

    5. Richard Hershberger*

      In my distant youth I have various jobs in or adjacent to retail. In more than one company, we would get urgent missives from above to immediately undertake a massive rearrangement, taking many hours away from our usual work. This would be followed a week later by another missive instructing us to put everything back the way it had been. After a couple of these I learned to wait a week or two before doing anything. I saved myself immense effort this way. In one instance I had a district supervisor who tacitly agreed. In that place there wasn’t even the issue of my boss calling me out on it.

      1. Hannah Lee*

        I had that approach with a boss years ago. He was always coming up with some complicated thing, which usually meant me doing lots of legwork, looking at and evaluating options, calling around for whatever, and then he’d invariably same some equivalent of “hm … nevermind” with no appreciation for the work, skill involved in pulling the complicated thing together. I decided that I’d have a 3-ask rule. If he requested something ‘redo the way we figure out pricing’ or ‘analyze all of that’ or ‘go check with all our suppliers about this new thing that might be cool’ etc etc which wasn’t obviously necessary or urgent or feasible or a good idea (to my eyes) I’d put it on my to-do list … and ignore it. Or spend 15 minutes planning how I’d approach it, or what its value could be (to make sure my first instinct to ignore it wasn’t off) and then ignore it … until he followed up 2 more times.

        I was not surprised to see how many of those things just fell off my to do list after a few weeks or months as he went on to the next shiny idea.

    6. Seawren*

      This is very much me. I’m a high performer, which means I get rewarded with 25% more work than I can possibly accomplish. About 10% of that is “nice to have”, not necessary for running the business, and those get ignored unless things are really slow. My big challenge is figuring out which requests have hard deadlines and which can slide until I have time (month-end is crazy busy). I regularly tell people that if something is urgent, they need to follow up because I’m juggling a dozen other urgent requests and have 20 or 30 less time-sensitive tasks in the queue. I would love to be on top of everything all the time, but the reality is that my #1 priority is constantly getting bumped by something even more important.

      1. Ball Pit Worker*

        OP here– I can totally relate to this feeling. I get a significant amount of “nice to have” projects thrown on my plate (including revamping the entire onboarding system, building an internship program from scratch, etc.) and then have follow ups from my boss asking me what’s happening with them. To everyone else, these are the least important emails in their inbox, but I find it hard as the part-time junior staff person to tell my very senior boss that the reason that these haven’t been done in the past is because no one actually has the time or emotional energy to get behind them (and, as soon as I leave for a better job elsewhere, the projects will fall back on the wayside).

    7. Orange You Glad*

      This was something I had to learn when I started working. When I was new to the working world, I was very low level so I had a lot more time to complete tasks. I would get frustrated when others dropped the ball on seemingly straightforward things (why don’t they take the 10 mins to do this right?).

      Now that I have more experience and a lot more responsibility, I regularly have things fall off my radar. I appreciate it when others can remind me or follow up. My brain is so overloaded with other responsibilities, that I can’t even remember writing something down or saying I’ll do something. I’m pretty good about keeping deadlines and to-do lists updated on a daily planner, but some stuff becomes very “out of sight, out of mind”.

    8. Overeducated*

      This is how my job works. The tough part is that my two predecessors also did this, and chose the same things to not get done for extremely rational reasons, and when I came in my supervisors made very clear that they wanted progress on those fronts to be one of my priorities (taking the dusty balls that rolled under the couch and cleaning them up to go back into rotation, I suppose). A year in, it is VERY clear to me why these things did not get done: for instance, I’ve been waiting months for colleagues in other offices to complete yet another round of quality control checks on two of the balls they had commissioned from me so I can send them out for decoration, and I’ll be penalized on *my* annual review if they don’t do that in the next few months; another ball needs to have its paint stripped and be totally redecorated, by me in my spare time, because the specifications have changed since my predecessors last worked on it.

      I’ve determined that a large part of work in my organization, aside from the substantive work itself, is figuring out how to prioritize when the workload doesn’t shrink at the same rate as the staff was reduced. Letting balls gather dust under the couch is one way.

  2. Circle Back*

    Wanting to hear more about this Waiting folder now… is this an email folder? I love learning how highly organized people do it!

    1. Toodie*

      And is it a real paper folder, or an online thing? I am trying to get rid of all the paper in my life.

      1. Squid*

        I got rid of all work paper years ago and it has been amazing. It helps that I now work for a company where you more or less have to justify and get permission to print things… They’re a little nuts sometimes on the eco-friendly and cost-saving stuff, but I truly love that no one hands me paper anything anymore.

        1. Llama Llama*

          Having to justify and get permission to print something would be an automatic no from me. That sounds wildly controlling.

          1. Squid*

            I think it was that way at first (change management psychology is hard), but people pretty quickly saw that there wasn’t a need for printed documents in probably 95% of cases. Most of the remaining cases are related to very senior leadership and client-facing stuff that still requires a wet signature by law.

      2. WomEngineer*

        If you have the space, you could stick Post-It’s to the wall in masking tape “swim lanes” and move them around as needed. Or write on a dry-erase board.

        1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

          The post-it app (available for iOS/iPadOS, Mac and Android) also lets you do a virtual version of the plastering-post-its-everywhere as well, with different formatting and color options.

    2. A Jane*

      Mine is called an “awaiting response” email folder and I drag sent emails into there when I’m waiting for people to reply or put emails from my inbox in there. The ones I move from my inbox can be where the person has already replied to say “I’ll get that back to you by Tuesday”, then I can check on Tuesday if they have replied or not and on Wednesday I’ll chase them up again.
      So I clean up my sent items every day and delete or file them.
      I also reply to emails from my inbox when I first read them whenever possible (the “one touch” rule). Or I file them straight away if they are just for info.
      If I can’t deal with the email & action straightaway, I will diarise the action by putting a meeting request in my diary and I’ll attach the email to the diary entry for reference. Or if I need to set up a meeting with others to discuss the action before responding, I’ll set up the meeting and also attach the email to that email if it’s not sensitive. If it is sensitive I’ll put the email in my “To Do” folder, or the specific topic related folder, so I know where to look for it when it comes to the meeting.
      Hope this helps people become more organised :)

      1. joriley*

        For “I’ll get that back to you by Tuesday,” I also LOVE Gmail’s snooze feature. It’s supposed to be in by Tuesday? Great, I’ll snooze it for Wednesday morning so I can follow up. (Or Thursday, if I have time and am being generous… or Tuesday morning, if it’s likely that they’ll need a reminder.)

    3. Rae*

      Me too — I’m picturing an email folder, but wondering how you manage that. I keep my inbox of items that need to be addressed. When something is completed it goes in the client file. Do you cc yourself on emails to have a duplicate email to put in the “waiting for” folder?

      1. Yvette*

        See, I would probably do duplicates forwarded to myself for that folder, possibly with an added notes. I hate taking emails out of the inbox because of replies, etc. and I like to see them in context with the rest of my email.

    4. dresscode*

      For me, I operate two types of “folders”. In my inbox, I operate a “zero inbox” method. So everything is filed somewhere in my inbox if it doesn’t require any followup from me. If it does need followup, then it stays in the inbox. That’s my “waiting’ folder, Usually I’m waiting on a response from someone before I move forward. If this was something that was given to me verbally, it goes on my to-do list. I have ongoing-long term lists and short term to-do lists. Depending on my workload, sometimes I have a medium-length list for stuff in a few weeks that I just need to remember. I also typically write up a next day to-do list at the end of the day so I’m ready and don’t need to think about it before starting.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        This is what I do as well. I feel like if I had a folder I would forget to check it, but that might be the ADHD talking.

        1. Anonym*

          ADHD person here – because I would also forget to check a folder, I have a weekly calendar block with all open follow up items. I use the time to send follow up emails, or delete the items if they’ve already been resolved. If I expect to hear back quickly, I’ll leave it in my inbox with a certain color flag.

          I use my inbox for triage and file everything that doesn’t need my action in subfolders. Anything still in inbox is color coded for one of the following categories: Read Me, Talk to Boss, Waiting for Reply, Urgent, or [job-specific thing that I do]. Some things get moved onto my To Do list, which also lives in my calendar.

          Before I figured out this system, email was totally overwhelming and I was frequently the ball dropper. Sorry, people I worked with before 2017. :(

        2. GlitsyGus*

          Same. That’s why I love my Kanban board. It’s all right in front of me and maintained by the program, Red- on hold/waiting for something, Yellow- I have tasks, Green- Off my desk and on to the next step. Because the board itself is high level it doesn’t trigger my anxiety about having “too many things” but if I do need details I just click on a topic and can see my comments about each item. I find jotting notes in my own personal shorthand (shorttype?) then closing the window and moving on to be much easier than trying to keep something more formal and complicated up and running. Formal and complicated will never happen for me.

          1. GlitsyGus*

            Oh, also trying to organize within Outlook is way too hard for me, I have a high volume of email that sort of applies to me in an FYI way, but not really as an action. I get overwhelmed very quickly and just stop sorting. That’s also where the board comes in; I can drag and drop an email, assign it a name, then it’s in the queue and “managed” by the board.

      2. Jamie Starr*

        Yes, this is my general system too. If it’s in my inbox and marked as Unread (even though I have read it), that means follow up is needed -either on my end or from someone else. If it’s in my inbox and marked unread it’s probably one-off info emails that I reference frequently.

        Right now I have 29 emails in my Inbox and 14 of those are “Unread.” This is pretty normal for me/my workload. After the email is responded to, I move it from the Inbox to the appropriate folder, and go into the Sent Mail and label it for the same folder. (We use Gmail rather than Outlook.)

      3. Cake or Death?*

        This is what I do as well; my inbox is my “to-do list”. And I have color categories for everything and I also have rules so that all my messages are color categorized for me automatically. With all the subfolders, I probably have 100 different email folders lol. It’s the only way I can stay organized. Plus, I also have set standards and templates for everything, so every folder, filename, etc. is consistent and standardized, which also helps a lot with staying organized.

      4. Guacamole Bob*

        For me, my inbox itself is things that I can take action on, so things that will need follow up at some point were cluttering it up and making me re-scan the list a lot to find the things I actually needed to do. So the “Pending” folder it helpful – I use it both for things that need follow up at some point in the future and also for things like materials for a meeting happening in a week that I don’t need to review. It gets it out of my inbox but keeps it accessible and ensures I’ll have it handy when needed.

        I also have a “pending” section of my to-do list in OneNote for pending items that aren’t in email. It’s a little annoying to have two, but less annoying than sending myself tons of email reminders or adding every little email response task to my OneNote to-do list.

      5. Murfle*

        I do kind of the opposite. I will clean out my inbox occasionally, but if there’s something I need to review further or take action on, I add a little red flag to it in Outlook. Anything flagged goes automatically to a “for follow-up” folder, and I unflag it once it’s done. It’s nice seeing the number of flagged items go down.

    5. introverted af*

      I manage everything through Trello, so I have a To Do column and a Pending column. Lots of things go into the Pending list, like things that I’ve scheduled to do in the future with a start date that will move to the To Do column on the day I am supposed to start. Also things that are low priority but would be nice to do if I ever could at some point. For things that need feedback, I put a yellow label on it that says In Progress and put a due date on it – either the reasonable due date if I wasn’t actually given one, or the actual. If I know it will be a whole thing to follow up with the person before that, I create a second card for that task, connect it to the original, and put a start date on it so if I haven’t heard from my manager by X date, I will be reminded to work on it.

      As an aside, I know I could probably split my Pending list into Waiting On and Future Tasks or something like that, but this fits the other columns that I want to see on my screen so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    6. Lizzianna*

      I have a bulletin board in my office and use post it notes.

      I also have a section for “need to do” and “doing”. Similar to a Kanban board, but with my own tweaks to the categories. My waiting for follow up is also divided by things I’ve delegated to my team, stuff I’m waiting on from other teams, and stuff I’m waiting on from my leadership (because I handle follow up on these categories differently).

    7. anonymous73*

      I’m a Project Manager and I setup Outlook folders for everything and I use my inbox as an electronic to do list. I also have a notebook and write to dos with a checkbox because I’m old school (and it’s very satisfying to check things off of a physical list). I spend down time (or setup specific times of the day) for going through my emails.
      *If it’s something I need to complete, I leave it in my inbox until it’s done, and add a task to my notebook list.
      *If it’s something informational that may need to referenced in the future, I add it to a folder
      *If it’s something that needs follow-up, but is someone else’s responsibility, it stays in my inbox until it’s done
      ***I also rarely delete anything. I have a ton of folders and use them for CYA purposes.

      I deal with people dropping the ball all the time. And sometimes I forget something too, because I’m good but I’m not a robot. The best thing to do is find your own way of keeping track of things that you need to do and things that your ability to complete your own tasks, whether it be your inbox/folders, a spreadsheet, or papers on your desk in designated piles.

    8. JanetM*

      I use the Outlook desktop client. Other email may vary. I don’t use a “Waiting” folder, but when I need to follow up on an email, I’ll tag it for follow-up and set a date. If it’s not an email, I’ll put it on my to-do list as a follow-up.

      1. Jamie Starr*

        The follow up flag and the task list are what I miss the most about Outlook. I know Gmail has similar functions but they just aren’t the same. I have taken to adding everything to my calendar instead of using Gmail reminders.

    9. quill*

      Not highly organized but I keep track of paperwork requests in an excel sheet that hides them automatically for me when they’re fully complete.

    10. Box of Kittens*

      On my team we use Trello for this! We juggle a lot of different projects at the same time and typically make Trello cards for each project, so when I contact someone for a project I make a “Callback” checklist on the project card and assign dates to them for when I need to follow up if I haven’t heard back. It’s an amazing system.

    11. Snark No More!*

      I use the Categories feature in Outlook. You can change the categories to anything you like. I have a color for follow-up, talk to the boss, print, TODO, etc. I am also very much a zero inbox person, but ever since I took off three days in December, my Inbox is not happy.

    12. Saltedchocolatechip*

      I use red flags on emails to populate Tasks in Outlook and organize by when I need to look at something so I can focus on what needs to be done today/tomorrow/this week and remind myself of things that are coming up.

      So for example if I’ve set a deadline for you of needing something by next Wednesday I’ll flag the email I sent you and make the deadline next Wednesday so if I don’t see a response then I remember to follow up. When I have the time I also color code for things I’m waiting on, things I need to do, and if it’s likely to needs nudge I color code as both. The goal is inbox zero with whatever is keeping me from that being things I need to deal with now or figure out what to do with so they can go on the task list.

      I know some people think of this as being super organized but it’s the only way I can stay focused and “see” what needs to be handled. I have to clear out the junk before I can make myself get going on the real tasks for the day.

    13. Ally McBeal*

      I use Outlook and use its “Tags” features – color-coding, basically, and you can customize labels and sort by Categories. So everything I need to follow-up on is labeled as such and coded yellow, then filed into its respective project folder. I also have tags for FYI items and other miscellany.

    14. Sharon*

      I use my calendar as a to-do list to keep things manageable and reduce mental load. If I ask somebody for input, I put a note on my calendar to follow up in a week or whatever. That becomes a to-do for that day and I can forget about it between. If the person gets back to me without a reminder – boom! when I get to the reminder day, I can cross that off as already done. I use this same technique for my normal work and only schedule a certain number of target accomplishments for any given day so I can see at a glance what’s realistic (generally 3-7 per day; yours may vary depending on the type of work you do). If I was always working off a 300 item to do list it would be very hard to manage.

    15. Ball Pit Worker*

      I typically add pink tags to the emails I’ve sent to my boss that need a response from her (to match my one-note list, of course!) and then give it a week and follow up, or ask her about them in a meeting. Then once I have a response, I can file the emails away and get them out of my inbox/to-do list.

    16. Quinalla*

      I mostly do my lists like this (including waiting for) in one note, but I do have an email folder for this too as sometimes it is just simpler to use the email itself as a placeholder. I tend to move the email to this folder and then move it to its final location when done. But yeah, mostly it is a one note where I have a section group called Waiting For, with sections for different spheres (Right now these spheres are Work, Other, COVID-19 – the later a list of things I am waiting on COVID-19 calming down to get out and do so I’ve started doing that as well) which individual pages for each item – I like pages as it is easier to see at a glance what is in there, but I can have as many details as needed in the page. I use this for all my lists, general reference, etc. Set up utilizing GTD (Getting Things Done) as a base methodology. I still have to have some paper and some items outside by one note, but the vast majority is in there which I love because I can access it from my phone, my work computer and my home computer and I put everything in there – personal & work. I could go on for ages as I am another who LOVES this stuff :P

  3. WavyGravy*

    I am also an organization nerd and I find it’s helpful to be up front with people and ask – how/how often do you want me to follow up (bosses) and I am going to follow up on [date] because [reasons] (peers/others). At least until there is a good rhythm or if it’s a more major project.

    My boss just told me yesterday that she’s glad I’m paranoid organized because she is not, and while it’s frustrating to babysit adults sometimes, I also see it as the value I bring to the team (and highlight that value in performance reviews/interviews). I also get the secret pleasure of maintaining the lists like Alison.

    Also this is why good admin assistants or similar are worth their weight in GOLD.

  4. RabidChild*

    @Alison: Is that “waiting for” file a physical one, or electronic, like on your desktop? Both?

    I love this idea!

  5. Becky S.*

    Alison, Your comment about feeling like Golem rubbing your hands together over your files made me laugh out loud!!

  6. Antilles*

    This is prompted by my realization that someone who was supposed to set up a meeting with me about something non-urgent months ago never did, and now it is months later and the topic is suddenly urgent yet I have no memory or records of a meeting or any sort of follow-up.
    If it’s *that* low priority that it can hang up in the air for months without anybody noticing, you need to have a plan to follow up because nobody is going to remember that “hey, two months ago Andy asked about scheduling a meeting”.

        1. Squid*

          Haha I rarely use it because I agree with you, but it seems to be a pervasive term in my line of work/the companies I have been at.

        2. Casper Lives*

          Haha I find it funny. It comes from my field (law) as a system of small tasks / deadlines distributed to lawyers on little note cards. There’s a ton of deadlines and tracking in law. If you miss a deadline, watch out!

          Now my office has a custom electronic database that generates ticklers for dates and other things we put in the file.

    1. Don*

      This one seems to deserve a follow-up “you sure that was THEIR ball to keep in the air?” Because if it required a meeting with you and the failure to have that meeting has now caused you an urgent problem, maybe that should have been on your plate and not theirs.

      My experience has been that a sizable number of dropped balls are the result of confusion about who was supposed to catch them. If it’s important enough to need to be done, it’s important enough to designate an owner.

      1. NeedRain47*

        This is excellent advice, I concur. It’s nearly always worth your time to clarify (for yourself, and sometimes others) whose turn it is to move the ball and when they might intend to do so.

      2. Just J.*

        This is why, at the end of meetings and conversations, you close out with “what are the next steps” and “who is responsible.”

      3. Cthulhu's Librarian*

        “My experience has been that a sizable number of dropped balls are the result of confusion about who was supposed to catch them. If it’s important enough to need to be done, it’s important enough to designate an owner.”

        This is why we’re taught to call our catches when playing outfield in baseball.

        1. quill*

          Doesn’t ALWAYS stop people from clonking into each other like cartoon characters, but it certainly helps!

      4. Mockingjay*

        My project finally decided to add a field for “owner” to our task system. You’d think that would have solved the problem. Nope. People argue morning noon and night about who should be listed in that field.

        The real issue is that Ownership = Accountability, which is something everyone avoids like the plague, including the project manager.

        I let a LOT of balls drop these days. I do my part, send it on to the next person, and forget about it. OP, I spent years trying to juggle the balls for this project. I set up tracking systems, sent reminders, trained, cajoled, pleaded, did it myself…nothing worked. Before assuming responsibility to fix things, look at your office environment. You can fix yourself, but can you affect the program or office as a whole? Systemic disorganization has to be fixed from the top. There’s only so much managing up that one person can do. Let that guide your response.

      5. ecnaseener*

        LW doesn’t say it’s causing an urgent problem for LW though, just that the topic is now urgent. That could be technically the other person’s problem, but LW’s role is one where they’re expected to do what they can for urgent projects even if the delay wasn’t their fault. (My job is like that – I can’t make your submission for you, but if you wait until the last minute to submit I’m still going to try to help you meet your deadline, because that’s my job as annoying as it is.)

    2. Doug Judy*

      Yeah it wasn’t clear if the OP is following up on these things or just waiting for their boss/others to do them and getting frustrated when that doesn’t happen. People need reminders, for all the various Alison listed. My job is such that I can tell someone I have time for X but then something unexpected happens with Y that needs to be resolved ASAP and can take the rest of my day, or in some cases weeks. I do my best to let people who are waiting know, but that doesn’t always happen. It’s fine to check back in with people if you’re waiting.

      1. Becky*

        There was a ball I picked up a few months ago because I noticed something out of the ordinary and so I brought it to the attention of my boss and the people who should have been the ball keeper. The ball keeper gave kind of a vague answer but took no ownership. A few weeks later I reminded my boss about it and she sent an email to the responsible team explicitly saying “this ball is in your court, my team will no longer be following up on this issue.” I have no idea if that team ever fully picked up that ball, but it wasn’t really my ball in the first place and I am not going to go out of my way to pick it up again.

      2. Ball Pit Worker*

        OP here–the frustration is more when someone explicitly says “I will do this” and then doesn’t. I can follow up on things, but if I am following up on every step of a project that requires someone else to take action, it gets old pretty quickly (no one likes to feel like a nag) and slows things down. These projects are typically things that everyone agrees are good ideas, but no one wants to take responsibility for making them happen. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), I have a reputation for being competent, organized, and a hard worker so they fall on my plate, despite the fact that I am temporary and part-time. Consequently, my job ends up being the person who has to keep track of all the balls that no one else cares about, and my job is to keep tossing them back to others even though my arms are tired from throwing and my back is going out from bending to pick all the dropped ones up.

  7. Jane*

    This is definitely one of those things that often feels highly gendered. There are plenty of exceptions, of course, but in most places where I’ve worked the person/people who are best at this are women, and the worst at it are men.

    As a woman and as someone who’s highly organized, I used to be really hesitant to lean into it. There was a legitimate concern in my last workplace that this would be considered “women’s work” and it would expected of me while others didn’t have to do the same. But it’s a hard habit to break and I also didn’t want to be deliberately dropping balls and putting this burden on someone else (usually another woman).

    In the end, I left my old (toxic) workplace for another job where my new boss was explicit that he lacked this skill, valued it highly, and was glad to pay me to be this kind of person on his behalf. I feel well-compensated and well-appreciated for the important and surprisingly rare skill set I bring of being super organized and never letting things drop. It really does make a huge difference simply to work for someone who can name that this is important work and it needs to be done.

    1. Mid*

      I feel like a pretty simple way to counter the gendered expectations is to assign people things. At the end of the meeting say “Andy will follow up in two months about the teapot handles, Bryan will research hinged lids, and Cathy will check in on coffee sales next quarter.” And then assume that they’re adults and will follow up on their assigned tasks.

      1. biobotb*

        Yeah, and if you’re not the person with the power to assign tasks, get clarity from your boss about what you own. Then be scrupulously on top of that, and don’t take on the task of being organized for others.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yes — I am sure none of my clients originally hired me because I’m highly organized, but I do think some of them have stayed with me in part because they realize they get total peace of mind that anything we discuss will happen and they’ll never have to check in on it again. People love that.

      1. Aurion*

        Amen. One of my previous sales reps for my largest vendor was highly organized, and I LOVED that he was so organized; I could literally send him a query and wipe it from my mind because not only would he give me a (very detailed, superbly organized and thoughtful) response within an hour, he will do all the follow ups necessary. By the time my brain remembered “oh hey, so about that widget that we couldn’t resolve three days ago…” there would be a follow up email in my inbox apologizing about the delay, with the information I need, and looping in all the subject matter experts required. It was amazing. I was very spoiled.

        He has left that company five or six YEARS ago and I’m still extolling his virtues.

    3. Jessica*

      It’s so great. I lost a valued employee recently and one of the things I loved most about her was that when I asked her to do something, I could stop thinking about it. If you’re a senior person and have lots of other responsibilities weighing on you, that freedom to dismiss things from your mind is such a relief. Large or small, short or long, the next time I’d hear about the thing would be her reporting back with the result, and in between I wouldn’t wonder if she was doing it because I’d learned to be confident that she was. Definitely a solid-gold quality.

      1. just another bureaucrat*

        Yup. This is me too. I really want to be able to hand things over to folks and have them hold onto it and own it. I have a million things on my plate and knowing that someone else is going to follow through and follow up on what I’ve handed of is glorious. I still miss a coworker I had a long time ago who lots of other people thought was way too picky because she was amazing at not letting anything drop. I could handle the strategic and creative stuff (which she was horrible at) and she’d manage the timeline and details and orchestration of it.

        I’ve hired lots of PMs since and only one has lived up to her! And she wasn’t even a pm, just intensely organized. I can still to this day find anything from the time she was here I just have to put my brain into how she organized things mode.

    4. Smithy*

      I was thinking of how to say this….

      My job requires working across a lot of teams where we don’t always own their priorities, and while it would be nice to say “we need X by Y date”, and then on Y we receive X…….very very often that isn’t the case. So it sets us up to build in false due dates, reminders, etc. And as my department is very gendered, it can include a lot of women building project’s designed to chase (often) men.

      This isn’t 100% across the board and there are a lot of complex reasons why this is the case. But I had a direct report come to be with a case of “I told them Y was the due date originally – why should I send a reminder??” And when I told her that this was our reality and we had to build in reminders/pings/ticklers/etc., I could see how much it bothered her because it was basically telling her that her clear initial instructions simply would never be enough.

      1. Ball Pit Worker*

        I feel this so much. As a person who always follows through by deadlines, it’s exhausting and frustrating to not have others do the same.

        I (OP) am a (young, and young-looking) woman, and frequently the people I am following up with are either men or significantly older than me (or both).

        I suspect another part of what’s happening here is that this job is in local government, and some (not all) staff members do embody the stereotypes that come with that.

        1. AngryOwl*

          OP, I used to feel this way too when I was younger. I’m older now, with more responsibility and it’s really become clear to me how some balls just need to drop. Past me would be horrified by now-me, but she had a skewed vision.

    5. kiki*

      Yes, I work in a field that’s male-dominated and notorious for lacking organization (software development). I am very organized, a strong communicator, and honestly enjoy doing that sort of work (it’s become second nature to me, so it’s like a brain vacation). But my coworkers and bosses aren’t organized and don’t see that there is time and labor involved getting organized, they just expect me to be super organized and also have the same productive output as my peers. If I spend 2 hours outlining the project expectations and refining technical criteria with the client, I only have 6 hours for development. My coworkers spend all 8 hours coding. My work helps them, because without my work they’ve been known to code stuff the client doesn’t want or care about, but I’m seen as a slacker because I’m only outputting 6 hours worth of code. OR I work an extra two hours coding in the evening to keep both balls in the air. When I drop the organization aspect and focus on code output, my bosses and coworkers wonder why shit hit the fan and ask me to organize more for them. It’s been exhausting me and I’m looking for new work, but this has been an issue at every job I’ve had in this field (though not in any job I had before software because those jobs seemed to respect the labor of organization). I’ve explained this very clearly to all parties involved (and I know I’m a clear communicator!!) but it just doesn’t seem to get into male tech leadership’s brains that expecting me to do it all (for less pay no less!!) is bullshit.

      1. Ball Pit Worker*

        Seconding this–imagine all the work I could get done if I was not spending my time and energy reminding others to do their parts!

      2. As per Elaine*

        I came here in the comments to see if anyone was talking about this. I’m also in IT, though not software development, and there is a very real risk of getting a bunch of “team secretary” work dumped on my plate because I’m the one who’s good at it and will reliably get it done, without corresponding acknowledgement that that work is WORK, and takes time, and if I’m doing it there’s other work I’m not doing.

        And it’s so tough, because some of it I really enjoy doing, or at least feel satisfaction for having hammered out, and some of it isn’t fun but makes my life better than not doing it (it’s easier to coordinate the lunch order myself and make sure there’s something I can eat than to worry about whether Tom remembered to accommodate my allergies). But I also don’t want to be pigeonholed into doing a bunch of admin overhead that no one else is taking on and no one recognizes than I’m doing.

        Thankfully, my current job is much better at acknowledging this sort of stuff than my old job — we have jira items for planning and documentation as part of our workflow, and managers will explicitly thank me for ordering lunch or writing a nice how-to doc.

    6. Neurodivergentsaurus Rex*

      And as a highly disorganized woman, I’ve spent my whole life feeling ashamed that I’m so bad at tasks women are “supposed” to be good at. Gender expectations are a b.

      1. Katara's side braids*

        Exactly this!! No one wins. The “girls/women are clean, neat, organized and disciplined” and “boys/men are messy, scatterbrained, and lazy” narratives need to die. It’s made me (a messy, very disorganized woman) feel like utter crap, which makes it that much harder to actually find functional coping skills.

        1. Neurodivergentsaurus Rex*

          Yes! The emotional baggage attached to my very messy apartment is worse than the mess itself. It’s hard to clean when just looking at the mess makes you think “I’m a disgusting failure”. ADHD coaching has helped me a lot with that, though.

  8. Ferret*

    Honestly when I am managing projects I tend to automatically put down a following up task for anything where I need a response or information from someone else. When the time comes I can easily just tick it off if I already have a return but in the long term making it just another part of the routine really helped me keep on track, and also helped me be less resentful.

    In cases where people really weren’t responding in time/at all having a routine also made it easier to escalate – I could reach out to my/their manager and say ‘I have been chasing Wakeen for the llama report for 3 weeks – can you give him a poke or bring it up when you next speak to him. To a certain extent it also trained people that I would definitely follow up which made them less likely to just forget about it.

    I also enjoyed the (presumable autocorrect) Gollum/Golem switch in this response!

  9. gnomic heresy*

    This is a really valuable tip for those of us who haven’t built those skills. What other tips do you have to be more organized? I’m trying (desperately) but while I get my work done and do good work, it’s always at a much higher cost than necessary to my mental load and I get worn out because I don’t have good systems in place.

    1. drpuma*

      Schedule time on your calendar to to specific tasks. Block them as if they’re meetings. You do have to follow through and actually do the things, so be gentle with yourself in terms of how many productive hours you genuinely have in a day. This is super helpful for long-term projects or needing to circle back on something.

      1. Squid*

        This applies to things like lunch breaks and time to wrap up at the end of the day, too – both are important and deserve time on your calendar.

    2. Warrior Princess Xena*

      What has worked for me:
      I keep a One-note document with subfolders for categories of tasks and a master to-do list. Since I do work for specific clients (public accountant) I’ll assign each new client I get a subfolder.
      For each subfolder, I will have 1 or more pages. The first page is always my to-do/follow up list for that client. On it I track questions I have, problems that need to be solved, documents that I need, etc. Another page will usually be notes with any meetings/discussions, screencaps of important emails, and general communication. If a subtopic needs a lot of space (maybe I need to research some new thing the client will have) that gets its own page.
      Once every few days or so, I’ll check on my active clients and my misc work subfolder and see what I have to finish/get/follow up on. That information goes on my master to-do list. I then use that to stay on track of things. If there are any old clients that I’ve finished with the subfolder then gets deleted.
      It takes maybe 15 minutes a day and does a decent job of preventing little things from stretching out and becoming big problems.

    3. kiki*

      Sorry if this is obvious and repeating a strategy you’re already aware of and just doesn’t work for you, but I’m really devoted to my daily planner and writing detailed To Dos.
      I’ve gotten in the habit of writing out detailed To Dos for future dates as soon as I think of them so they don’t have to float around in my head for longer than necessary. So if I realize I need something from my boss on April 4th, I don’t just write down the task and say, “due April 4th.” I go to my planner’s page for March 28th and add to the To Do section: “ask boss for document x and remind him I need it on April 4th.” If on March 28th, my boss doesn’t respond or says he needs more time, I add a To Do on March 31st to follow up with boss about document X and remind him I need it by April 4th.” It takes a bit more time to write this all down, but it saves me so much bandwidth not to have to keep all that info in my head.

    4. Antilles*

      I use my emails to do this.
      The instant an email is read and resolved, it goes into a relevant sub-folder – I have one for each project, a folder for billing, a folder for generic group emails, a folder for company-wide emails, etc.
      Emails which are still up for grabs waiting on something are in my inbox. So I can quickly just scroll through the email titles in my inbox and get mental reminders of the project to jog my memory about stuff that’s waiting on me or where we’re on hold due to the client or etc.
      It takes a lot of discipline to constantly keep up with this, but I’ve found it helps tremendously at keeping the unresolved items easily accessible.

      1. Regular Human Accountant*

        I do this but also add categories to the emails still in my inbox: “pending reply,” “to-do,” etc. If I reply to an email and am depending on the reply to do another step, or if I have a particular time when I need to complete a “to-do,” I’ll add a follow-up date & time and get an automated reminder of it. This is especially helpful with my boss, to whom I send a lot of things that need review and I don’t want to have to remember what I sent and when.

    5. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      I use an electronic to-do list and interface it with my calendars using Fantastical – NOTHING goes on my to-do list without a date AND time for an automated reminder to pop up. If I’m not ready for it when the reminder pops, I can change the date or time to a later one, but I don’t clear the reminder without either completing it, or changing the date/time.

    6. Anon E. Mouse*

      Best “easy” tip I can offer: if an email comes in that you will need to do work on, but later: create a calendar event from that email when you read it. Block that time out right that second, even if it’s a month from when you get the email.

      Second best tip: put any recurring tasks on your calendar, as a recurring event, with any documentation you need to complete that task either in the event, or links TO that documentation in the event.

      Third best tip is old school as all heck, but works like a charm for me: spiral notebook.

      Each day, I write the date at the top of a new page, and any notes I take that day, even meeting notes or “dentist appointment”, gets written down there. If it goes to the back or even a third page, I write “ {date} cont.” at the top of those pages.

      If we had a meeting three months ago, I can look at my calendar, flip to that page, and refresh my memory.

      Every once in a while if I feel like I’m forgetting something or many something’s, I get a fresh sheet of loose-leaf paper, and flip through the pages backwards writing down everything I know I haven’t done yet, with the date noted next to it. That’s all I do just then, just write it down back to a date I feel I was still in OK shape.

      Then I tackle that list, flipping back to that date if I need more information to compete the item.

  10. CM*

    Honestly, ball-dropping is part of my strategy to manage my everyday work. There are some things that are clearly my responsibility and need to get done, and I do those. For everything else, it goes on a list but if months go by, nobody mentions it, and I don’t see a need for it to be done, it eventually drops off the list. (My role involves handling a lot of other people’s random problems, and sometimes those problems go away without me. In a different type of role where you have a list of tasks and you need to get them done, of course, you shouldn’t just sit and wait to be reminded.)

    1. Christina*

      Helped along by the number of times I’ve not gotten to something for two weeks only to get a chance to work on it, followed up and been told “oh, we don’t need that anymore.”

    2. Tech Worker*

      Same. If something has been on my to-do list for months and no one has mentioned it, I assume can probably just let it go unless someone brings it up again. And that’s how my whole team (which spends a lot of our time completing requests from other teams) operates.

      If OP and the other coworker agreed that the other coworker was supposed to schedule a meeting and they didn’t, if OP didn’t notice this for months then that’s on the OP too.

    3. Sloanicota*

      Yep, I think this is the flip side to OP’s perspective, and I admit that this is how I approach my work too (I don’t love that about myself, mind – I’m sure Alison’s POV is more valuable). It definitely came from having a lot of “butterfly” bosses who flitted from idea to idea without a lot of intention, which lead me to writing off a lot of stuff as probably not realistic/feasible/desirable and best to quietly drop. I’m sure it’s different working in, say, shipping where the things being handled are real and concrete.

  11. The Crowening*

    Boy, this rankles me a little bit. I have struggled my whole life with organization. It is not laziness, incompetence, or a lack of motivation — it is a lack of instinct and an overwhelming sense of confusion when it comes to HOW to create and maintain a system that works. In my old job I leaned heavily on years of experience and a really useful work tracking system we were required to use. In my current job I am constantly having to guess at who wants what from me and when because everyone asks for things in vague, indirect terms.

    1. Sloanicota*

      I do think, as Alison says, some people are oriented this way and get a lot of value out of that orientation, and others are not oriented that way and might do well to find jobs/roles that don’t need *this* degree of conscientiousness (and they do exist too). I remind myself that I do have a lot of other skills that are valuable and necessary, if not always quite as respected in our society.

    2. Neurodivergentsaurus Rex*

      Yeah, my feelings were slightly hurt by this one too. I have severe executive dysfunction and organization skills are incredibly difficult for me. I do have some systems that I’ve set up that help me some, and will follow other people’s systems if they’re already set up for me, but the best thing I’ve found is to whenever possible, delegate the organizational tasks I struggle with most to people with better skills in that area. This of course is not possible in all roles, but I finally am on a team now where we have complementing strengths, so it isn’t like I’m slacking- we’re all just able to for the most part focus on the tasks that best match our skill sets. I have really been able to shine in this role as a subject matter expert and creative problem solver while others are amazing at setting up tracking systems and making sure all parts of a project are completed. Good project managers are invaluable.

      1. J.B.*

        I had a colleague who hit all my “has this person been evaluated” question marks, but you really can’t suggest that to a colleague. I wish he had been because due to past management problems he was in a really critical role that he was unsuited for. I think this whole comment section is filled with people who just have too much for one human to do and feel sad that that is the work environment for so many of us.

    3. Katara's side braids*

      Agreed, especially as a woman dealing with this. I’ve always felt an extra layer of shame when messiness and organizational struggles were pointed out as a “boy trait” in childhood by moms at the bus stop, and in adulthood as a symptom of patriarchy/male privilege, as if I missed some sort of essential memo about how to be a Real Girl, and then a Real Woman. And yes, I do have an ADHD diagnosis.

      1. Sloanicota*

        I agree this is gendered in that women are more likely to be depicted in the “organized secretary” role while men are more likely to get put in the “visionary genius” role with secretaries who handle these types of details for them. I don’t think the organized secretary traits are always highly valued (as much as they should be) at the top levels of power; look at people pushing back on Hilary Clinton or Elizabeth Warren for their perceived lacking compared to somebody like Bernie Sanders or #45.

        1. Katara's side braids*

          That wasn’t what my comment was saying at all, although you’re not wrong. But that’s exactly the problem. *I*, as a woman who is messy and struggles with organization, am saying that gendered expectations of organization make me feel like I’m not a “real woman.” On top of already feeling defeminized as a woman of color, it’s really messed with my mental health my entire life.

          1. Sloanicota*

            Right, I apologize, I should have clarified. I meant that this stereotype doesn’t serve anyone, neither women (or men) who do – or don’t – fall into these categories.

  12. Christina*

    I took a job where having anyone get back to me at all, much less on time, was like trying to walk through hardening concrete. There were two big issues – one was everyone was overworked. The second was that the job I was brought in to do was not one the organization actually wanted to do – they wanted to have a person in place to say it was being done and then blame when it didn’t get done (it was a regulatory/governance/audit sort of thing). I had another job similar to that later in dynamics – the project I was working on was one without sufficient management support – they were doing it because they were required to do so – but didn’t actually want to invest the resources. Both jobs I left.

  13. Napster*

    I work in such an environment now (and I’m the super-organized one, like the OP), except it’s the folks above me who drop the balls. I have assignments that I completed *years* ago that have never been reviewed by my boss. I have assignments that I completed which were subsequently not taken into account by my boss when making decisions, and now I’m stuck managing the fallout. I understand my higher-ups are stretched thin, but after six years of this, I am furiously working toward the exit.

  14. MustardPillow*

    I’m currently in a position where I have no choice but to have these type of folders and I absolutely hate that part of my job. The tracking and organizing of things is so annoying to do! My folders are not nearly as neat or throughrough as my coworkers but it does the job. Maybe if you’ve got someone who is dropping balls and cares, share your folder system. If they’re like me, they wouldn’t naturally come to something so organized. They’ll probably hate the system. Do the bare minimum with it. Scream about it internally and also reluctantly see the value, ultimately dropping less balls.

  15. drpuma*

    I’m reminded of Green great dragon’s comment on this morning’s post:

    “when my team was drowning in work, every time someone emailed a new request, was asked for a deadline and a brief summary of the business need/expected benefits before we prioritised it. Now it’s relevant that each of these requests would have taken my team days or weeks to do, so 60 seconds of their time to write down why they needed it was a tiny thing to ask.

    More than half of those requests never came back.”

    Sometimes you do have to ask twice. Balls that get dropped consistently can give you useful information about how others prioritize that particular ball. One of the things I try to figure out whenever my team gets a new request is “who cares the most?” I bet for some of the items on your to-do list, the other person needs to care more than you do. Maybe those items get put in a “purgatory” folder. Your time is valuable – be careful about when you truly need to be the person who cares the most.

  16. Wine Not Whine*

    My team has a couple of organization hacks that are really useful. (Long comment – sorry!)

    We each have our own Outlook inbox, plus we share a mailbox. We’re each responsible for a subset of the total sales force we support.
    Each subset has its own Outlook folder under the shared mailbox, and each of those folders has subfolders: depending on what’s pertinent, it could be “promotions,” “setup,” “rep questions,” etc. Each subset also has a “closed” folder.

    If an email comes regarding a particular subset, it gets dragged to the appropriate subfolder and marked Unread. When the person responsible for it is done with it, they mark it Read and move it to Closed. Color codes can be added if that person finds them useful (I don’t).
    You can see at a glance what’s open in what categories, and the finished stuff is invisible but available.

    Also, you can save an Outlook message as a file. If an email is something we’ll want to keep as backup for a specific topic (like a quarterly incentive payout), we just drag/save a copy to the appropriate project file on our network and rename as necessary. That way we can go straight to the appropriate project file and find all backups without having to hunt through the inbox or subfolders.

    1. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      I was so excited when I figured out I could save Outlook messages as files! As someone doing case management that involves Word Docs, Excel, and email, it was a game changer!

      I also am a liberal user of the drag the email into my calendar trick, where it just makes itself into a little appointment for me to deal with later. (Luckily we don’t do a lot of shared calendars for meetings stuff).

    2. Too Old for Mom Jeans*

      Hey, Ball Pit Worker. So, I want to give some perspective from the personal side of things. As a mid-career, full time busy professional with a few kids at home to manage too. . . I’m actually wondering if the fact that, as you mentioned, you’re most junior and part time, is possibly coloring your perspective on things.
      If you’re newer, and more junior, then. . .the somewhat stark reality is that they were living without your contributions until fairly recently. And no one died. (Hopefully!)
      As much as you enjoy your work, and I’m glad you do- I wonder if it would help it to just reframe your job as less critical or urgent. I mean, maybe I have it wrong. Maybe your job is the most crucial job in the world. Maybe it is in fact life or death. I don’t know. But the reality is that statistically, I’m guessing it’s probably not. And I’m guessing the other people around you are probably not as perturbed by these dropped balls as you are. So maybe, consider letting the person/people whose bottom line they really affect, be the one to bear the brunt of the emotional burden. Not you! I love nothing more than an enthusiastic young employee. But, as someone who tends to attract and hire lots of ‘Type A’ folks. . . Sometimes there can be a little hubris in a young Type A employee overstating their work’s importance in their own mind. Ultimately, I hope this perspective can help you and doesn’t feel belittling. Just saying, there are many, many balls in life that end up not being that big of a deal at all. And as you progress in your career. . if you go full-time, or if you end up raising a few kids and being full-time and being in management and literally not having enough hours in the day… you might or might not develop a different perspective on some of those balls.
      And for this season now, it might be helpful just to really try to mentally step for a moment into the shoes of some others you’re working with. Maybe chat w some folks to try to get a sense of what their priorities are and what’s on their plate. That may help with the empathy some.(for some of your colleagues, whereas I’m sure on the flip side you’ll probably discover that there may be others who are just plain disorganized. Those do exist too!) That being said, it sounds like your organizational skills are going to serve you well in life. I wish you the best!!

  17. AnastaziaD*

    I read some but not all comments so hope this is not redundant.

    One thing I didn’t see in the original response is having a plan to move forward if people DON’T get back to you. Obviously this can’t be done in lots of cases, but if there are default assumptions that can be made, etc., I’ve found it helps to give deadlines, follow up on how you will handle if you don’t get a response, and move forward. Again, can’t always do this but still a great tool to have.

    1. drpuma*

      Yes! Artificial deadlines and stating a clear plan of action are a great way to get stagnant work flowing again!

  18. Forrest*

    Can I also submit:

    – this isn’t a ball, it’s a bubble– it was floated in a meeting, everyone agreed it would be a nice to have, but if it was actually a priority we’d have gone back and turned it into a ball. Since it wasn’t, we just let it pop.

    (I used to get very worried about these — my own and other people’s — earlier in my career, but now I fully accept that part of the point of meetings is to generate more ideas than you need and it’s the ones that come up two or three times that actually get turned into plans.)

    1. Snark No More!*

      Love this! At my job, we seem to generate a LOT of bubbles, but we have two enterprising people who always seem to turn them into a ball and then put it in someone else’s court. :/

  19. ChillinChild*

    Or you start to build systems to *compensate* for people who are disorganized or otherwise problematic, but still highly valuable. You see this with tech people all the time…..” absent-minded professors”. It’s just who they are, and generally, people don’t change a lifetime of who they are; they know who they are.

    The best business lesson I ever learned was from Peter Drucker: ““Management is about human beings. Its task is to make people capable of joint performance, to make their strengths effective and their weaknesses irrelevant.” Smart managers and organizations find ways to make their employee’s weaknesses irrelevant when those weaknesses can be outweighed by what the employee brings.

  20. Corporate Lawyer*

    My version of Alison’s “waiting for” folder is to set reminders for myself to ping other people for things I’m waiting for, and this morning my reminder to remind my manager to get back to me on something popped up for the eighth? ninth? time (I’ve lost count). So OP, I hear you, as I dutifully remind my manager, and push back the project timeline, yet again. But this project falls solidly into Alison’s first bullet point because it’s absolutely the right call for him to focus on other priorities, even though it’s frustrating that it continues to drag on. The way I deal with it is to give myself a moment to silently indulge in irritation in my head (DUDE! it will only take you 15 minutes, FFS!), acknowledge to myself that he has a lot of higher-priority work on his plate, and then get on with the rest of my day.

    1. Christina*

      And eventually you send the note that says “we have been pushing this back now for six months with no progress – is it still something we want to do?”

  21. Whale I Never*

    LW’s use of the term “gaslit” is frustrating me in this letter. I know it’s becoming increasingly common but it’s a term meant to describe intentional abuse with the goal of making the victim doubt their mental health and their own senses. That’s very, VERY different from someone just… having doubts about their expectations of workplace norms, because a variety of coworkers have different norms and are (probably unintentionally) making mistakes that impact the LW’s work.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      We probably shouldn’t derail too much on word choice but I agree it’s getting overused both in letters and comments – if nothing else it implies something pretty malicious.

      1. Grits McGee*

        In this particular case, it’s a little relevant because I think it gives insight into how OP is feeling (people are dropping balls at me). And that in turn informs the answer and comments (people drop balls all the time, and it’s rarely a conscious, malicious act).

        1. Loulou*

          Yes, I totally agree! My reaction to that was “wow, this is a huge overreaction/over personalization of this problem”…which tells us a lot about OP’s perspective. It’s helpful!

          1. Software Dev (she/her)*

            I don’t know, I couldn’t tell if the OP just picked that word because its become so overused in the common vernacular. It seems like she’s using it to mean “misrepresented”, which is–not the original meaning of the word.

    2. Ball Pit Worker*

      Thanks for all the comments about word choice. I believe I was pretty upset as I wrote this, leading to words that I might not have used in a more calm state of mind.

      Generally, I try to give people the benefit of the doubt–believing that actions that make my life harder are not due to anyone being “out to get me” but simply due to folks having a misalignment of expectations or a lack of understanding/knowledge. Most of the time, I can take this perspective. That said, it’s a lot harder to take that frame of mind in the moment when it feels like everything is going wrong.

      What I’ve found helpful is a little sticky note on my laptop that says “this is what they are paying you to do today”. It is a reminder that what I am bringing to the company is not at all my job duties, but instead the soft skills (e.g., keeping track of all the balls). I wish I was on a team where if I handed someone a ball, I would feel confident they would give it back to me in due time and not drop it. Hopefully my next job is like this! But in the mean time, I need to keep in mind that being the ball pit worker is what they are paying me to do today.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        My sticky note says “don’t chase your dreams. humans are persistence predators. follow your dreams at a sustainable pace until they lie down”. Which reminds me that I need to be going at a sustainable pace.

    3. MCMonkeyBean*

      I’m confused by it because I feel like the start of the letter is something different than the rest and I’m not sure if something important got lost–at the start of the letter it sounded like they were maybe saying that someone is claiming a meeting happened? But OP doesn’t remember it or have documentation of attending? But then the rest of the letter reads like they all just forgot to do something. The latter would not seem like a big deal, but if someone is trying to say they met with OP to talk about something and OP thinks that meeting didn’t happen then that is a very different and much more concerning situation!

  22. Sun In an Empty Room*

    My supervisor has been doing his job plus another job for most of the year and that has greatly increased the balls dropping lately. His additional work has pushed a LOT of additional work on myself and those on my team. There just aren’t the hours in the day to follow up on everything.

    Also, I think the past two years of pandemic have just made EVERYTHING at least 10-20% worse for just about everyone and have had to shift expectations (including those for myself) accordingly.

  23. name goes here*

    “It’s quite frustrating when this happens so often and it’s exhausting to keep track of everyone else’s tasks as well as my own.”

    This part stood out to me as maybe worth (re)thinking, whether it’s possible that OP is taking on too much responsibility for other people’s organization or work.

    OP sounds like somebody who likes being organized and is really good at it (that detailed, color-coded system!). Which is great! But 1) not everybody is going to be so good at organization and 2) not everybody will have such a well-articulated, manageable system. And that’s okay. People get to be disorganized or get to do their work hodgepodge and last minute if they want to. OP does not need to solve that problem.

    This only really sounds like OP’s problem when other people being late or disorganized means OP has to do their own work late. In that case, I wonder whether it’s possible 1) to renegotiate the deadline, based on the other person’s lateness, e.g. “Jane got this to me on Friday, so it won’t be possible to complete this before next Wednesday” or 2) say no, e.g. “I’m sorry, Jane, I’m not able to meet with you about this project any longer due to time constraints.” Whether either of these possibilities work depends on the kind of work, who the work is for, and the role(s) involved, of course, but it may be worth thinking about how OP can approach this in a way that makes them feel less like they have to keep all their own balls in the air, and everybody else’s too.

    1. Brightwanderer*

      It’s interesting that you and Alison both got “likes being organised and good at it” from OP’s letter, because I actually saw it very much through the lens of my own experience, which is “lives in constant state of terror that things are slipping through the cracks and I won’t know until they explode; devises systems like this to try and keep things going, but trying to maintain the system – or even remember it exists – is a huge, constant, draining effort that never gets easier; absolutely cannot deal with suddenly finding that someone else has let a ball roll off down the hill and I have to chase after it while somehow keeping all mine in the air”.

      Which I think maybe changes the answer a little, since it means instead of the question being “I’m good at this and it’s easy for me, why can’t other people do it?” it becomes “this is so hard for me, why can’t people make a bit more effort not to make things harder?” Or maybe it doesn’t change it at all, since fundamentally I think you do still have to do the same thing: accept the balls being dropped, let go of the frustration, manage your own juggling experience and your own expectations.

      1. Ball Pit Worker*

        OP here–both Brightwanderer and name goes here are correct. I do like being organized! I am good at it! But I feel responsible for the success of the things I work on, and I don’t trust my peers to do their parts, so I feel a lot of pressure to keep things going.

        My job is supposed to take a significant degree of organizational skill–managing expenses, doing data analysis, etc. And I like that part of my job! Spreadsheets bring me joy, as do nifty nested folders. But the flip side to Hanlon’s razor is something like “Any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice.” Incompetence and malice are both words that I would probably not use here–they’re both too strong for this scenario (I know I said incompetent in my letter, but I was pretty upset when I wrote it), but I do think this is in line with Brightwanderer’s point. Feeling pressure from both sides–my bosses to keep things going, the people I need information from in order to do so–is exhausting and demoralizing. I would happily take a “I’m busy this week, can you follow up next week?”. But that’s not what’s happening here. And at a certain point, it doesn’t really matter that everyone else is busy or sees my email and thinks “I don’t want to deal with this, I’m just going to leave it for tomorrow” (and tomorrow never comes)—regardless, it creates more work for me and more opportunities for things to fall through the cracks and for my bosses to come back saying, “why didn’t this happen?”.

        1. Ball Pit Worker*

          Page reloaded before I could finish… Anyway, all this to say, at a certain point it doesn’t matter why people are dropping the ball, all I know is that I’m experiencing a lot of stress and anxiety because they do, and it wouldn’t actually take that much work on their end (a simple, “Could you follow up next week” would help, instead of just leaving me hanging) to change that.

          1. Ginger Baker*

            As someone who works with one person currently who SUPER appreciates me, and one who doesn’t seem to know what the words “thank you” even mean (both of whom require significant amounts of chasing/reminders, only one of whom says “thanks so much for chasing me on this” etc.)…I totally understand if all the work you do not getting acknowledged feels demoralizing. It sucks and is so frustrating (whereas the one who appreciates me, I would walk over coals for…).

            Some unsolicited email framing advice you can feel free to ignore if you’re not interested [or, already do this :-)] follows:
            I did want to say, re “leaving me hanging”, you might want to check that your subject lines are SUPER clear (mine have been a range from “Can I submit the XYZ request or do you need to review?” and “6pm flight or 8pm flight?” to “Are you dead in a ditch? Katrina urgently waiting for your reply” and “BUELLER?!?! Waiting for these accruals!!”, to give only a few examples – yours might be “Are you still getting me the Llama Report by 2pm?”); if something is truly urgent I will add a Read Receipt, and then either send a second email shortly later, or often, pick up the phone and call.

            I mention only because I am absolutely known for my ability to get responses, especially from the main person I support (whose inbox is hundreds of emails a day, it’s terrifying, and most people know to cc me if they want a response) but also from people I have no real relationship with, and the subject lines + phone calls if needed are the main reason why. I always work to ensure that what I am asking is immediately obvious and that that is so even while skimming through pages of unread emails. (Mind, that doesn’t mean I don’t still chase people MULTIPLE times before getting a reply! Just, it does cut down for sure.)

    2. currently overwhelmed by process*

      I agree. I was confused about whether OP actually needed to track all of that, and if they don’t feel empowered to act or address concerning things, the value of the energy spent tracking seems… minimal, and just another stressor. It can be hard to start to ask people for things that you need or expect (especially when you anticipate it’s going to impact your workload or create an unreasonable deadline), but it’s an important thing to do.

      I also want to add that sometimes extremely organized people have such detailed organization systems that maybe they spend more time organizing for organizing’s sake than might be worthwhile. (For example: people can be so passionate about zero inbox, and filing emails, but often the way we really find them is by searching… and the energy that is spent, the time spent getting to zero might not really be worth it… in my opinion). For me, it’s important to find a compromise between organization and productivity, and sometimes things that seem like a good idea for organization don’t end up being how we actually work, and create extra steps that act mostly as the appearance of organization or are not ever followed, but never removed.

  24. DW*

    We have this happen a lot. The tasks I work on are short turnaround and any hold up will get a task put “on hold” in our task-tracking system (clients have their own as well with the same rules). Roughly once a month we’ll email the client for an on-hold job to follow up – sometimes they say “nope, nothing new” and sometimes they say “oh yeah we actually got that thing in that you needed [and I forgot to send it to you], here you go”. It’s annoying to have to constantly bug them but the higher-ups at the client companies won’t care that the hold up was on their end – we get sent the info at X+2.5 weeks and all they’ll see is “we got this info on X day but you didn’t send us the work for 3 more weeks!”

  25. Emailer*

    This post sounds like the mentality of a colleague who is driving me bananas because I have a heavier workload and they won’t learn how to help me with projects but will hound me about minute details that don’t affect the project outcome in any measurable way.
    questions for OP –
    -do you ask colleagues what their priorities are? do people skip non-urgent meetings because they have more pressing priorities, or are they twiddling their thumbs until you reach out on the issue?
    -who is defining “urgent” and setting priorities here? do these balls dropped mean company goals are being missed, or are you most concerned with marking off that a task is complete?

  26. bee*

    From a forgetter’s perspective: a thing I really value and have tried to work on in my own communication is a cheerful, non-blamey reminder email. I am SO much more likely to respond to a reminder with the vibe of “hey you are a human, I am a human, this thing got missed but can we circle back around to it?” while a “you forgot this AT me and now it’s a mess that is all your fault” is likely to make me want to hide in a hole forever, and it will take me a Lot of mental energy to reply, thus further delaying whatever the thing was.

    This isn’t to say that you can’t address patterns with particularly egregious offenders, or be privately frustrated, but just that I think a little grace tends to go a long way in situations like this.

    1. Amy*

      Same, absolutely. I really try my best for everything that I know is important to other people’s job functions and try to be a ball returner rather than dropper, but sometimes I do need a couple of reminders to get things done, and I appreciate the friendly ones very much.

    2. Squid*

      I always try to assume good intent with stuff like that, but I’ll admit that sometimes I let my frustration get the better of me in my communications. I’m getting better at it, though! It’s the former Executive Assistant in me…

  27. Archangelsgirl*

    I miss paper. The bring forward file method was the easiest way to make sure everything got done. I don’t know how you would do it electronically though. Probably with electronic calendars.

    1. Nea*

      My brain insists on paper, so I use a word table I use to track electronic deliverables. Column 1 is a link to the document, column 2 is what I have to do about it, and columns 3+ are color-coded tracks for “hold” “working” “waiting” “approved.”

  28. Ann Onymous*

    I sympathize with you, letter writer. One of the most frustrating pieces of feedback I’ve ever received at work is, “Ann Onymous should not expect others to be as responsive as she is.” I like to keep myself very organized at work, and I tend to feel like I’m not up to the mark if somebody has to remind me about a task more than once. It’s taken me some time (and frustration) to realize that a lot of people just aren’t wired that way. But I’m now actually in a role where I get to be the organized person on my team who helps others prioritize and stay on track, and it’s really fulfilling to get to use that strength in a way that helps my team succeed.

    One way I’ve gotten over my frustration with some of my more disorganized colleagues is to remind myself that everybody has different strengths, and organization just isn’t one of theirs. For example, Karl always needs multiple reminders about deadlines, but he’s really good at troubleshooting problems with test equipment. I still have to send him multiple reminders, but I find I don’t feel as frustrated by it if I remember the other strengths he brings to the table.

    1. Squid*

      Oof, that feedback would send me into a mild internal rage, unfortunately and perhaps wrongly. I try to be super responsive to folks, even if only to say “I haven’t gotten to X yet,” “I am waiting on Y,” or “I’ll get back to you by Z.” To me, it’s a sign of respect – for the other person’s time, workload, and priorities. And in return, I expect respect in the same form.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Ha, I got told that early in my career too, and was super annoyed about it. Honestly, it turned out to be true — it was kind of what I talked about at the end of the post, that I was valuing it over all else and it was leading to me not putting appropriate value on other types of contributions from people. (The key, of course, is to be able to recognize when someone being less responsive/organized than I’d like goes from “not ideal but acceptable” to “a legit problem that needs to be addressed.”)

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        (And if it helps others, I will say that something that helped me come to look at it differently was getting a deeper understanding about all the things those less responsive people are good at that I couldn’t do with the same skill.)

      2. Spearmint*

        I think this is more obvious when we analogize this to other areas of expertise. Imagine an IT person who looked down on her coworkers for not understanding Windows as well as her, and considered high levels of IT knowledge to be necessary for her to see people as competent at their jobs. After all, pretty much everyone in the white collar world needs to use computers these days to some extent. Yet it’s clear that she would be unreasonable in feeling that way and her colleagues would justifiably find her annoying!

    3. Omnivalent*

      It’s much easier not to be “wired that way” when the consequences of dropping balls falls on somebody else.

      I am not a naturally organized person, but I have to act like one, because I am in a male-dominated field where being sloppy and dumping work on others is something only senior male managers and their proteges get to do.

  29. Work From Homer Simpson*

    A former coworker used to call this “keeping the plates spinning.” As in those spinning plates balanced on top of poles. As a project manager, you have a few plates (tasks) you’re directly responsible for spinning (executing) but often a big part of your workload is assigning spinning plates to others and then making sure they keep them spinning on your behalf. Even with a team of plate spinners, there are only going to be so many you can keep going. Then you need to know which plates are your expensive fine china that can’t be allowed to fall and which are paper plates that can be dropped and picked back up later with minimal consequence. There are also some plates that are well-balanced and can spin longer on their own while relatively unattended and some that wobble and will fall off if you look away for a few moments. These are all things you need to evaluate on your project and with your team members so you know when and how to follow up. It isn’t one size fits all to keep the plates all spinning. It’s an interesting metaphor that has really stuck with me through the years.

    1. Ball Pit Worker*

      I love the plates spinning metaphor. The problem I’m seeing is because I am not a manager–I’m just a competent, part-time, temporary staff person, and yet my bosses decided to give me all the “nice to have” tasks they’ve been sitting on for years. So it feels like I am sometimes at the whim of other people’s feelings about plates and whether they should spin on the one hand, and my boss’s desire to see the plates spin as fast and high as possible on the other.

      1. Christina*

        This is probably a huge part of your issue. Depending on the jobs and the organization, its very possible that the coworkers you are asking to do things for you are like the people here who don’t and can’t do everything asked of them. They already have full time – often full time plus – jobs that their management prioritizes – metrics that they have to make, goals set at the beginning of the year they need to achieve. The tasks given to them by a part time temporary worker who is being asked to take care of some years old nice to have projects are not hitting the top – or even the middle – of their to do lists. And yes, it would be nice if they would just say “that isn’t going to happen” but a lot of offices aren’t clear on that – not delivering is better (and often easier) to saying no to that type of work. So be sure you are being clear on your ask….”I need this data by Thursday at 2:00, would you be able to pull it for me by then?” You still might not get it – or an answer. But you will have tried to throw that ball clearly for them to catch – with a return date.

        I’ve project managed things that I’m assured by senior management are “top priority” and discovered that when dealing with people who have their own jobs to do and are already overloaded, it takes a LOT of persistence. Even going to their management often ends up with “yeah, that might be Jim’s priority, but it isn’t one of ours here.” I’ve been assigned ten hours of people’s time per week to discover that the reality is that I get two if I’m lucky. In which case you go back to your stakeholders and let them know you have resource issues.

        But don’t take the anxiety on yourself. That way lies madness. Just go back to your boss with “I’m not getting any responses from Beth.” Or “I’m not going to have that done by Friday because I just got the data from Brian this morning.” These projects have been sitting in the “nice to have” pile for years – no one is going to die and the business is not going to go under if they don’t get done. If its important to your boss that it gets done, they will use their political capital to make sure that you get responses.

  30. Helvetica*

    I really hoped this would be about beginners’ class at juggling school.

    But I can let you know that even someone who’s very organised will sometimes need to let some balls drop as it is just not feasible to manage everything and prioritise everything the same way other people would like to. So as a person who is extremely conscientious and responsible, I have only one piece of very easy and very hard advice – some things you just have to let go.

  31. Spearmint*

    “And frankly, most of us who use systems like this like them. I know I get a weird satisfaction from keeping everything so neat and contained in my “waiting for” folder; sometimes I feel like Gollum rubbing my hands together over my files and muttering “my precious.” But not everyone has that same pull to it, which means the barrier is higher for them to do it religiously, whereas it might be quite simple and natural for you.”

    Yes, this! As a disorganized person, it’s not that I don’t want to be organized, or that I haven’t put effort into becoming more so, but it’s simply not easy for me to consistently hold to an organization system. Adhering to a formal organization system is very stressful and burdensome for me. I’ve tried setting up formal organization systems, but I simply don’t have the mental energy to maintain them AND get my work done once I get busy (or when I’m feeling down about things in my personal life, or I didn’t get much sleep the previous night, etc.). In theory, being organized should help me, but in practice I’ve not found a way to keep it up. And these systems are basically useless if you only follow them 50% of the time.

    So LW, I’d try to think about work tasks that you don’t like and don’t come naturally to you. Things that are frustrating and require a lot of mental effort to get done. You probably avoid these, or only do them as much as necessary for you job, right? It’s the same with staying organized.

    1. Ravine*

      Completely agree with this!

      I’ll also say that the same person can be organized in one area and disorganized in others. My inboxes are a mess. My grocery list? Pristine. My physical space is not particularly untidy, but my notebook is — for some people, it’s the reverse, with desk buried under stacks of paper but very neat meeting notes.

      1. Katara's side braids*

        This is so true, and so interesting! In the past people have been surprised when they finally saw my dorm room/apartment/work desk because they are messy, but my communication is always clear and organized. The biggest “mismatch” people have trouble with is my handwriting vs. my working space. I have very neat handwriting that I have been told could be a font, which people really wouldn’t expect after living/working with me.

        I don’t know if I’m the only one, but the reason my handwriting is so “perfect” is because growing up, it was the ONE thing I could control well enough to fit the cultural expectations placed on young girls (neat, tidy, organized, “clean”). Since I’m left handed, it actually takes a lot of effort (and pain) for my handwriting to look the way it does – I’ve developed carpal tunnel syndrome from the unnatural way I have to hold my pen. But even now (almost 30) I CLING to my beautiful note-taking as my one organizational “victory.”

  32. Cat Tree*

    I think it might help you to feel less frustrated if you frame it differently in your mind. You are developing an extremely valuable skill in organization. This will serve you well in your career! In this particular job it does sound excessive compared to other places, but not necessarily enough to immediately search for a different job (unless you want to – you can leave a job for any reason or no reason). But you won’t be in this job forever so it’s something to ask about in interviews as your career naturally progresses.

    But sell yourself with this system you have developed. Organization is a hugely important “soft skill” which clearly is not universal. Keep it up even as you move to more functional work places and you will shine. This is the kind of thing that gets you promotions in some places. Also think about where you want your career to go. Do you *want* to be a project manager? It seems like you would be great at it. It’s also an important skill if you want to become a people manager some day. You would also do well in certain industries that are especially deadline driven, and likely to find more people with your organization skills.

    But basically, when you feel annoyed about someone dropping the ball, try to re-frame it in your mind and compliment yourself for your great organization. It will still be annoying to some extent, but not as much when you can frame it as something positive.

  33. Sparkles McFadden*

    I didn’t love people dropping balls, but some disorganized people had skills that more than made up for that. Plus, I think my organizational skills kept me employed for a long time. Would I have been quite so valuable if everyone else was on top of things? At least that’s the question I would ask myself when I was exasperated by someone’s inability to keep track of the simplest things.

    I definitely had a “waiting for” folder and I also made use of spreadsheets, lists and calendar alerts. I also had large white boards to have a team project list and status lists with pending items. My direct reports would check and update the board, and so did other groups who worked on some projects with us. They all appreciated it made collaboration easier. I have fond memories of people coming by to visit my candy dish, and then looking up at my white board to see an item (written in red) with their name under “waiting for.” That was usually followed by some exasperated swearing…and then I’d usually get what we were waiting for.

  34. I Faught the Law*

    Something about this letter sends up all kinds of red flags for me. The idea that “everyone” else but the OP is dropping balls, the use of the word “gaslit,” the characterization of co-workers as “incompetent,” the OP’s color-coded hyperorganization…

    I imagine the OP as a person who is in a management position and is overloading their supervisees with tasks both big and small, including the responsibility to specifically schedule a meeting to follow up with them (instead of them following up, or just setting an agreed-upon follow up time during the initial meeting), and then getting upset because “everyone” is “dropping balls.” This is happening at my job right now, as a new-ish manager has set up a ton of new committees to address non-urgent projects that have literally been sitting untouched for years. Suddenly everything is urgent, everyone is overwhelmed, and nothing is getting done on time, if at all. And I speak as some who is myself a bit hyperorganized, and who has definitely been on the other side of things (feeling a co-worker had no follow-through.)

    Depending on OP’s relationship with the ball droppers, I’d recommend some introspection to see if the situation might be something like this.

    1. Ball Pit Worker*

      It’s just the opposite actually–I’m the most junior person on almost every meeting I’m in, but I have this attachment to getting things done. So if my boss drops balls, I feel compelled to pick them up because otherwise there will be organization-wide consequences. And if my boss gives me stuff to do, I want to do it and do a good job, even if that means reminding others of their parts to play.

      It’s a lot of managing from below, which I am finding exhausting and stressful.

      1. Ball Pit Worker*

        Thinking about this more–my boss is actually on an extended leave right now, and instead of that being more work for me, it is less! I can do what I need to do and feel empowered to take action instead of running things through someone else.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          Maybe that’s a conversation to have with your boss when they get back re: giving you more autonomy.

      2. Michael*

        So the second bit is managing up which sounds like is actually part of your job. The first (picking up balls because no one else does) isn’t, I’m assuming, especially since you said elsewhere that you are temporary and parttime. So if it’s exhausting and stressful, stop doing it. Remind people once if you want to, have a separate color/spreadsheet tab for “projects that aren’t mine with a ball I handed to someone else” if that makes you feel better, and let it go. I don’t want to say your stress if self inflicted, but honestly it sounds a little bit like that! And I get it, but I would really ask myself whether this way of working is getting me anything I actually need or want, or whether I’m clinging to being The Competent and Organized Person on the Team for unhealthy reasons (whether deeprooted or not). If it’s the latter, find ways to deal that aren’t overworking yourself. Signed, someone who really worked hard at learning to not sacrifice myself for the greater good when no one was actually asking me to.

  35. Alexis Rose*

    I’m a Very Organized Person (TM). I also have an email folder and colour coding system, as well as a complementary sticky note system, accompanied by a notebook system.

    Despite this, I am CONSTANTLY overloaded with tasks (not enough resources to get the work done, but we are government so programs still need to be implemented). I try as hard as I can to stay on top of stuff, but sometimes I really just need to rely on other people to manage their own priorities. I regularly check in with my team to ask “are you waiting on me for anything?” and if they say yes, I make an effort to go and handle it. I also ask them to “poke me” if something is sitting for too long and is causing an issue on their end. Sometimes I’m able to go and handle it quickly, other times I’m able to go back and tell them I need more time or I need to wait for item x to come in before I can advise them on question y. etc.

    TlDr: communication is what makes the world go round.

  36. Curmudgeon in California*

    I can be a ball dropper. Why? Lots of reasons that I won’t go into.

    I have literally told people that “if it isn’t written down it doesn’t exist” and “give me a priority level or it will get relegated to the back burner”. If it’s a priority for you, but not even in my regular job duties, I won’t automatically prioritize it. After all, I am held responsible for my own duties first. If it is in my wheelhouse, you may have to make sure it is in writing and stays in my priority stack. I have serious stack failure when I get overloaded, so I do need others to help me keep stuff on my radar. It’s not something I like having happen, but my malfunctioning brain doesn’t give me a choice, and there’s only so much I can do to try to mitigate it. It happens often enough that I have to tell people about it, and it’s embarrassing.

    I’ve been in the situation where I’m responsible, as in on my review goals, for stuff that 100% depends on other people, but they don’t have it in their review goals. This was in a dog-eat-dog “your failure means I might succeed” environment. It sucks, because only what is measured gets done in that kind of environment. Guess what? I got screwed.

    If people are dropping work that you need to have done in order to do your own, you are in an unfortunate place. Your and their management needs to make those collaborative things their responsibility too, or else they will keep getting dropped. Anything less and you are literally being set up to fail. Yes, you will still probably need to remind people to do their part, because they might have brain farts like I do, but you need management backing to put teeth into it.

  37. Bye Academia*

    Another thing to think about is that a LOT of people are just so. burnt. out. right now. I and my coworkers are dropping balls left and right that we never used to drop before. On a certain level, it seems unrealistic that we are holding ourselves and others to the same standards as 2019 when we’ve all been living through a pandemic for two years.

    Not to say that it’s not frustrating (I am sometimes frustrated with myself for not being able to stay as organized as I used to be!). But at least for me, it helps if I get a little perspective when it happens and give myself and others grace.

  38. LaBelleFleur*

    I used to be that ultra-organized person. I would pride myself on how quickly I could get back to people, how few e-mails I could have lingering in my inbox at any given time (all colour-coded by follow-up requirements, of course), or how much square footage of my desk was clear of paper. I’d get frustrated when people wouldn’t get back to me and things would have to sit around on my desk waiting for an answer.

    Then, the pandemic happened, my workload went through the roof, and a member of our team went off on an extended leave. Suddenly, I was dropping balls all over the place, and two years into the pandemic, we’re still struggling. I’ve been forced to focus on only the most important tasks and let everything else slip, which as a perfectionist feels like failure. I feel like I’m now that person I was frustrated with before, and it’s taken some work to try and untwist that feeling from my own sense of self.

    All that to say, I sympathize with you OP, and I think Allison’s advice is spot-on.

  39. The Ginger Ginger*

    I have to be a strategic ball dropper at times. There is literally too much for me (or my team) to humanly manage to complete, especially if leadership tosses in a wrench in the form of a new urgent priority. So I have to decide which of my balls are glass and which are rubber. If I can drop it, and it will bounce, it’s getting dropped while I juggle all my glass balls.

    So when I know I’m dropping balls, I evaluate, will it break or will it bounce? Then I tell folks waiting on those bouncing balls they’re going to have to keep waiting a bit.

  40. CaptainMouse*

    OP: You can always take action. For the blue and pink items that action is checking-in/reminding the boss or colleague. So you need a way to add reminding to your action list with a date attached. Sometimes this reminding will clarify differences in how you and your boss or peer understand the task.

  41. The Other Dawn*

    The fact that someone didn’t set up a meeting for something LW said months ago was non-urgent doesn’t seem unusual or like the person dropped the ball, really. If LW wanted a meeting, why didn’t they set a reminder to follow up with that person in X amount of time? That’s pretty much what the bulk of work is: you’re following up on someone or something, or they’re following up on you.

  42. CommentingTodayHereNow*

    Just curious because this is something I’m dealing with at the moment, Allison mentioned that being the ultra organized person can help with your career, but I’m actually finding the opposite. I’m a woman in a male dominated field, and I’m basically always the only organized person on the team, constantly scheduling/reminding/pestering/prodding my male colleagues and bosses to remember and do things that I need. This does align with my strengths, and they do have other strengths, all is true, BUT I’m trying to get a promotion right now and I keep hearing “we know you’re a doer, but are you a thinker? are you strategic?” My male colleagues who just throw out ideas in meetings and either a) never get them done or b) make someone else do it somehow, are considered “strategic”. I have piles of examples of programs I’ve come up with on my own, developed, and implemented, but since I actually DO the implementation portion, I find people are caught up in that and think that’s all I’m good at. Has any one else experienced this? Does anyone have any ideas?

    1. Calibri Hater*

      Word. Only female in my building and while I adore my male coworkers, I am constantly having to poke and prod at them so they will do their part.

    2. As per Elaine*

      YES. (And kiki has a similar comment up-thread.)

      How are you presenting your answers to the “Are you strategic?” question — do you have that list of examples to hand to provide? “Actually, I designed the new llama stable in addition to implementing it, and handled all the vendor research, and…”

      Though I’ll be honest, the best solution I found to a similar version of the same problem was a new job that tracks organizational work as well, so people see the organizational work I’m doing.

  43. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

    Ergh, this is not at all what the term “gaslighting” (of old movie fame) means or is about. Can we finally drop this jargon-y word that so many people use incorrectly and also all the freaking time?

    OP, your workplace may be inefficient or error prone. No one is trying to have you committed to an insane asylum to hide a murder (or office errors).

    1. Ravine*

      Yes! Everybody please stop labelling every difference of opinion as gaslighting, please. It’s needlessly hyperbolic and it dilutes the real meaning of the word, which is actually quite specific and serious.

      You know it’s bad when the Wikipedia page for a term has a section about how often it’s misused…

  44. New to the Office*

    Oh, man, I could’ve written this letter a few months ago. I started a fulltime office job a year ago, after a career in direct service – restaurants, teaching, other physical labor. In those jobs, you just…can’t drop the ball. All the balls are glass. You forget someone’s order? You get yelled at and no tip. You forget to show up for a meeting with a parent? Well, I never saw that, so I don’t know what would happen – it was just NEVER an option. Or, forget to record an email, or test scores? You lose your grant funding, or, worse yet, your school gets sued. (And, of course, not all folks who do these jobs are perfect at follow through at all times.)

    It has been driving me bonkers to work in an office where I feel like half my time is spent sending reminder emails to people to do the thing they said they’d do. But I’m learning that this is just part of office culture (I’m also obsessively reading this blog), and I’m learning to prioritize what to expend my “this is urgent it needs to get done” energy on. But seriously, for those who can’t stand the ball-dropping, I recommend getting out of office work and into direct service work.

  45. Too Old for Mom Jeans*

    (Reposting due to what seemed like a nesting fail!)
    Hey, Ball Pit Worker. So, I want to give some perspective from the personal side of things. As a mid-career, full time busy professional with a few kids at home to manage too. . . I’m actually wondering if the fact that, as you mentioned, you’re most junior and part time, is possibly coloring your perspective on things.
    If you’re newer, and more junior, then. . .the somewhat stark reality is that they were living without your contributions until fairly recently. And no one died. (Hopefully!)
    As much as you enjoy your work, and I’m glad you do- I wonder if it would help it to just reframe your job as less critical or urgent. I mean, maybe I have it wrong. Maybe your job is the most crucial job in the world. Maybe it is in fact life or death. I don’t know. But the reality is that statistically, I’m guessing it’s probably not. And I’m guessing the other people around you are probably not as perturbed by these dropped balls as you are. So maybe, consider letting the person/people whose bottom line they really affect, be the one to bear the brunt of the emotional burden. Not you! I love nothing more than an enthusiastic young employee. But, as someone who tends to attract and hire lots of ‘Type A’ folks. . . Sometimes there can be a little hubris in a young Type A employee overstating their work’s importance in their own mind. Ultimately, I hope this perspective can help you and doesn’t feel belittling. Just saying, there are many, many balls in life that end up not being that big of a deal at all. And as you progress in your career. . if you go full-time, or if you end up raising a few kids and being full-time and being in management and literally not having enough hours in the day… you might or might not develop a different perspective on some of those balls.
    And for this season now, it might be helpful just to really try to mentally step for a moment into the shoes of some others you’re working with. Maybe chat w some folks to try to get a sense of what their priorities are and what’s on their plate. That may help with the empathy some.(for some of your colleagues, whereas I’m sure on the flip side you’ll probably discover that there may be others who are just plain disorganized. Those do exist too!) That being said, it sounds like your organizational skills are going to serve you well in life. I wish you the best!!

  46. Retired (but not really)*

    When you are in a small organization many times everyone (or at least most everyone) is trying to cover more territory than can possibly be done in the allotted time. Sometimes the allotted time is just too short. Other times priorities have changed and somebody didn’t get alerted to that having happened. And sometimes someone thought the communication happened and lo and behold it was only vocal and wasn’t remembered by the recipient as having occurred. And sometimes the person who was supposed to do it ran out of umph before they finished and it therefore took longer than expected. And sometimes all of the above happen at once!
    Kudos to you for being the one who diligently tries to keep everyone else on schedule. Your organizational skills are amazing. I truly hope your coworkers understand how valuable your contribution to making everything flow properly really is. And occasional nagging may well be necessary!

  47. ExpatReader*

    I’d like to note, as a super organised person who has become less so in recent months: keeping things organised takes time. My workload (both at work and in life in general) is such that I don’t have the time to devote to it every single day, and I can’t work overtime to ‘make’ the time any more due to my family responsibilities. Processes can help, but I work in a startup environment where internal processes are variable, and the mechanism for assigning work is unclear and shifts often. I am generally highly productive and respected in my org, but I’ve just come to accept that this is a feature of my current work life and will ease with time, and there’s no use internally berating myself for the things I occasionally miss because my manager gave an unclear instruction in a meeting or a doc had to get moved forward before I had time to do one final check of it.

  48. Andy Bernard*

    Ball droppings can be beautiful. For example, when it turns a soprano into a rich, full tenor.

  49. Remembrall*

    Just want to say reading this reminded me of something I forgot to do in work, for the second time. Thanks for the letter!

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