my employee meets deadlines … but is much slower than the rest of us

A reader writes:

I started managing my first direct report a year ago, let’s call her Sondra, and am pleased to say that thanks to my devoted reading of your blog, Sondra recently shared with boss that I did not seem like a first-time manager.

There is one issue that I have been wrestling with in my management of Sondra, which is what good time management looks like at our department.

Most of the people in my department are very responsive to colleagues’ requests and will turn things around very quickly for coworkers without being asked. Sondra is not like that, in that if someone requests her work on a project and gives no timeline, she may take several days or even a week or two to complete it, and when she is given a deadline, she tends to complete work by that deadline rather than significantly before. My boss has been bringing me complaints from colleagues about this and voicing a concern that Sondra is not working her assigned hours if she is not turning things around more quickly.

I have spoken to Sondra directly and learned that she prefers to spend time letting things percolate and working through projects at a steady pace over a few days as much as is possible. I have asked her to proactively ask colleagues for deadlines and let them know what her proposed timeline for completing work is, but my response has largely been to push back on the idea that she is not working hard enough if she takes 100% of the time that is given to her to complete something. Today I found myself telling my boss, “If the deadline is actually sooner than we are telling Sondra, we should be the ones adjusting our communication.”

My take on this is that Sondra’s work style is a bit different than most folks in our department, but that is something we can recognize and accommodate. However, I am wondering if I should be more direct with Sondra that our team culture does not generally allow for the slow and steady pace she prefers, and push more for change from her?

I wrote back and asked, “Is Sondra prioritizing less time-sensitive work (like projects that genuinely could be done a month from now) over things that people would clearly prefer to get in the next couple of days? I’m trying to figure out if she simply can’t work at the pace expected, or if she’s picking things up in the wrong order.”

My understanding is not that she is prioritizing other work over these requests in the sense that she is waiting to start on them until other things are done, but rather that she might not jump right into working on them and wrap them up quickly because she does not feel confident/comfortable working that way. She will read the request, think about it, maybe do some other fairly time-sensitive work, then maybe reference some relevant materials to prepare to work on the request, then maybe do some other time-sensitive work again, then work on the request, and finally perhaps take another break doing other work so that she can review her work with fresh eyes before sharing it.

I know that how myself and my boss handle situations like this are to just speed up and/or work a little late to keep things moving quickly, but I think not everyone feels they can do their best work that way. Our team now is larger than it has ever been; we hired Sondra so we would have more bandwidth and have to hustle less, but because the rest of us still operate in that hustle mindset, I am being told it is not fair for Sondra to “carry less of the load.”

Well, if you actually need Sondra to turn things around more quickly, you need to tell her that — and the deadlines she’s given need to reflect that.

Penalizing someone (even if only in your head) for getting something done by the deadline but not before isn’t fair. People should be able to trust that the deadlines they’re given are the real deadlines.

That said, there are situations that are more “the absolute latest you could get this to me is February 15, but it would really help to get it earlier if you can.” It sounds like that might be your team culture, and that’s why Sondra’s work pace is clashing with people’s expectations.

If that’s the situation, the solution is to have a very explicit conversation with Sondra about those expectations — spelling out that in your team’s context, most deadlines are “this is the latest possible, but sooner would be better.” Talk through some recent projects and how quickly you’d normally expect to see her turn each of them around. Make sure there’s space in that conversation for her to tell you if she can’t work that way, or worries about the quality of work she’d produce that way. In fact, if she doesn’t raise those concerns on her own, you should explicitly ask if she’s comfortable doing that or if she foresees any issues with it.

But the other piece of this probably needs to be a culture shift from the people who assign your team work. If they’re used to being able to give February 15 as a deadline while counting on being likely to get it back days before that, then they need to change the way they’re communicating those timelines. I can imagine being in their shoes and thinking, “Well, I don’t want to give a deadline of Febraury 9, because if something came up that was legitimately more important, I’d be fine with this being pushed back to the 15th … and I wouldn’t want anyone to work extra hours to make sure this gets done by the 9th … but otherwise it would really help to get it by the 9th. So can’t I just say the 15th with the understanding that they’ll push to get it done sooner?” And frankly, that approach has worked for your team up until now! But it’s not working for Sondra. So it might help for people to give two deadlines for a while — a preferred deadline and an absolute deadline. For example: “I’d really like it by February 9 if you can, but Feburary 15 is the absolute drop-dead deadline.” After all, those are the expectations they have in their head; it’s to everyone’s benefit to get them out into the open so they’re not secret.

It’s also worth pointing out to your boss that as your team grows, the more you can do to explicitly spell out expectations, the more successful the team will be. When a team is small, sometimes you can get away with having a sort of unspoken “playbook,” where you all happen to understand “this is how we do things here” without anyone spelling it out. But as you add people, they’re going to have a greater variety of working styles and frames of reference. So as you grow, you need to be really deliberate about figuring out all the stuff you have in your head about how you want people to operate, and then examine which are those are preferences versus must-do’s (because some of them will be important to keep, but maybe not all of them) and make those things explicit for people, so that everyone is armed with the same playbook about how to succeed in your culture.

{ 467 comments… read them below }

  1. Dust Bunny*

    I do tend to jump on new tasks but if I’m told the deadline is Day X and then find out you secretly wanted it by Day X-3 and now think less of me because of it, I’m gonna be pretty mad. Just tell me when you actually want it rather than blaming me for not reading your mind.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Also make sure you’re clear about what you expect her to prioritize. I often have multiple projects going on at once so if you don’t tell me you wanted this new one sooner, how am I to know that you want it to jump the line?

      1. Miette*

        Also, I have to say that if the way Sondra is doing this–i.e. picking up bits of it in between other time-sensitive work, taking time to think through the process/her approach to it– is working for her, why criticize it? If I had an employee drop everything for whatever the newest thing is in order to focus solely on that rather than on the time-sensitive stuff, I’d be more concerned. Perhaps OP and their boss need to rethink priorities, and not Sondra.

    2. LCH*

      yeah, it sounds like OP is on the right track with this: “Today I found myself telling my boss, “If the deadline is actually sooner than we are telling Sondra, we should be the ones adjusting our communication.”” because secret deadlines are silly.

      1. Kel*


        If you’re giving me a deadline, I assume that’s the deadline??? If you’re actually setting a secret deadline that only you know, how am I meant to meet that?

        1. AngryOctopus*

          Yes!! If you tell me that you need the data by Date X, and on date X-2 you’re asking me for the data and why don’t I have it yet, and you really need it because your deadline is on X–I’m going to be mad! I can’t read your mind! I don’t know what you want it by X-2. Just TELL ME. Then we can adjust!

          1. NotJane*

            Yes! Early in our marriage my husband would tell me that we needed to leave the house by a certain time (because he’s super punctual and hates to be late) and I would plan accordingly. Then he’d ask me 15 minutes before that time if I was ready to go and obviously no, I wasn’t! Ugh, if you really want to leave at 7:45, don’t tell me we’re leaving at 8:00.

            1. Hannah Lee*

              One of my sisters has a habit of making plans to meet at a specific time, but then shows up 15-30 minutes early. Or instead of meeting where we said we’d meet, she’ll come to my house to get me instead, again earlier than our planned meeting time.

              So the last (random amount of time … it’s unpredictible) I’d had to get ready has gone out the window or do whatever I planned to do beforehand PLUS she’s impatient with me that we can’t just go already. Invariably I wind up forgetting something or just being cranky because I’m feeling rushed. Like, if you want to plan to meet or leave earlier, USE YOUR WORDS instead of unilaterally changing the start time at the last minute. (and yeah, I’m choosing to not just be ready 30 minutes early all the time, just in case, because WHY? and because the few times I did try to anticipate her popping up early were of course the times she wound up actually being late so I wound up sitting there doing nothing.

              1. Michelle*

                My husband likes to pull the old, “Actually, I need to make a stop on the way, so let’s leave 15 minutes earlier,” said 20 minutes before we planned to leave.

                1. Reluctant Mezzo*

                  Ah, my husband would ask me what I wanted to do, and then say, ‘no we’re doing something else instead.’ Then why did he ask me? It became frustrating trying to read his mind ‘what did he want me to want?’ Just talk to Sondra about what you want.

            1. Jellyfish Catcher*

              “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” Cool Hand Luke

              Some things are eternal.

            1. NameRequired*

              My son is a gov employee and always has use or lose leave at the end of the year, so one of his holiday traditions is to watch his entire boxed set of The West Wing start to finish over a ~7-10 day binge period. He can quote every dang episode I think. And Allison Janney can do absolutely no wrong in my book.

        2. Adds*

          Secret deadlines remind me of when I was reprimanded at PreviousJob for not having mastered a skill by a point in time when the person reprimanding me thought I should have mastered it. Except I was not even told that I needed to work on this particular thing much less have it mastered nor was I ever given a deadline for having it done, seeing as this was the very first time I was hearing about it at all.

          You can’t be mad at people for not meeting expectations they don’t know about. Because secret expectations are also silly.

          1. sparkle emoji*

            “Secret expectations are silly/unhelpful/counterproductive” sums up the answer to at least 40% of letters! (including another one today about wanting a remote employee to schedule a meeting but not telling them that)

            1. Charlotte Lucas*

              On top of that, I wonder what kinds of projects Sondra is working on. I work in communications, and while you often find yourself hustling like the OP describes, Sondra’s style sounds like the ideal for good quality. It is very, very hard to correct some mistakes once they’ve been published.

              And, it sounds like the team is growing in order to allow everyone to work that way, they’re just not doing so.

              1. Selena81*

                I’d really encourage OP to start some kind of scrum-kanban thing, where every task is listed and it’s clear who is supposed to work on what in which timeframe
                (preferably with more people than just Sondra partaking)

                I know they can have a bad name due to some managers being like ‘you promised to fix this bug within this sprint’ (and causing rushed unfinished products to be shipped).
                But I find the process extremely helpful in understanding what is expected of me.

              2. LinuxSystemsGuy*

                “We need to hire more people so that we can plan and work in a more methodical way, instead of just reacting all the time…”

                ::Hires new person who plans and works in a more methodical way, instead of just reacting all the time::

                “What?! No! Why aren’t you just reacting all the time?! Why are you spending all this time planning?!”

      2. fidget spinner*

        and if there is a “secret deadline,” make it the later deadline! Then I’m not screwing something up by turning something in later than expected.

        1. Caramel & Cheddar*

          This! Secret deadlines are fine if the deadline you actually give people comes before, not after the secret deadline.

          1. Lauren*

            I don’t like these kinds of secret deadlines either. My husband was given a project that would normally take 2 months and was told it need it was due in 1 month. He hustled his butt and got the job done in a month, only for the project manager to be shocked and say he expected my husband to request another month to work on the project. My husband thought it was funny, but I was irritated to have had deal with an overworked husband for a month.

            1. Caramel & Cheddar*

              That sounds egregious, but I’m more thinking of deadlines like “Marketing needs this by X date” where your deadline is X date but their secret deadline is X date + 3 because they need three days to review it before it goes to the printer or whatever.

              1. Eldest Child of My Workplace*

                That’s just proper project management. My translation is the first stage of a project, and then it goes through an average of two reviews before being sent to the client. So they’ll straight up say “you have to submit the translation to checker #1 by the 13th, then review their feedback and submit the revised file to checker #2 by the 14th so we can do the final review and layout work by the 16th”. If Sondra is just being told “the 16th is when it needs to be done by”, that is mindblowingly bad organisation.

                1. myfanwy*

                  Yes, I’ve been a translator and a translation PM, and giving individual suppliers their own deadlines rather than my final deadline is a completely basic part of the process. I can’t even imagine the chaos that would ensue if I told everyone when the final deadline was and just let them loose. I feel slightly panicky just thinking about it.

              2. londonedit*

                Yeah, I *always* fudge dates when I’m giving authors things to review, and I *always* ask for them to return things to me at least a week before my actual deadline. If my deadline for typesetting is 5 March, say, I’ll tell them it’s ‘around the end of February’ and ask for their comments by the 25th. Mainly so that I then have enough time to go through everything properly before my actual deadline, but also because I know some people will push things to the absolute limit and I know sometimes things happen and people genuinely can’t hit the original date. That’s just good project management.

              3. Selena81*

                That’s not a secret deadline, that’s a regular deadline with some wiggle room (‘if you really cannot deliver we miiiiight be able to tell the next guy in the chain to work overtime, but we really would prefer not’).

                I think of a secret deadline more as ‘i want it in 10 days to start my own analysis, but actually it would also be perfectly fine to push all the deadline in the chain back a few weeks’

        2. Garblesnark*

          My org has actually messed up the secret later deadlines thing as well. I few people consistently told me a project that would absolutely no matter what take a month was due “no matter what!!!” in one week. I told them that was not possible, and that they should come up with a new deadline that was compatible with reality. They declined.

          I don’t make impossible things top priority, as a rule, due to that’s an exercise in frustration. So I just set to making a little progress on it every day and not worrying about it.

          It turned out the real deadline was a two month turnaround. Which we did just meet, but they could have skipped about four dozen furious emails and lectures about being past due if they’d just given me a realistic (real or fake) deadline at the beginning.

          And now I know they always send me fake deadlines, and until I have a reason to believe that’s changed, will not be highly prioritizing their work.

          1. Cinn*

            I had something similar at OldJob. Sales guy comes in and says they need data X by end of week to provide to a client. We check that it is as vital as he says because normally it’d take a couple of weeks, he confirms it has to be done by Fri etc. So I end up working late three days in a row to get it done on time. The next week rolls around and my boss asks what the customer said about the data and sales guy admits the meeting isn’t for another couple of weeks and doesn’t need it before then. Yeah, he didn’t get priority after that.

          2. Nina*

            I used to work in a company where it was common knowledge that whatever the VP said the deadline was would be completely out of touch and bear no resemblance to what we could actually do, so the team leads would just… ignore it… and make actual plans with the teams to get the work done in a reasonable timeframe, and quite often also forget or neglect to tell the VP what that reasonable timeframe was.

            A lot of people got unnecessarily aggravated by all this.

      3. Ama*

        Yeah when I started this letter I thought it was going to be like a miscommunication I had with my first direct report years ago, where I would say “here’s what I need you to be working on this week” (thinking she’d work like I do and work through the list throughout the week) and she heard “these are all due at 5 pm on Friday” and would not turn anything in until that exact moment.

        But saying explicitly “I need this by the 6th” and then getting mad because she doesn’t turn it in on the 3rd is ridiculous. If you need it by the 3rd, say you need it by the 3rd.

      4. Indigo a la mode*

        I actually read that line less generously – I interpreted it as OP being shocked at hearing themself suggest that the bosses should be the ones adjusting their communication, as though that course of action would be preposterous compared to the current system of secret deadlines.
        I hope you read it correctly, but just in case, I want to agree: Yes, OP, if the deadline is actually sooner than you are telling Sondra, you should be the ones adjusting your communication.
        Sondra’s system is thoughtful and organized. She isn’t doing anything wrong.

        1. LCH*

          i read it more like the OP said this to the boss in response to complaints that work was late even though it was done by the stated deadline. mainly because the sentence before it ended in “my response has largely been to push back on the idea that she is not working hard enough if she takes 100% of the time that is given to her to complete something.”

        2. Hannah Lee*

          I’ve got a system somewhat like Sondra’s, because at any moment I’ve got 20-30 ‘active’ things in progress, often things that require different skill sets, levels of concentration, etc.
          If I know something is actually urgent, I will absolutely drop everything and do it right that second if needed/possible. But if I know it’s due on the 6th, I’m likely to work on it in bits and pieces in time to have it finished by the 5th , but I’m choosing when to work on it based what other intermittent tasks are going on (is tomorrow clear on my schedule or do I have meetings off and on so I deep concentration for hours task isn’t a good idea) and also where my brain is at that day (am I in highly distractable need things I can complete in short focused bites or things I can chip away at mode? Or am I more in settle in for deep research, analysis, etc mode? Or more greenfield, figure things out conceptually, creative/out of the box/planning mode?) so that I’m not struggling, wasting time trying to do something today that would be a breeze tomorrow.

          If someone either suddenly asked for something 3 days early (and not because of unforeseen things that had just happened) or started to be grumpy or indicating the thought poorly of me for taking so long or being late on something they secretly expected to be done ahead of “the due date” THEY’d given me, I would not be pleased and would either push back or internally label them as some combination of capricious, bad planner, bad communicator, unfair, scape goat-er or purposely trying to undermine me for some reason (maybe they read bad advice to always keep people on edge) – all of which would impact how I prioritize work they need from me and my professional trust, opinion of them going forward.

          LW is right that this is a LW/boss communication of expectations issue. IF they clearly communicate deadlines to Sondra and she misses them or leaves them to be nail biters again and again, LW can address that then. But right now, it sounds like Sondra is doing what was asked of her. But LW and boss are not asking for what they want or expect.

      5. Shanderson*

        I actually do secret deadlines with an absolutely amazing performer who sucks at deadlines, but it’s the opposite of this – if I need something by Friday I’ll tell her I need it for Wednesday, and it’s generally done Thurs. (she’s aware, we joke, but the calendar item early helps)

      6. goddessoftransitory*

        This SO MUCH.

        What it comes down to is: nobody likes to feel tricked. If I’m told the deadline is X, I’m going to believe that. If it turns out the “only in Boss’s head” deadline was actually Y, I’m going to assume that at best the office is disorganized or unsure of its priorities, and at worst I’m going to be annoyed and paranoid going forward.

    3. ThatGirl*

      yes! I sometimes get tasks done early because they’re quick or easy or I am waiting on other things, but if you tell me it’s due the 15th you can’t complain when you get it ON the 15th.

    4. Beth*

      Same! It’s not fair to be penalizing someone because they did what you asked them to do instead of what you really meant but didn’t tell them.

      OP, it sounds like your team has been operating in a serious hustle mindset, and I get how that led to a culture of “do everything ASAP, deadline is the drop-dead must-be-done date but we really want it sooner.” It sounds like Sondra’s work style is more conscientious, prioritizing double-checking and cross-referencing relevant materials over turning it in at the earliest possible moment. Neither of these is inherently wrong work styles, but they are pretty opposite–they prioritize different things.

      Is your team still at a point where that level of hustle is absolutely necessary? If it is, then you need to tell Sondra that and make the expectation of “do everything ASAP, yes it might mean you miss something or make a mistake, we can handle and fix that, speed is more important” clear. If not, though, I think you should be talking to the rest of your team about adjusting the overall culture. Taking time to double check things, when there are still several days before the deadline and you have no reason to rush, is something I’d see as a strength in most workplaces. If your team is used to moving so quickly that there’s not time for that, and your workload no longer demands that they move so quickly, maybe they can learn a lesson from Sondra.

        1. Bitte Meddler*


          “The boss said I gotta have this done by the 15th. Today is the 6th, so *obviously* I’ll be working 16-hour days between now and Friday to be able to hand it in at 5:00 PM on the 9th.”

          1. goddessoftransitory*

            Ugh, unfortunately this kind of mindset is still rewarded far, far too often in the work world. And then people wonder why burnout is such a problem.

          2. Ellie*

            A little late isn’t 16 hour days though. If I’m given something time-sensitive, I’ll definitely work an hour or so late to get it back to the person that day, so that I don’t have to think about it anymore. And I’ll leave a little earlier the next day to make up for it. I can understand that some people can’t do that, but its how I prefer to work. In fact, I regularly pre-load my week so that I work late on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, so that I only end up working a few hours on Friday. The culture of our office means, hardly anything is urgent on a Friday. Most people knock-off early.

            It sounds to me like Sondra is prioritising quality over timeliness, and that might not be the right thing to do in OP’s office. OP should really spell out for her how other people comply with these requests. Otherwise, she is looking like a bad fit, which may or may not be fair. The other option might be to give Sondra less time-sensitive work overall if that’s how she prefers to work, and move that work away from the faster team members, if that’s possible.

            1. Bitte Meddler*

              @Ellie – So what you’re saying is that, in total, you don’t work more than 40 hours in week?

              Which is not what it sounds like OP’s non-Sondra employees / co-workers are doing.

              And Sondra seems to be able to handle time-sensitive work just fine. The problem is that the company is lying to her about the sensitivity.

        1. Anonym*

          Yeah, that was my take. It sounds like she works responsibly and thoroughly. I’d be delighted to hear that’s how a colleague or report approached their workload.

          And allow me to 100th the absurdity of secret deadlines. Had a boss that would get irritated if I didn’t complete things well before the deadline. Just tell me what you want!

          1. Extra Anon for This*

            I am a “slow but thorough” worker in my present position. Some of it is just a matter of stamina– there’s only so long I can focus on one thing each day. My preference would be to have five projects all due on Friday, so I can spend an hour or three on one, set it aside to marinate while I work on something else, and cycle through to have them all done at the end of the week. I’ve never quite been able to get that across to our scheduler, who wants me to do all of one task on Monday, all of a different task on Tuesday, etc. I end up spending a lot of time staring unproductively at something that my brain is just *over*, but I can’t set aside because it’s due RIGHT NOW. Argh.

            1. allathian*

              I work the same way, I love it when I have a few non-urgent tasks I can work on between the urgent ones and the really urgent ones. This means that I rarely have to work on the same project or task for so long that I get sick of it. And then I get to complete several tasks on the same day.

              I’m also in the fortunate position that I can either set or at least slightly negotiate the deadlines for most of my tasks , which means that I get to work on what I feel like working on the vast majority of the time.

              I do have a number of statutory deadlines, and when a task with one of those shows up, I’ll do what it takes to get it done on time, even if it means I have to ask for extensions of other deadlines.

              That said, I’m a pessimist when I set deadlines, because something more urgent nearly always comes up and I’d far rather just let a job wait for a while than ask for an extension of the deadline.

              When a task is completed, I’ll generally send the completed documents to my internal customer. Most people are happy to get them earlier than they expected. There are a few exceptions, though, and one regular customer in particular tried to negotiate tighter deadlines with me until I caught on and started returning the completed documents on the dot rather than even an hour earlier, even if the work had been completed days before.

        2. MassMatt*

          She might be amazing or she might not be able to handle the pace, I don’t think we have enough info. Is she producing less than the other employees? Is the quality of her work better–fewer errors, etc? If she falls further and further behind that indicates she may not be working fast or efficiently enough.

          I agree with the many points about secret deadlines and secret expectations, I remember a humdinger of a letter a while ago from someone on the other side of this, it was something like “my manager assigns me something due in two weeks, I work on stuff with more immediate deadlines, and then a few days later she sarcastically says “since you OBVIOUSLY forgot about this project…” or “Since you CLEARLY have no intention of getting this done…”. It was an aggravating letter to read.

          1. New Jack Karyn*

            I think she’s not completing as many jobs/tasks as the rest of the team, because she’s working at the pace she was told to work. I don’t think it’s a matter of ‘falling behind’ because the work is getting done. More like, in any given 60 days, most of the team averages between 6-10% of the total work output, and Sondra completes about 4% of the team’s total work output.

            I’m also interested to know if her work has fewer errors than her colleagues’. Is her slower pace turning out a more polished result?

            If LW has that conversation with her, and others start giving her the deadlines they actually want, then maybe she can streamline her process and start doing stuff faster. But we won’t know until it’s tried.

        3. StarTrek Nutcase*

          My Sondra experience was that she did substantially less due to her slow plodding (and her work at best was meh!). Anyway, there was a quantity of work, most predictable but not infrequent last minute additions, that the department had to accomplish. So, her plodding meant she completed 5 tasks/day and was never available for emergencies while her 3
          coworkers did 8 + 2-3 urgent tasks. She “filled” her day, but on the very rare occasions when work was slow, she equally filled her day with 3 tasks. Deadlines weren’t the issue here, everything must be done by end of month, but if everyone was like my Sondra there would have been 2/3 left for the last week.

          1. My Useless 2 Cents*

            Nothing in the letter says Sondra isn’t meeting output expectations. Just that she takes a while to get things off her desk, but never longer than the stated deadline she has been given for tasks. This very much sounds like a management/unspoken cultural problem, not a Sondra problem.

      1. The Rules are Made Up*

        Yeah this was my take away too. It seems like OP’s team is rushing for no real reason and getting mad at Sondra for not rushing for no reason like they are. Instead of being resentful of her for not stressing herself out unnecessarily why can’t everyone else just breathe and slow down.

    5. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Another thing I have seen happen too many times: If your date is when the project goes out and assumes , all reviews have been done, make sure you tell Sondra that.

      I hate to think how many times people have told me my piece is due on Feb.15—and NOT told me that 2 executives expect to review & comment 5 days before that. Or that there is a X-day lead time for the factory to get my piece into production before the date given.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Yeah, that’s a failure to plan and communicate on [theoretical] your part and it’s not my fault for not knowing. The deadline for my part is obviously going to be earlier than the deadline for review, the final product, etc., but then f-ing say so!

      2. RavCS*

        Or Wakeen prefers 3 days earlier so he can have the time he wants to go over it while Josephine wants it first thing in the morning of the due date so she can go over it and somebody else is ok with the end of the day on the due by date.

        I work in healthcare and am very aware that if I have an open encounter at the end of the month, they can’t bill at all for that patient even though every other encounter is closed. If I’m overwhelmed with visits on the 3rd of the month, I can close it first thing on the 4th and be okay. One is a hard deadline and the other is not good, but can slide by as long as it doesn’t become a pattern.

      3. Jaina Solo*

        A director got mad one time because I put boundaries on a process like this. We would have one team create a solution, all the approvals would happen, then when it was time to ship out (weeks later), I’d send a last “approval/fyi” and suddenly there were edits. It caused the other team to stop what they were doing and pull up the files and make the edits, resubmit to me, and then I did my thing (again) with them. So when I was asked, I said “no edits after the approvals step.” Got pulled into a meeting with my boss, the other team’s director, and the mad director.
        I didn’t get in trouble, but it was clear that some people had a problem with actual due dates. Hustle culture is the worst and does not actually involve strategic thinking. You can plan out the process and stick to it, just be prepared for pushback from the “special” people who want it done when they say.

    6. Ellis Bell*

      Oh my God same. Please stop with the secret “three days earlier than I asked” deadline and treat the given deadline as the actual deadlines! It’s piss poor communication if nothing else. I recently got an external email asking me to chase my boss and grandboss for sign off on my entry to a course “because the deadline is this week and I think my external emails are going to spam”, so, I did exactly that only to have my boss respond tersely that they haven’t given them a (huge fucking pile of work) because the deadline is actually three weeks out, and they’re doing this for multiple people. The external person then goes: “Oh yeah, but I prefer…” How much can you prefer it if you didn’t even ask for it??!!!

      1. goddessoftransitory*

        It’s just as the holy writ, Office Space, said so many years ago: “Just make the minimum thirty seven pieces!”

    7. WantonSeedStitch*

      I have had people email me to ask when people on my team are going to have assignments done. I look at the deadline for the task. If it’s the next day or later, I just reply with “so-and-so is working on this and will have it completed by the deadline you requested of [date] by close of business.” If it’s EOD the same day, I first check to see if I can see evidence that the person has been working on it. If I can’t see it in our system, I might check in with them to confirm that everything is on track for them to deliver it by EOD. If so, which is generally the case, I tell the requestor, “they’ll get it to you by EOD.” If they wanted things sooner, they should have said so to begin with. Or, if timelines sped up from what they originally thought, they should have negotiated a new deadline with the person doing the work as soon as they knew they needed it sooner.

    8. Jay (no, the other one)*

      I tend to turn things early because I hate having things hanging over my head. That said I would never penalize someone for using all the time allotted. That’s like saying you have three hours to finish an exam and then taking off points if you’re not done in two.

      “Hustle culture” often means “look busy and stressed or we won’t think you’re working hard enough.” If Sondra looks calm and unruffled, people may think she should be pushing harder. I wonder if the deadline thing would be as big a deal if she looked stressed and made an issue of being very very busy.

      I spent my career in outpatient clinical medicine. I’m very efficient both in the exam room and in my charting, and I made the tradeoff of less money for more a saner schedule. The combination meant that I got all my work done without the visible stress that my partners exuded. I am also a woman and they were mostly men. When the group started reporting productivity, our regional manager insisted my numbers had to be wrong and made billing run them three times. Turned out I was the second most productive doc in the entire 100+ person group and she didn’t believe that because “you don’t look like you’re working that hard.” This was around the time I gave notice. Guess why.

      1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        I spent my career in outpatient clinical medicine. I’m very efficient […] in my charting

        Bless you.
        Love, a medical coding manager who used to have a squeezy ball shaped like a doctor with names of docs who didn’t do their charting timely written on it so I could squash them all in effigy.

      2. Loreli*

        Similarly, I had a boss who said I didn’t work with a “sense of urgency” even though I never missed a deadline (and put in extra hours when necessary). I pointed this out to her, but she didn’t get that “completed on the due date” meant “done on time”. She didn’t think people were working hard enough unless they were running around like headless chickens.

        1. Dread Pirate Roberts*

          I had a boss tell me “if you’re not panicking, you’re not taking this seriously enough” and called me Zen Dread Pirate Roberts as a supposed insult. I didn’t vote her manager of the year.

      3. Orv*

        I try not to turn things in early, because I have ADHD and my work style is very bursty. If I say I need ten days to do something, it usually means I can do it in five but I’m leaving myself an extra five days in case I have trouble getting started. If I do manage to do it right away in five, I DON’T turn it in right away because then I’ve created an expectation I won’t be able to meet in the future.

        1. Baroness Schraeder*

          Same here. Embrace the inconsistency but make sure it always works to YOUR advantage!

        2. dryakumo*

          Same. I’ll often start on a project and work quickly because it’s new and shiny, get about 75% done, then get bored and start working on something else. When the actual deadline is coming up, I can quickly finish because my brain has been percolating on it for a while. I like having a bunch of different things to bounce between when my brain gets stuck. Having just one project to work on is like torture for my brain. One of the big ADHD symptoms for me is processing time. I need to look at something and then take a step back and let my brain process and come up with questions or a solution, and then I can do the task. I would hate having coworkers judge me for that.

      4. e271828*

        In several industries I have worked in, I have observed that the people doing the most obvious and noisy hustling and bustling are the least productive.

    9. CommanderBanana*

      Yes, my resume doesn’t include “has psychic powers” because I, you know, don’t have psychic powers!

      1. ceiswyn*

        Whereas I actually managed to get ‘advanced psychic powers’ listed as one of my skills in my official annual appraisal.

        …I suspect my boss of the time may not have read my edits as thoroughly as he might have. Also, I was mostly using ‘advanced psychic powers’ as a proxy for ‘the paranoia of experience and a willingness to regularly go spelunking through our task tracking software looking for the tasks people didn’t think to tell me about’.

        And that WAS the only way to meet our deadlines. If I’d waited for people to realise they needed documentation for their tasks, and actually ask me to write it, we’d’ve been dead in the water.

    10. MysteryDeadlinesStink*

      I’m with Sandra in this one, being given feedback that I’m not performing to expectations when I’m never missing explicitly communicated deadlines would make me paranoid and distrusting of my colleagues and manager. I feel bad for her mental health just reading this writeup, I would he constantly sad I wasn’t meeting goals I had no idea existed.

      One possible middle ground is one we worked out in the PM tool I administer. For certain tasks, there is a deadline field, but then a second question that asks ‘Is this deadline flexible, or fixed?’ which gives the team assigned the work the ability to prioritize better when it really IS a hard deadline versus a nice to have one.

    11. Katie Impact*

      I work with someone who sometimes does the opposite: sets the deadline sooner than it’s actually needed to “motivate people”, with the intention of pushing it back later. It’s just about equally irritating, especially if I’m putting off other work to get things done.

      I have a good enough rapport with her now that I can get an honest answer out of her about when things are *actually* needed, but she insists it’s still necessary to give fake deadlines to other people on the team because they’ll only work hard when a deadline is coming up. Even if that’s true, it feels like there must be better ways to deal with it.

      1. Your Mate in Oz*

        > sets the deadline sooner than it’s actually needed to “motivate people”

        The question is what they’re motivating people to *do*.

        My experience is that people who do that get upset when others remember how they’ve behvaed in the past and take it in to account next time they deal with the “motivator”. So when they find themselves in a meeting having to explain how they came up with the next deadline and what their expected plan of work looks like they get upset. Sorry guv, last time you were out by a factor of two so this time we’re going to review your work.

    12. iglwif*

      Yes! Secret deadlines are objectively ridiculous. Secret office policies are ridiculous. Just tell me what your expectations are!

    13. Hiding from My Boss*


      I used to work in an extremely deadline-driven job with daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and ad hoc deadlines. Duh, the deadline you’re given is the time/date the completed work is due. If someone wants it before their stated deadline, they need to (2) revise their completion schedule and (1) look “deadline” up in a dictionary so they know what they’re talking about. Team Sondra here.

  2. L-squared*

    Yeah, this type of thing is frustrating.

    People need to just say what they mean, not have an idea in their mind, but say something else.

    Its like collecting money people owe. If I say pay me by next Friday, sure I’d maybe prefer it before then, but I shouldn’t think less of someone who waits that long. If I absolutely needed it before then, then its on me to say so.

    1. Momma Bear*

      I was reading a forum where a landlord was angry that the tenant had a 5 day buffer to get the rent to them and the tenant sometimes actually used the buffer. Like….that’s what you put in the lease. Don’t do that if you don’t expect them to use it!

      1. starsaphire*

        Oh man, that is the WORST.

        We too have a 5-day grace period – but our landlord uses Popular Realty App, and Popular Realty App will ping you daily starting on the first if they don’t have the payment.

        And our landlord will also ping us daily starting on the first if Popular Realty App hasn’t yet sent HIM the payment.

        So when payday Friday falls on the 2nd or 3rd, we have to juggle the midmonth bills so we can use the midmonth checks to pay them early, and try to catch up with everything else later. I hate it.

        What’s the point of putting the grace period into the lease if you don’t allow your tenants to use it???

        1. whingedrinking*

          It can get even worse. My partner used to have a landlord who started pestering Partner and his roommates to pay their rent early in months where the first fell on a weekend. Partner reminded Landlord that the contract said the first of the month, no earlier and no later. Landlord tried to wheedle them by saying this would make his own financial obligations easier, and Partner et al. said they were sure it would, but unless Landlord was willing to let them pay late when it would make *their* financial obligations easier (for example, if they received a paycheque on the second of the month), that was Landlord’s problem.

    2. JustAnotherCommenter*

      I think frequency comes into play though.

      If someone borrowed money from you every week and waited until the last opportunity to pay you back every single time you might wonder why they’re always waiting until the last minute and if they’re having money issues that are preventing them from paying you back in a more timely manner.

      You’re absolutely right that people need to communicate expectations clearly though.

      1. Kermit's Bookkeepers*

        To turn this around again, though: my rent is due on the 1st of each month. If my landlord started hassling me for it on the 23rd of each month, I would move.

      2. Analytical Tree Hugger*

        I don’t get it. I would have the opposite thought, that they’re reliable because they keep paying me back on time.

        If someone was paying me *late*, then I would worry.

      3. Fluffy Fish*

        I say this nicely but that would be a you (the general you not you specifically) problem.

        If something is due on the Tuesday then it’s due on the Tuesday. It doesnt matter if it’s due every single week. Giving someone a due date and then getting upset and making up a negative narrative about that person….for following the terms…that’s not on the person following the terms. It’s on you to realize you are being incredibly unfair.

        Seriously – what is more timely than paying on time?

        There doesn’t appear to be concerns about her work quality. Just that she’s turning things in on time.

      4. Smithy*

        I think that this is also the point flagged about when a team grows.

        When that team is small, cultural norms can show up more clearly in the onboarding. You can take the approach of “throwing someone into things”, because there are fewer people involved and it’s easier to see the larger scope and practices of the team. However, inevitably as the team grows – you’ll get people who specialize more, work together with everyone less, etc. So this isn’t really just about Sondra but inevitably for the next person hired, team expansion, etc.

        And this is no different from someone who lends money to only a few friends/family members vs someone in a “head of the family” position who’s lending money to a far greater number of family members. In situation #1, the practice is largely going to be dictated by those personal relationships. But a family member overseeing a trust or in a position to be asked for loans/help by a lot of family will likely benefit from being a lot more clear/direct about expectations.

      5. biobotb*

        In that scenario, you’re describing someone who always (aka frequently as possible) pays you back by the agreed-upon deadline. Why would you wonder about their financial situation, and why would their financial situation matter? You’re getting the payment you want. If the deadline negatively impacts you, it’s on you to set a different deadline.

      6. Katie Impact*

        I don’t really agree with that. I’m a freelancer and I’ve found that good clients are ones that reliably pay invoices on the due date. That’s what we agreed to and that’s their obligation; maybe I’ll occasionally get the money early and that’s certainly nice, but I’m never going to expect it.

        1. Your Mate in Oz*

          As a freelancer I was always pleasantly surprised when I got paid on time :)

          The clients I dumped were the onces who read my terms and started arguing about the late payment fees. My dudes, those fees shouldn’t matter to you even slightly because you’re going to fufil your side of the bargain and I’m going to fulfil mine. Right?

      7. Kella*

        Paying you back consistently by the deadline you set is a sign of reliability, not money issues. If every single time the deadline came around and your friend said, “Hey, sorry, can I have three more days?” and then paid you back by that time, that’s still more reliable than not paying you back but it would be more frustrating to have them agree to a deadline and renegotiate it every time. Asking for help with money stuff every week might be a sign of money problems but paying you back every time definitely is not.

      8. JF*

        Why would you wonder this?

        There’s a reason your credit report is not ever going to take a hit for making payments ‘at the last possible opportunity’. That’s called consistently making payments on time. It’s a good thing.

    3. Violet*

      I think I understand what’s happening here, and it’s giving me flashbacks to high school. I had one honors class where the teacher believed that meeting all expectations and doing everything asked of us…would only equal a C. In order to excel, we were supposed to continually exceed expectations; completing requirements as they were stated was supposed to be the bare minimum, not the definition of success. Needless to say, she wrecked a lot of students’ GPAs. I have a hunch the culture at this job believes something similar- people are expected to take their deadlines and show their commitment by constantly going above and beyond. Simply following expectations and deadlines is considered borderline lazy.

  3. Amber T*

    I work in a fast paced environment where everything seems to be a high or top priority. If you tell me you need it by Thursday, I’m assuming I have until end of day Thursday to get it to you. I’ll push back on most “ASAP” deadline requests (within reason, of course). It sounds like she’s meeting the goalposts but others are trying to move them after the fact. You (and others) need to be more clear on expected timelines – “when Cornelia asks you for something, make that a top priority” or “when the grooming team asks, they expect a turnaround of 2 days.”

    Also – make sure she knows if she has any questions/concerns on the actual priority of tasks, she can talk to you and ask!

    1. The Rules are Made Up*

      I had to start pushing back at a previous job because everything was ASAP. They wouldn’t even give days anymore, I’d say when do you need it by and it was always ASAP. I can’t prioritize my work that way and if everything is ASAP then nothing is ASAP. Do some planning and figure out an actual timeline!

      1. Former Admin turned Project Manager*

        I used to work for a guy who said that ASAP requests went to the bottom of the priority list because it couldn’t be correctly incorporated into his workload if he didn’t know when it was really needed. It was only possible once the actual deadlines for everything else had been met. (He didn’t fully practice this, since refusing an ASAP request from the COO can be dangerous to one’s career, but it severely cut down on the unrealistic expectations that people put on him or me.)

        1. Nina*

          I’ve done this as well, my policy (if anyone asked, which they frequently did when following up on why their ‘asap’ request wasn’t back on their desk twenty minutes after they’d given it to me) was ‘ASAP with no further information means as soon as possible after I have completed all the tasks I have actual concrete deadlines for (unless you are the CEO)’.

          1. whingedrinking*

            That’s where I’d be tempted to say, “I do everything ‘as soon as possible’; it’s just that it’s not possible for me to work on more than one thing at a time, so if you want priority in that queue you’re going to need to be more specific.”

        2. OMG, Bees!*

          In a similar vein, a friend and coworker kept a list of all projects written down on a notepad and would pull it out whenever our boss would have a new project or task and ask which existing task got bumped.

      2. GammaGirl1908*

        And usually that means A) they don’t know when they need it, but want it to be ready whenever that is, or B) they’ve dragged their feet on handing it off, and now the deadline is looming. Ugh. In all cases, the answer is to huddle amongst yourselves and determine the answer.

        The other thing jumping out at me about Sondra is that she is already in the middle of several time-sensitive tasks. It makes no sense for her to abandon everything every time a new task comes along. THAT’S how you end up frazzled and late. Just because you give me a task that takes 3 hours, that does not mean you are going to get in back in 3 hours. If you give me 3 days to do it, I’m going to slot your 3 hours somewhere in those 3 days.

      3. Hiding from My Boss*

        I once worked under someone who insisted on a meeting every morning to discuss what they wanted me to do that day, and would proclaim after numerous tasks on the list, “THAT is your NUMBER ONE priority.” By the end of the meeting I’d have 5 or 6 number-one priorities.

    2. Em*

      Yeah my office is perpetually expected to do more than we can accomplish with the staff we have. My weeks/days are a series of “urgent!” requests without time allotted on the schedule to complete them. in my mind it is exhausting and unsustainable to throw constant competing priorities at your employees and expect them all completed “ASAP.”

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        The dreaded “ASAP.” I worked somewhere that went through ISO certification. We created a form for requests (in Word – online forms were still fairly new and not likely to be used for internal processes then), and updated it (through process improvement) to have the deadline be a required field that only took dates. One person would routinely try to get around this be submitting and older copy of the form with ASAP in the date field, then remove the footer info indicating it was an older version.

        We would just send it back with a link to the current version telling her our ISO processes required us not to accept a non-current version. She wasted a lot of time trying to get around just giving an actual date.

        Don’t even get me started on the person who would ask for things, “Sooner rather than later.” It manages to be obnoxious and meaningless at the same time.

        1. AngryOctopus*

          The only time I’ll accept an ASAP as a deadline is if my boss is like “hey, can you send me that powerpoint with the data you showed in the meeting yesterday, I’m going to meet with Big Boss and I want to show him”. Okay, done. Otherwise, tell me when you really want it!

          1. Charlotte Lucas*

            To me, that’s a request with a quick turnaround, but a real deadline (before the meeting).

            ASAP is just code for “I want it when is convenient for me but don’t feel like giving a real deadline or acknowledging that other people might be ahead of me in the queue.” (At least in my experience.)

    3. Smeep248*

      For me, it seems they hired someone else to increase the teams bandwidth because the team itself is working themselves into a frenzy. Because that’s the style they adopted and trained others to expect from them. At some point if people need more space to work, they have to change their behavior. Not Sondra’s. Sounds like she has time management in lock while everyone else is working themselves into a froth without stopping to think “if I stopped doing it this way, I might be able to breathe”.

      Sounds like clear expectations need to be set across the board, people need to mean what they say, and the broader team needs to learn to stop treating everything like an emergency. I had an employee that was so overworked/ overwhelmed and everything I tried to take off her plate, she would just continue to do in secret. The entire team had a similar workload, but if someone external felt the answer wasn’t good enough, or fast enough, they’d circumvent the process and just go to the overwhelmed employee AND SHE WOULD DO IT FOR THEM.

    4. Wilbur*

      Yeah, the only way I can see this being a problem is running Analysis A should take 4 hours but this employee takes 8 hours to complete it.

      As far as setting deadlines, it’s hard to set a deadline for someone else if you don’t understand the requirements of their work. You need to provide two expectations-one for customers (you should expect our work to take 2 weeks based on the service we provide and our workload) and one for your employee (this work should take 6 hours).

      1. Eldest Child of My Workplace*

        Even then, that might just be a temporary cost of taking on new people. Is this an industry where everyone starts out slow and then gets faster with experience? If so, that’s something else you have to factor in when you arrange deadlines.

      2. Alwaysb@work*

        I read it the same way – that Sondra is routinely turning 2 hour tasks into 6 hour tasks. Some work that I do requires a “think about it, do research, think some more, write” response, but mostly not. So is the issue that Sondra is spending too much time on things that don’t warrant that degree of effort?

        1. honeygrim*

          Based on the comment in the letter about Sondra’s other “time-sensitive” work, I wonder if it’s more like “she has four 2-hour tasks all due within the same eight hours,” so she’s alternating between them to get them all done and give herself time to check for errors.

    5. ReadySetGo*

      These types of hidden expectations are really toxic and unprofessional in my opinion. It’s on each individual to manage their own time properly. Part of that is clearly communicating what you need from your teammates. It says something about the few who complained to their bosses before simply asking for the materials when they actually preferred to have them.

      As a manager that’d be a red flag for me to pause and offer guidance to the complainers on setting clear expectations.

    6. Festively Dressed Earl*

      Which of these six items that you’ve asked me to get done first should I actually be working on?

  4. Spreadsheets and Books*

    Yeah I don’t get this problem. It seems like the real issue here is that people are angry that Sondra can’t read minds. Just tell someone the actual date when you want the thing so that they will prepare to deliver the thing when you want it rather than setting some other deadline and getting pissed when it’s taken seriously.

    1. Momma Bear*

      I agree. They don’t give her a deadline and then are angry when she’s not a mindreader. Seems that the best thing to do would be to give her clearly communicated deadlines and for her to have a clear order of priority for people who give her work (Director Sally before PM Tim). To punish Sondra for doing her work within the timeframes requested and apparently doing fine work is backwards. Also, maybe it’s not so much giving Sondra less work but differently focused work. Give her the long lead time things that need more introspection and digging and give someone else the quick turnaround things they might be better at/prefer.

      I’d also encourage Sondra to ask for deadlines if not specified. I respond to requests at all levels of the company and sometimes people assume their thing can jump the line when it can’t. I might also push back and say, “I see your thing, but there are three teapots to paint ahead of you so this won’t be done until x day.” That might also help them temper expectations.

      To me it sounds like she does get time-sensitive work done, but needs to pad it with other stuff so she has some bandwidth for each task. Her way may be better for her mental health than the people always on fire and stressed out.

      So..short version is as the team grows, more communication needs to happen. Otherwise it’s not fair to people like Sondra getting tasks with no context.

    2. not nice, don't care*

      I’ve found that hustle-culture type folks sometimes get angry when you prioritize preserving some chill over absorbing the miasma of manufactured crises they seem to thrive on.
      Like the very existence of a humane work culture/style makes them angry, but not to the point of demanding their own chill, just shitting on others’.

      1. Certaintroublemaker*

        Yup. That whole bit about how they “speed up and/or work a little late to keep things moving quickly” even when there’s not a deadline—they’re manufacturing their own stress to feel busy-busy. Even though, “we hired Sondra so we would have more bandwidth and have to hustle less.”

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          Overall agreed, but I read that as LW and their boss doing that, not necessarily the rest of the team.

      2. Momma Bear*

        Right, some people thrive on stomping fires and don’t understand when someone else isn’t freaking out at the same level. The comments seem to keep going back to is Sondra actually wrong/slow or is the rest of the department really kind of a fire-stomping mess?

        1. goddessoftransitory*

          It’s like the old meme “Why is everyone acting as if there were no reason to panic?”

      3. Indigo a la mode*

        “Miasma of Manufactured Crises” sounds like a great book title. Maybe about, say, Twitter.

        1. goddessoftransitory*

          Heh, I’m reading Dirty Old London right now, and the “miasmic” theory of disease really does describe Twitter/Elon to a T.

      4. Helewise*

        Yeah, once you’re in the pattern of doing this it can be really hard to quit, especially when the culture is reinforcing it. It’s an exhausting culture to walk into when there’s so much frenetic energy around even routine tasks.

    3. JustAnotherCommenter*

      I think Allison’s assessment of it is really spot on.
      I’ve always worked in environments where the culture is:
      Deadline = “I need the BY [date] at latest”
      Delivery Date = “I need this ON [date]”
      And someone consistently treating a deadline like a delivery date would ruffle feathers because it would come across as if they’re stalling or not good at prioritizing their workload, much like OPs office.

      There are merits to both views and it can be really industry-specific (I know my industry relies on that quicker pace), but it comes down to the value and necessity of clearly defining expectations and communicating those expectations, even for something that might feel obvious within a company culture.

      1. Smithy*

        Yes, this is a distinction that I am familiar with – and also one where I really think it behooves the OP to change the conversation that they’re having with their boss.

        I work on a team with a lot of soft or non-existent deadlines. The situation where you have a meeting and someone says “come back to me with XYZ, but no rush”. So when I go to someone to help with materials for that request, I try to say things like “I’d appreciate this by X date and no later – but do let me know if that date isn’t achievable and we can talk about what might work better”.

        Now inevitably, when it’s someone you’ve worked with a lot – or are more aligned culturally on a professional level – those sentences can get dropped. Everyone knows it would be an ideal to reply as quickly as possible but also not to cancel other work or pull all nighters to get this done. So as the person asking, you can fall into the assumption habit where of course everyone knows its preferable to have this done in one week, one month, end of quarter – whatever.

        Being able to step back and recognize that you have new staff and these assumptions no longer exist is just really important.

      2. New Jack Karyn*

        I don’t understand the difference between your Deadline and Delivery Date. Both seem to be saying when you need the deliverable to you.

        1. Your Mate in Oz*

          I interpret it as a delivery date being “there is no benefit to having this early, just penalty for it being late”. Think having a satellite ready for launch – if you’re early you can’t move the launch date up, Saturn isn’t going to move ahead in its orbit for you. Or it might just be that the report is going to sit in someone’s in tray until the review meeting, so as long as it’s there before the meeting you’re good.

          A deadline “before this time” says there’s some benefit to having it ready earlier, even the soft benefit of making other people’s mental load lighter (not worrying that it will be late). Like giving this to the printer a couple of days earlier means that if there is a problem we can fix it before the deadline. IME most deadlines are like this to some extent, and the letter writer is very likely in one of those environments.

          The flip side is that with some people giving them something early means they are definitely going to fiddle with it and send it back “the background in this image should be a lighter shade of orange”. Yeah, nah. Deliver stuff to them right on the deadline or be gifted extra pointless tweaking.

          1. AtoZ*

            Oh, I actually interpreted this as the deadline as the date that I need the file (and probably have additional work to do for it) and the delivery date as the date we are sending it out to the client.

            Probably because I am working on fixing this right now… my team in the past has always told other teams when we are sending it out to the client and then worked late and moved mountains to get our portion done when the other teams inevitably send it just before we need to send it to the client. Now, we have implemented calendars so the teams ahead of us know when we need it to have a reasonable amount of time to do our portion before sending out to the client.

            1. Your Mate in Oz*

              We could both be right… or both wrong :)

              I grew up with Gantt charts and dependency trees so I have to force myself to sit quietly in meetings when someone is saying “now everyone knows this has to be delivered on the 12th” and there’s a whole chain of dependencies to satisfy before delivery. Current job doesn’t explicitly use Gantt Charts, we just have ordered lists of deliverables and their deadlines. “design thing by 12th. Build prototype by 20th…”

    4. StressedButOkay*

      Plus, OP said that Sondra has other competing time-sensitive projects going on at the same time that she switches between. If she’s not given a clear, REAL deadline, how on earth is she supposed to accurately prioritize?

  5. MJ*

    The way my ADHD brain works is I can complete a task by a deadline, but I usually will use all the time I have right up until that deadline. If I don’t have a deadline it’s harder for me to have the motivation to complete things quickly if I don’t have a sense of urgency that comes with a deadline. I agree that it is completely not fair for their to be a deadline then others to criticize for things not getting done earlier, that would make me lose my mind. I also sometimes need to step away from a project and work on other things to think about it like it seems that Sondra is doing. If Sondra is completing quality work, there is no reason to force her into a rushed working style–everyone’s brains work differently!

    1. fidget spinner*

      ADHD here, too, and same! Even if I finish something before the deadline, I’m still going to wait until the deadline to turn it in because my ADHD-related fear of making mistakes is going to scream WAIT YOU HAVE TO READ IT AGAIN, CHECK FOR MISTAKES. DON’T TURN IT IN.

      1. Thegreatprevaricator*

        Yup. You will get my work by the deadline and not a second earlier :D . So tell me the actual point you want it submitted (and keep the knowledge about last possible point under your hat because if I know about that, I will work to it). I once completed a piece of work by the deadline AND without working late. It took a Herculean amount of mental energy, scheduling and required me to clear everything else out of my diary in order to do battle. I was glad of proof of concept but not in a hurry to repeat. People at this workplace would be forever annoyed with me and I would be forever puzzled.

      2. DyneinWalking*

        Also, in my experience, the slight stress of a looming deadline makes me MUCH more focused and attentive, so the time right before the deadline is the point where I’m the best at catching mistakes!

      3. PlainJane*

        Mm-hmm. And even if I turn it in, I’ll mentally assume that it’s still mutable until the deadline, if I have some great idea that undoes everything that came before. To be fair, I know it can frustrate people I work with, who want everything done in neat stages, so I try to play nice. But sometimes, that great idea is going to show up twelve hours before the deadline.

    2. Dorothy Zpornak*

      Second this and add issues with focus and attention. Most days, unless I have a really hard deadline to motivate me, I can only focus on a certain task (or a certain type of task) for so long before I start to get distracted/restless, and need to switch to something else. In particular, I have a desperate need to switch up when I’m working on non-creative vs. creative work — I can’t tolerate going too long without a task that requires some creative thought or problem solving. So, both for my productivity, but also for my soul, I find the need to work as LW describes Sondra doing — completing individual tasks for several different projects each day, unless there’s something that absolutely can’t wait.

    3. AnonInCanada*

      You don’t need to have ADHD to have that mindset. I’m the same way: If you want me to get a task done and don’t tell me when you need this task done by, I’m going to put it on the back burner whilst I prioritize other tasks that need more immediate attention. Then if you come to me on [date you imagined I’d get this done by but didn’t explicitly tell me] and ask “is that task I asked you to get done finished yet?” and I give you a blank stare, don’t bicker with me about not getting it done when you didn’t make it clear you needed it done by [date.]

      Sorry, my crystal ball’s in the shop. Right alongside that World’s Smallest Violin I have to keep playing one too many times when expectations requiring clairvoyance aren’t met.

      1. iglwif*

        Same. I don’t have ADHD (… that I know of) but if a thing doesn’t have a deadline on it, I am not going to prioritize it over other things that do! And I’m not going to magically know that when you said the deadline was 15 February, you actually meant you wanted it on 10 February. I’m not psychic, y’all.

    4. Ruby Soho*

      ADHD here, too, but I’m mostly the opposite. If I can get it done fast, I’m going to do it right away because I do not want it to be one more thing hopping around inside of my brain. I just want to go away like right freaking now.
      But for things that take longer, yeah, you’ll probably get it a little early, or you might get it like 5 seconds before it’s due.

      1. allathian*

        There’s some admin work involved in my job, and I figure that if it takes less or as much time to do the task itself as it does to handle the admin, I’ll just do the task, regardless of its relative urgency to my other tasks, as soon as I see it, just to get it off my mental to-do list.

        I can’t deal with written to-do lists, the only exception is the shared Excel file that I and my coworker who has the same job description use to keep track of assignments and deadlines (our ticketing system is crap and useless for that purpose). The reason for this is that if I have an actual to-do list, I absolutely loathe being forced to reschedule when a more urgent task comes in. As in, a request to reschedule a task on a physical to-do list will make me feel sick to the point of making me dry heave (brains, they’re weird). I’m usually working on between 2 and 5 tasks intermittently, and I find that I can keep track of them in my head thanks to the Excel file. And I still get the satisfaction of marking a row as completed when I finish the task, but there’s no way I could deal with hourly scheduling at this point in my life.

      2. Slow Gin Lizz*

        Yeah, I’m also mostly that way too. I want to do All the Things ASAP to get them off my to-do list ASAP and also because task switching is really difficult for me (one of the first things that clued me into having ADHD). Planning out long-term projects with many steps is also really difficult for me and when I have them and able to successfully get them done, it’s often because I’ve hyperfocused on that project, possibly to the neglect of everything else, and if I finish it I don’t care how good it really is, just the fact that it’s done means I will turn it in way ahead of schedule, again just to get it off my to-do list.

        In college we had self-scheduled final exams. I LOVED it because it meant I could just go and take all my exams the first day and be done. I hated having exams looming over my head and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to study effectively enough in the 1-3 extra days I might have before taking the exam to learn anything new. I also often had papers due during finals week in lieu of exams for some classes and I hated those too because planning and writing papers was a very weak skill for me unless I was super excited about the topic.

        Funny how ADHD affects everyone differently, isn’t it? It’s almost like everyone is, in fact, different….

    5. Thoughts*

      Was totally thinking the way Sondra works sounds pretty similar to my ADHD brain! Particularly the need to percolate — there are some writing assignments that just won’t come together in my head until I’ve let them stew…. Or till the deadline is coming up and everything snaps into focus!

    6. Telephone Sanitizer, Third Class*

      I don’t know if I have ADHD, but in college I was terrified I woudl procrastinate, even though I don’t really have a history of doing so. I’d take a 10-page paper due in 3 weeks and plan to get x number of resources by this day, write so many pages of draft per day from x to y, then finalize it two days before it’s due… and I ended up being ahead of schedule. Breaking it down into meaningful, doable chunks.

      1. Lellow*

        This sounds very much the opposite of ADHD to me, lol. I would *love* to be able to do this! And stick to it!

        1. Parakeet*

          I have ADHD and this is how I do things (sadly I had not yet discovered this system in college). It’s how I finished a dissertation! Pretending like a task is actually a bunch of smaller tasks, each one of which is relatively quick, and making sure that I put one of those quick smaller tasks on my to-do list each day, ensures that I continue to make progress even if my brain is in total chaos. And of course, if I have a hyperfocusing sort of day, maybe I get quite a bit further, but the point is to put in a safeguard against total and possibly prolonged stoppage. Because if I have prolonged stoppage, as I learned the hard way in college, I 1) may actually not leave myself with enough time to complete the big task, and 2) am going to be stressed and anxious about the task bouncing around in my brain on top of everything else bouncing around in my brain.

          Not to suggest that it would work for everyone, just that I find it very relatable in an ADHD context.

    7. Data Bear*

      Go Team Neurodivergence!

      I will get to the thing, and probably even do it well before the deadline, but I need to be able to work without interruptions. The best way to absolutely destroy my productivity is with lots of task-switching.

      Let me work on things when my brain is ready and I will move mountains for you; demand that I do everything *now* and I can only do things that are small and urgent.

    8. DifferentThinker*

      Yep, same here! I need time to finish the work because it’s really hard for me to switch from one to another project/taks. It takes my brain time to focus. If I switch mid-work, it will take me a while to go back, like I might be completely unproductive for a couple of hours.

      1. allathian*

        Yup. There’s been some research in recent years showing that task switching in general is pretty unproductive, even for neurotypical people it can take as long as 20 minutes to get their focus back after an interruption. It takes much less time than that for me if I can control the task switching, but if someone calls me out of the blue, 20 minutes is optimistic. Thankfully I get very few unscheduled calls, like maybe once a month if that.

        I sometimes wonder how anyone manages to complete any work at all in an open office…

        When I find myself so bored with a particular task that I can’t focus on it at all, I’ll switch to something else deliberately. This is because the adrenaline rush of working to a tight deadline will make me work through the boredom, even if the task itself is tedious.

        That said, I can’t live in a perpetual adrenaline rush, neither my physical nor my mental health could take it for very long. So I try to plan so that I can avoid that sort of stress, even if it means taking more time to work on boring tasks when I can focus on them.

    9. Abe Froman*

      Dang, maybe we need an AAMADHD club or something. Also have ADD (Inattentive) and I absolutely need deadlines.

    10. raktajino*

      I’m also terrified of raising expectations too high that I’ll then fail to meet. If my team’s average turnaround 3 days, I will probably be a little longer on that average because, well, I need to cultivate my own dopamine. I can’t just “do it” like my coworkers. And what if I make a classic ADHD mistake and lose even more time to rework? Fear of failure is so real.

      I would much rather complete something by an internal deadline and hold onto it until the deadline we told them. Turning it in early gives a short burst of compliments but they just start to expect those quick turnarounds. Holding realistic timelines is healthier for everyone.

      Luckily I’ve managed to convince my team of this. We now have a “waiting for deadline” tag on our project tracking board. :D :D

      1. Thegreatprevaricator*

        ‘I will probably be a little longer on that average because, well, I need to cultivate my own dopamine’

        Thank you for this description! I’ve only recently come to accept that I need this extra time and I find it frustrating. Cultivating my own dopamine is a helpful framing!

  6. MsM*

    Speaking as someone who tends to work to deadline, what helps me when there isn’t a firm date is context. If I know there are a lot of other pieces waiting on my response, or an external client, or even just that it would be more helpful to have a rough outline to respond to than a perfectly polished finished product, that’s going to bump something higher up the priority ladder than just “can you do X?” with no further guidance. (Granted, I know enough about myself to follow up with “when would you like to have this by?”, so that’s also something Sondra could potentially be encouraged to do more frequently.)

    1. Sparkles McFadden*

      Yes, this is a good way to explain how to set priorities. It would probably help Sondra if the LW would have a quick 1:1 each week to set priorities and explain the rationale behind your process. People want to do a good job but workplaces are different so you need to explain what defines a “job well done” according to your workplace culture.

    2. Pita Chips*

      Absolutely. I’m a project manager and I get much better, and sooner, results from people if I give them some context. It helps people feel less siloed and is overall better for the project.

  7. darlingpants*

    I can sort of understand the frustration, because a lot of people I work with will get 75% through a task and then not finish it for a week or two while they start new tasks, and my brain is screaming “you’re almost done, just finish!” But if I actually need them to finish the thing it is 100% on me to communicate the real deadline and not get mad they don’t work exactly the same way I do.

    1. bamcheeks*

      “75% done three days before the deadline, set it aside and then come back to it with fresh eyes, improve and submit to deadline” is my absolutely optimal way of working for anything where quality matters, like a report or something.

      1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

        Agreed. Sometimes my brain fundamentally also gets a bit jumbled about what a project really entails. This space between 75% and 100% allows for the possibility that I come back to the project a few days/week later and realize that I really didn’t approach it correctly the first time and can now fix it. Doing it all in one go as fast as possible isn’t my fave and I only do it when it is an easy fix or something has to go out like, right now, today, even if it is wrong.

    2. Tammy 2*

      I sometimes need to do this to manage my time–once I get to a point where I know how much more time I need on a project, I will calendar that time for shortly before the due date, then turn my attention to something else I need to dig into in order to know how long it’s going to take.

    3. ele4phant*

      I mean, what does it matter to you what they do with their time so long as you get what you need when you need it?

      Personally, I sometimes get fatigued on a task, so switching it up gives me a break to come back to it refreshed with fresh eyes.

      If a coworker was getting upset because I got part of the way but not all the way done and I switched to another task for a bit instead of grinding my way through theirs (despite it not being due to them yet), I would be annoyed.

  8. Warrior Princess Xena*

    It might also be worthwhile checking to make sure that people are appropriately building in time for comments/turnarounds. One thing that might be happening is that Person A is giving Sondra a task, and says “This needs to be done by day X”. Person A is thinking “we need a final draft on Day X, so if Sondra get it to me on Day Y I’ll have time to look over the work, ask questions, etc and then send it to the client on Day X”, but does not explicitly tell Sondra “Please build in a day or two so we can make needed changes”. Sondra expects that she will only need to make one pass and presents what she thinks is the final deliverable on Day X.

    Obviously I don’t know the details of the work, or if this is applicable, but making sure that people are building in any review or additional time they need into a deadline won’t hurt.

    1. Staja*

      This! My manager is notorious for giving people outside our team the final deadline, with no regard for us peons who then need to scramble for corrections and approvals against inflexible payroll deadlines.

    2. Lola*

      Exactly. My job often requires me requesting information from other departments and my request often falls pretty low on their priority list, even if it a top/urgent priority for me and the system. I always build in a couple of extra days for the deadline of my request.

    3. raktajino*

      yes! It has helped our team so much to ask people to spell out certain deadlines: When you want the prototype, when do you need to hand it off, how much time do you need for that handoff? Ok, we’ll give you the prototype on day 3 so we know we’re on the right track, and the completed deliverable day 9 or 10 so you can get it to the client by day 12.

      And because people are terrible at explaining what they want (or they have no idea what we really do), the prototype clarifies things. Bonus, sometimes it turns out that they only need the prototype.

    4. another fed*

      I’m also wondering if the team is now so large that some other PM practices, if not a full PM, need to be put into place to balance workloads and help prioritize and reprioritze projects.

    5. myfanwy*

      This! If Sondra is only completing one step of a multi-step process, don’t tell her the date when all the steps have to be done by and expect her to guess how much time you’ve secretly allocated for her part. Either set a deadline for her part specifically, or at least give her the context so she stands a fighting chance of meeting expectations. If you just say ‘here’s a task and here’s the deadline’, you really can’t expect someone to realise you’re not asking for…that task to be done by that deadline.

  9. Throwaway Account*

    I don’t know if this is possible, but what if the OP has some kind of stand-up meeting once or twice a week with Sondra and then sends out an email to everyone involved to say, here is what my team is working on, here are our deadlines that I approved to manage our workload. And include both the “nice to have,” “must have by” deadlines.

    1. Pretty as a Princess*

      It feels like today’s theme was along the lines of “We have secret expectations and judge people for not reading our minds” letters here on AAM!

      1. Pretty as a Princess*

        this is a really weird nesting fail. I clicked the “add your own” comment link. Sorry Throwaway!

  10. Sharon*

    Agree with Alison’s comments, but also make sure Sondra is carrying her full share and being assigned as many jobs as other people, even if they overlap and she’s working on multiple items at one time.

    1. Ashloo*

      Yeah, the information we have left me wondering if she’s actually performing at the level of the rest of the group. Sounds like others are wondering how she spends her time as well, and I think that perception is going to hurt her.

      1. EventPlannerGal*

        I think a lot of this is a perception issue, yeah. The OP is aware of how Sondra’s process works and that she actually is working on these requests, just over a longer period, because they asked her. But for someone without that insight maybe this is coming across as ‘I ask Sondra for something and she always leaves it until the last possible minute to get it to me’, or ‘this project could be off my desk already if I wasn’t waiting around for Sondra again’.

    2. Eldest Child of My Workplace*

      And if she’s not, figure out whether it’s a her thing or whether it’s a normal stage that newbies go through.

  11. Seems like a non-issue*

    This “problem” seems like a failure on the part of management and her team, not Sondra’s. If you need something by X date, say it. No one can read anyone else’s mind.

    1. Two Fish*

      And if, like cited above, the full picture is “We can stretch to the 15th if other high-priority work takes precedence but otherwise hope to have this by the 9th”… give her that whole sentence!! There’s no reason to boil it down to a deadline that isn’t even really what you want.

  12. Two Fish*

    The coworkers are being so unreasonable here! If they said the deadline is Friday, but they’ll be happy to get it on Tuesday and unhappy Friday, the deadline is NOT Friday!

    If I ask you to be home by 6:00 for dinner, and then at 6:00 I’m toe-tappingly miffed because I hoped you’d really get home at 5, I’m the problem.

    Don’t let them phrase this like Sondra is being too literal or not picking up on their vibes, either. She’s treating the concept of deadlines appropriately and they are not.

    1. Indigo a la mode*

      “She’s treating the concept of deadlines appropriately and they are not.”


      I understand that this business has hustle culture, but honestly, what makes hustle culture a better way to work? Sandra gets all her work done in a thoughtful and systematic way that doesn’t set her hair on fire and she reliably gets everything done on time. I think that sounds fantastic and I wish I was better at working that way. It would be less stressful on everyone.

    2. Random Bystander*

      And to piggyback on your analogy–it sounds like these co-workers are starting to tap toes at 5:30.

      I’m another one who is in the camp of “say what you mean and mean what you say” with respect to deadlines. I don’t do “guess culture” well at all.

    3. GammaGirl1908*

      Also, “We hoped she’d pick up on the vibe” is not a business or management strategy.

      That goes double here when the vibe is apparently some manufactured urgency to do pull all-nighters to do everything ahead of time. This whole office seems to need more straightforward communication.

  13. Carrie Oakie*

    This is my biggest pet peeve in business! If you WANT it by Monday, don’t tell me it’s due Thursday. I always tell people I need it one day before I truly need it, just in case something comes up and I’m not able to review it/they turn it in EOD and I need it in the morning. This actually makes me angry for Sondra, because her team is setting her up to fail by not setting clear deadlines, and if they do meet the stated deadline that’s not good enough. They’re essentially complaining that she is doing her job her way instead of theirs, trying to micromanage how she works to fit their own. If it were me, I’d be telling the others that Sondra is meeting her deadlines and that they’re the ones who need to adjust.

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      *her team is setting her up to fail*

      Very well put. And when she “fails” they aren’t telling her how she went wrong, so she has no hope of succeeding the next time.

    2. Ruby Soho*

      I like to move the deadline up a day or so, too. And sometimes I’ll explain, I need to have it reviewed and in John’s hands by Friday afternoon, so I need it Thursday afternoon, which means you have to work with Jackie to get the data you need by Tuesday because it takes her at least a day to pull it, etc. Sometimes that helps, but sometimes it means nothing.

    3. goddessoftransitory*

      100%. She IS being set up to fail because this office culture basically wanted a White Rabbit who devotes herself to being late for a very important date.


    If i have projects with multiple deadlines, when another project is added, I must adjust EVERYTHING I’m doing.
    How can Sondra know what is more time critical in order to rearrange her work if they don’t tell her?
    How can she assure them she’ll meet any deadline if she can’t evaluate evetything together?
    They act like adding their tasks won’t effect any of her other work.
    This sounds like they expect Sondra to magically reprioritize her other work without understanding how important theirs actually is.

    1. Lizzo*

      I’ll add to this: sometimes prioritization needs to happen around the type of work and *when* (i.e. time of day) the brain is best suited to do that work.

      For example, my job is creative, but it also involves number crunching. I’m better at the creative stuff in the morning, and the data stuff in the afternoon. I also prefer to do the creative things in batches, and have time in between my “efforts” so that I can go back and review with fresh eyes. If possible, I’ll rearrange my workflow to take advantage of this.
      Now, if someone hands me something and says, “I need this back within 48hrs”, then I just get it done. But if I have the time and space to accommodate when and how I work best, you’d better believe that I’ll take advantage of this.

      OP, assuming that tasks are distributed equitably, I do agree with others that maybe a cultural shift needs to happen with your team. There’s nothing wrong with someone who manages their time differently if they’re getting good quality work done and not impacting the work of the team overall. Criticizing someone because they “lack hustle” is gross.

    2. Allonge*

      Eh, for me this (tasks coming in all the time and having to re-prioritise) is a different issue. Plenty of people have to work with a situation like that, for various reasons, plenty of them manage to either deliver or (with or without going to their boss) to re-prioritise things.

      I understand why it may not be someone’s preference, but not all jobs can be working on one thing at a time only either.

      1. biobotb*

        Sondra isn’t working on only one thing at a time, though. LW describes her working on other time-sensitive projects while letting the latest one percolate. So if she’s not picking the right time-sensitive project to prioritize, they should give some guidance.

      2. AngryOctopus*

        Sondra is working on all her projects and getting them done by the deadline, in a way that works best for her. If the actual culture is that when Person X or Y gives you something, you need to get it to them 3 days before they say, or that you have to drop everything else to finish it, then Sondra needs to be told that. Because otherwise she’ll just slot it in in a way that makes sense for her and get it back by the deadline that isn’t really the real deadline. If that’s your office culture, new people cannot just be expected to pick up on that and prioritize accordingly.

  15. Mockingjay*

    Deadlines have been my biggest frustration throughout my entire career. If you need it by X, tell me X due date. I’ve got six other people giving me assignments and due dates are the first sorting factor for what I work on. (When they conflict, that’s when I ask for priorities.) If you tell me it’s due by Friday, I’m finishing the other task due by Wednesday first.

    *Steps onto soapbox: Also, ASAP is NOT a due date. If you need it by COB today, tell me 4:00 pm today.

    1. Momma Bear*

      Agreed. ASAP to you might be something different than me. End of day to you might be something different to me – I had that recently. Llama was going on the truck by 3 but what I was told was end of the day…end of my day is 5. There was some pushing and shoving to get the llama on the truck that could have been avoided by someone saying “by 3” in the first place. People were frustrated but if you want to rush a llama, you’re going to get spit.

      1. New Jack Karyn*

        ” if you want to rush a llama, you’re going to get spit”

        Truer words were never spoken

      2. Pita Chips*

        if you want to rush a llama, you’re going to get spit

        As far as I’m concerned, you win the Internet today.

    2. used to be a tester*

      I had to do a lot of managing expectations around ‘ASAP’. I usually reply that as of right now ASAP is COB 07Feb, and that if that doesn’t work to reach out to either me or my boss. A lot of people in my organization weren’t clear on the difference between ASAP and Urgent.

    3. AnonInCanada*

      [blockquote][p]*Steps onto soapbox: Also, ASAP is NOT a due date. If you need it by COB today, tell me 4:00 pm today.[p][/blockquote]

      To which I’ll (depending on where you are in the corporate hierarchy) either say (to boss) “I will need to push [other project due today] back to meet your deadline” or (to “Jeremy” from the LoeWhaley YouTube shorts) “Toodaloo.”

    4. Emotional support capybara (he/him)*

      YES. We have customers who say ASAP and mean “sometime this week” and customers who say “oh, whenever is fine!” and mean “today.” USE YOUR WORDS FFS

      1. Bast*

        One thing I appreciate about my current job is there is no “ASAP” surprises, because you’re right, that phrase would get thrown around at OldJob constantly, and had many meanings — anything from drop everything and do this now, do this at some point before you leave today, do this within the next couple of days, etc. My current job rarely has “surprise” deadlines, as it is quite well organized, but for the more pressing things, it is “I’m looking to get this out by noon tomorrow” or “I need this before you leave today” never “ASAP.”

    5. samwise*

      Right. As soon as possible — well, I have these other projects and tasks to work on, some of them needing attention right away, some of them I can’t postpone because then I’m not working steadily to complete a large project. So for me “possible” means next Friday, given everything else I have to do.

      What people really mean when they say ASAP is “soon” or “right away”. They don’t care about what is “possible” for me.

      Fortunately I have a reputation for thorough and excellent work, turned in on time (sometimes but not always early). Also, I’ve got no problem calling people out when they gripe about how long it’s taking me –“Your deadline was Friday, not Monday, and you got it midday Friday. So I don’t see where there’s a problem”. Most people learn to be accurate with me about their deadline. The ones who don’t, where my boss says “I was surprised to hear you were late with Jim-Bob’s request,” well, they’ve just bought themselves a well-documented Liar Liar pants on fire and my boss will follow up with Jim-Bob or with Jim-Bob’s supervisor.

      My advice to Sondra is, ask for deadlines, confirm them in writing (email for instance), and politely, professionally, and firmly call people on it when they gripe about being “late.” My advice to the OP is “what Alison said.”

  16. Tara B.*

    I’m not a fan of the two deadline thing. I’d rather have one deadline communicated to me point blank. I know myself well enough that when I see two deadlines, I will fixate over the later date and skim over the earlier one because that’s what my best for my workflow.

    Why not just communicate the earlier date and encourage her to speak up if she needs more time?

    1. Eldest Child of My Workplace*

      Yeah, in my company we say “we want it by X day but there’s a little leeway if things get busy”.

  17. fidget spinner*

    I have ADHD and one of the hardest things for me to do is prioritize tasks without explicit communication. And I usually don’t submit before the “deadline” because I’ll want to be able to have maximum time to check something for errors. Do I usually check something for errors? No. But turning something in early gives me anxiety that I’m going to realize I missed something or skipped something, so having time to go back and fix it is important to me. I have a deep anxiety about making mistakes.

    I think this can easily be solved with more communication on when these coworkers expect things from Sondra.

    1. Random*


      Stuff like what’s described in this letter drives me nuts in the workplace. If someone is meeting their deadlines, like Sondra is, they’re not missing their deadlines. This entire culture needs a reset.

  18. Office Petty Can Bring Me Joy*

    I work with someone like this.

    Most recently, this person gave the group a deadline of Friday at noon (on Tuesday). Wednesday early afternoon, she sent a snarky email stating that “since no one had responded to her yet, that must mean she can move forward.” Big Boss happened to be on the email and responded back “You said it was due Friday.” This person took the rest of Wednesday off to pout.

    On a good note, not another peep was uttered about the project until Friday (after the group submission) when she thanked the group for their hard work.

    1. Box of Kittens*

      The ONE thing I can understand about this person is that I personally appreciate a “received, working on this” when I send a request with a deadline to someone I don’t normally work with. If I don’t get that, I do sometimes follow up before my set deadline to make sure they received the request, so they have time to work on it. But assuming that’s not an issue here, that’s annoying.

      1. Office Petty Can Bring Me Joy*

        Fair, but why not just ask if people are “working on it” instead of stating “you’re moving forward, because no said anything” before the deadline?

        This person has a history of “secret” deadlines as discussed above and an unpleasant attitude to boot. With the exception of Big Boss no one had standing to tell her to knock it off. That’s why the schadenfreude was so enjoyable.

        1. Boof*

          I think that is again a team culture / need based thing. I get so many messages I actually want to limit the amount of back-and-forth. Some team members I trust to just do the task if it’s a small task and I don’t need a OK it’s done now. There is some nuance there of course, but it’s always worth saying “please confirm if this works” (want the confirmatory reply) vs “let me know if there’s an issue” (no reply needed unless there’s an issue) if that’s what you want..

        2. Pizza Rat*

          Really. It’s not hard. “How are things going? Can you still make Friday’s deadline?”

          Personally, I want to know by Thursday if Friday’s deadline can’t be met.

    2. Llellayena*

      Yeah, when you’re expecting full responses ahead of the deadline it’s annoying. But I have no problem with pushing for a response if the original email said “please confirm by the end of the day if this timeline works for you” and no one responds. The number of times I’ve had to chase prior to the deadline to even find out if the deadline would be reached is seriously annoying. I spend the whole week worrying that I won’t have the files I need when one little “yes, timeline works” email would fix it all.

  19. InTheTrees*

    It sounds like Sondra is the one with good time management skills here and as the manager, you need to evaluate the culture of urgency and “secret deadlines” that seems to be the norm for the team. It’s completely inappropriate to penalize someone for doing the work that’s expected of them by the deadline. As someone with ADHD, I work best when I can “let things breathe” and work according to my energy. For that to be successful, I need clear expectations and communication from colleagues and supervisors about when you need something from me.

  20. CB212*

    Since LW doesn’t say that Sondra is doing less work than expected, it sounds like she just keeps more projects alive simultaneously than others in the department. E.g. instead of picking up and closing out a sequence of jobs each in a short timeframe, sending one off before the next, she’s just stacking them and making longer layers – working on a few projects in the same week or even day. As a designer, that’s also my preferred schedule – I often come back to a project and make it much sharper after a little time away – and I could see that being true with data analysis or any number of other skills.

    Obviously yes, if people really want their work on the 20th they need to stop saying ‘end of month’, but if some of the trouble is about optics, it might be helpful (for the boss and for other stakeholders) to reframe her process as not actually less productive than the department standard.

    1. Hermione Danger*

      This is what I was thinking as well. I’m a designer who can turn out good work very quickly. However, I turn out much, much stronger work if I have the time to let projects breathe a little before completing them, so I do juggle more at once. That way, I always have something to work on, but I can also create better deliverables because my brain has a chance to catch up to my process.

      1. BigLawEx*

        Girl, same. I know that my best work comes from working on something in the forefront while thinking about other projects in the back of my mind. I think Susan Cain tackles this in her book Quiet. I would like diverse thinkers/doers on my team versus ‘quick turnaround’ unless minimum viable product is what your business is aiming for…IF that’s the case, then let Sondra know.

      2. myfanwy*

        I work with text and yes, my process is the same. If I have to rush it, it’ll still be fine. But if I can alternate between working on it and letting it sit in the back of my mind while focusing on something else, the end result will be much stronger. Some problem solving requires me to stop actively staring at the problem for a while.


    Consider age & life obligations.
    When Sondra balances her personal wants/needs, how much she’ll give the job may be different than others.
    How many hours I am willing to work at 50 is different than when I was 25.
    and, face it, younger people see work differently than the over-60.
    Corporations have started to say “we’re a family!” because they realize they aren’t and they’re getting prioritized as less important w/ workers.

    1. TheBunny*

      This doesn’t feel like a fair response to me.

      Sondra is doing her job and meeting her deadlines. Tons of people (myself included) prioritize things due “tomorrow” over things due at the end of the week. That’s not her working less…that’s working with priority.

      LW doesn’t say she goes home early on Tuesday with tasks left for the end of the week… just that she does her job and meets stated deadlines.

    2. Purple m&m*

      I was thinking this. Sondra may be just doing her job and not feeling the hustle. It may not be worth it to hustle and get projects done before the stated due date. Maybe she’s just working her paycheck. And maybe she’s a competent employee but not interested in a super star track.

    3. ecnaseener*

      We’re not told anything about how old anyone in this letter is. I can’t even tell if you’re suggesting Sondra must be older or must be younger, but either way – it’s not helpful, and possibly harmful, for LW to interpret Sondra’s very reasonable approach (not working late hours just for the sake of turning in work early!) as a function of her age or personal situation.

      (I’m not being snarky either when I say I can’t tell which one you mean. You could be referring to the idea of young people “hustling,” or of older people having more of a sense of company loyalty, young people with no kids yet or over-60s whose kids are out of the house…)

    4. Ashley*

      I think what might be coming across is Sondra isn’t willing to do overtime that other co-workers have come to expect. This can really mess with deadlines and larger expectations.
      I have a co-worker who can’t leave anything unfinished so if I don’t see something in 4 hours I generally know someone moved it from the shared inbox without telling them (a completely different problem) and know to follow up. Is that reasonable for other folks absolutely not at which point I know to tell them I need this today or just let them sit on it for a week for the non-urgent.
      Also if Sondra is still newer it should be expected some things will take longer and her sitting on it to produce better work and make sure she didn’t forget anything should be appreciated if she is meeting the deadline. I can give you work fast and ok, or I can be thorough, slower, and product much higher quality work. As I do my job longer and longer how long it takes keeps going down.

  22. Nobby Nobbs*

    OP, would you and your team be okay with Sondra prioritizing getting the work done quickly over getting it done perfectly? Or do you expect it to be both perfect and quick? Because it’s the former, there are some people who really need that spelled out, especially early in their careers.

  23. sara*

    I like the 2 deadlines concept myself – and tend to work well with that sort of system. Even something like “asap but I need it by x date” is more clear to me than “I need it by x date” – the first one I’ll prioritize earlier into my day/week than the second one. I tend to have multiple projects of varying scales and priorities on the go at once – so in the case of just getting a hard deadline, I’d likely wait until I wrapped up something else before starting to work on it, even if that something else was lower priority.

  24. parttimer*

    My office is a little like this..l might give someone a deadline a week out, because I don’t know what else they have on their plate and I don’t know what they need to prioritize, and trust them to organize it. But then if I hear them say in staff meeting their only working on a couple of things, and it still takes them a week to get back to me, I am pretty frustrated. (Since they are one hour tasks, not one week tasks). And that *does* really leave me wondering what hours people work.

    1. L-squared*

      If you don’t need it by a certain day, then say thats when you need it. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter if they don’t start it until the day before. As long as they give it to you by the day you asked for, they are holding up their end of the bargain.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        I don’t say everything I’m working on in a staff meeting. Someone might have asked for something that’s one-hour of work, but I might need something from another area to complete it. Or my grand-boss might have asked me to handle something that’s a bigger priority. Or I might be working on an ongoing project. Or be spending more time on something that the rest of my team doesn’t need to hear about. (My role is very different than any of my teammates, so I try to be very general in staff meetings.)

    2. Bunny Lake Is Found*

      See, I would loathe that. Like, you said a week. That is when I am factoring it in. Some weeks are lighter, sometimes plans change. Unless you are my manager, you don’t really get to be “frustrated” at me for not being sufficiently busy to justify meeting the deadline YOU set.

    3. A Girl Named Fred*

      Okay, but if you hand me a task and tell me you need it in a week, I’m going to prioritize it as if you need it in a week. If you ideally want it back sooner than that providing that their capacity allows it, you need to share that so the person can use your actual need when they prioritize.

    4. TheBunny*

      So…you don’t actually trust them to organize it, because you are sitting in meetings annoyed a task you set isn’t done (when the deadline hasn’t passed) because they aren’t busy?

      1. Pizza Rat*

        and just because they aren’t busy with tasks doesn’t mean they aren’t busy with meetings and a backlog of emails or other things that might not come up in that conversation.

    5. Relentlessly Socratic*

      If you’re not my manager or my client, it’s none of your business when I work on your widget that you tell me is due a week out. You can’t say you trust your colleagues to organize their work then complain when you’re not the first person to get work back.

    6. parttimer*

      Thanks for the feed back. I guess I’ll try asking for things a day or two later, and if that doesn’t work for them they can tell me.

      1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

        If that is when you ACTUALLY need it, sure. If you are just setting an arbitrary deadline to make them do your task ASAP when you don’t actually need it until the following week but want to “punish” them for not being busy enough (and because commenters disagree with you) then that is a little silly.

        Could you not just say “Ideally I’d like this tomorrow or the day after. But absolutely no later than next week?”

      2. House On The Rock*

        Have you tried asking them when they could get it done? Perhaps within the context of “I need this by next Wednesday but what’s your capacity between now and then?”. I find I get much better results when involving the person doing the work in the determination of timing (within reason and knowing something about the people).

        1. AngryOctopus*

          And that gives the person space to say “next Wed is great, I’m pretty busy through Monday, but there’s a chance that Boss is going to push a task to next week, so if that happens I’ll get to your thing sooner” or whatever works for their schedule. You may get irritated because you know it’s a 1 hour task, but the person may be working on 3 other 6 day tasks with varying deadlines that you don’t know about. It’s unlikely that they’re sitting there saying “oh it’s due Wednesday so I don’t have to do any work until then!”.

      3. myfanwy*

        If it’s useful for you to have it back that quickly, then sure. If it makes no difference, then there’s no need! You don’t need to enforce a work ethic that you personally prefer, you just need a task done. Don’t try to guess at their workload and then feel annoyed with them if you guessed wrong, just set the timings based on actual impact, leave a bit of wiggle room for the unexpected, and let people know if a deadline is negotiable based on their other work.

    7. Beth*

      Let’s say in theory someone IS genuinely having a light week, genuinely does relax a little with their work, and still gets you the thing you need on time–would that be a problem?

      A lot of salaried workers have crunch periods where they put in extra hours and extra hustle to get things done. Sometimes, depending on the role and the company culture and etc, the trade-off is that you can relax a little in your slower weeks as long as you’re still getting everything done. To me, the marker of someone’s work ethic isn’t whether they’re keeping up a show of busyness during their slow weeks–it’s whether they get the things they’re responsible for done by the time they need to, regardless of whether it’s a crunch week or not.

    8. ele4phant*

      I mean, to me, that says that they are taking into account your week deadline, and therefore *have more space to take on something fast turn if necessary*. Because you set the expectation it wasn’t fast turn.

      Which, if I’m trying to find capacity, its helpful to know who has the flexibility and who doesn’t.

      Tell them both when you ideally want it and what the drop dead backend deadline is and let them manage themselves accordingly.

    9. Eldest Child of My Workplace*

      That’s on you. You need to ask them what their workload is like and discuss a deadline that works for both of you.

  25. Sandi*

    I’m wondering why they are being unreasonable with their impression that she’s not doing much work because she wants to think about it. Is this the type of work where creativity or attention to detail is required? I will often sit on an important email or document and read it over again the next day before sending it. If the extra time means that she’s making fewer errors than others then it would be good to point this out. I would also look at how much she is producing to see if it is equal to others, and if so then push back on their comments. If the work is equally good if done quickly then I agree that being more clear with the expected deadline is the best solution.

    1. Sandi*

      I also wonder how priorities are sorted. It sounds like everything is urgent, which means that nothing is a priority.

      1. aebhel*

        Yeah. And I find this a lot with poor managers – they don’t know how to schedule tasks appropriately, so they rely on everybody who reports to them rush-rush-rushing to get it done ASAP because they didn’t actually plan out the project adequately. It’s unfair and unsustainable.

  26. Tom*

    I’ve definitely seen an expectations clash before between people who tend to do each task as quickly as they can vs people who will allow the tasks they’re assigned expand to fill the time available.

    For the first group, they tend to have a strong sense of the quality bar they need to hit. So for each task, they will work until they are done according to their own standards, and then they’ll deliver. Each task will be completed as quickly as possible given the understood standards for quality and completeness.

    The second group tends to always want to keep working on each task as long as they are allowed to. They are happy to tinker with it forever. They don’t necessarily have the same sense of a quality bar they need to hit. Instead, they always want to make each thing as good as they possibly can in the amount of time allotted. If more time is allotted for a task, that’s a signal that they ought to try and hit a higher bar of polish and quality.

    1. EventPlannerGal*

      I think this is a really useful distinction to draw, and it can be quite frustrating when the two sets of expectations clash.

    2. GammaGirl1908*

      Agree with this. I also see similar mindsets in people who “hate having it hanging over their head” and do it up front, and people who are less bothered by that and take closer to the full time to do the task.

      Neither way is wrong, but Person 1 sees Person 2 dragging their feet or having no sense of urgency or procrastinating. Person 2 doesn’t know what the big rush is, and sees no need to be slap-dash, and wants to kick some ideas around and have extra time to review it and double-check. The existence of the task is not a threat or cause of anxiety. It’s not hanging over their heads, instead they have plenty of time to get to it later this week because it’s not due until Monday. Sondra is a 2 in an office full of 1s.

  27. Monsters r Us*

    This is not on Sondra but rather those communicating with her. The person who needs the data should list when they need it by and not provide a false deadline. This is setting Sondra up for failure.

  28. Umami*

    I think there’s a difference between projects and requests. Projects are ongoing with deadlines, but requests are just that – requests that might take time to field or can be fielded pretty quickly (as in, with little time or effort). Sondra’s team is used to requests being fielded quickly, whereas Sondra has a more measured approach and spends time reflecting on the request before responding. That may or may not work in the environment she is in if multiple people are needing responses to things but she wants to take plenty of time to mull them over first, or be given a hard and fast deadline for responding.

    1. BellyButton*

      Recently, we had to put into writing, have a person print it out, and tape to their monitor a schedule. Her team is supposed to be incredibly responsive- no matter how often her manager, or I, told her all the time and communication expectations she wasn’t doing it, getting it, or remembering it. For example – if someone Slack’s you X, you need to tell them “I need to research this, but will get back to you within the next 2 hours”, or that email requests needed to be responded to in 24 hours, if a request is made for Y the turn around should be 3 days (which is 1 day longer than anyone else), etc etc etc.

      You have to clearly lay out what response times are for the type of requests.

  29. BellyButton*

    Yeah, if the culture is that you give someone something 5 days before their deadline, then tell her that, even if the requesters aren’t telling her. Tell her that you (they) expect her to give things back to someone in X amount of days or X days ahead of their deadline.

    Unwritten culture rules like this aren’t fair, they negatively impact someone who is doing their job and meeting the deadlines they are given. Tell them the unwritten rules.

    1. BellyButton*

      There is a difference between longer term projects with a deadline and with requests that are requiring immediate attention. I have set times blocked off to do project work. Otherwise I am only going to be responsive and in meetings. I need time to work on the longer term projects. During those blocked times my Slack goes to show either I am in a meeting or I am on Focus Time, so people know it will be a bit before I respond. Maybe she needs to do something like that.

      If there are types of requests that need to be responded to in a set amount of time, tell her that. Requests of Y need to be responded to same day, Requests of X need a response in 24 hours, etc.

    2. Mill Miker*

      My gut says there isn’t some set number of days people need. As long as Sondra appears relaxed and doesn’t work overtime, there will always be a sense of “she could have done it sooner”

      So what if she’s doing as much work as everyone else, she’s clearly not working as hard as everyone else, and maybe if she did a bit of overtime, some others could get a break (or, more likely, the company could commit to more work in less time, without having to hire another person).

      This is how you burn people out.

  30. kiki*

    “I know that how myself and my boss handle situations like this are to just speed up and/or work a little late to keep things moving quickly, but I think not everyone feels they can do their best work that way.”

    So I’m wondering how sustainable this approach really is in the long-term, especially if there are a lot of requests coming to your team. Because working late or really hustling on something to turn it around is okay once in a while, but If it’s virtually all the time, that leads to burnout. It also takes away from anyone’s ability to work through longer-term projects that may be slightly less urgent, but more important.

    1. Momma Bear*

      Also, some people cannot flex like that – there are a lot of folks caring for family members, or have outside obligations. If LW wants to work longer, then that’s fine for them, but if the work regularly slips so people have to work longer hours to keep up, they need to look at the workflow.

      1. kiki*

        Yes! A great point. I also think while it’s really cool to have superstar employees who want to work outside their regular hours and go above and beyond on everything, as a organization grows, it’s increasingly important to have folks on your team who may not go above and beyond all the time, but are stable, reliable, and can get the job done.

        1. House On The Rock*

          When I became a manager my world view shifted from overvaluing the high strung high achievers to realizing that the slow, steady, reliable folks are really the heart of a team. I am so thankful for staff who are realistic about workloads and deadlines, even if it means I may need to reset expectations or push back with stakeholders occasionally, because I know that their work product will be stellar.

          1. Eldest Child of My Workplace*

            Important caveat: you have to put in the effort to a) make it financially feasible for your team to do that and b) not give mixed messages about your expectations. It took me YEARS to get my boss to stop freaking out every time I said I needed to decline a job. Truthfully, I gained most of the concessions I have now by going along with the unrealistic workloads and then fucking up so badly (despite good-faith efforts) that he learned the hard way. Quick-and-dirty and slow-and-accurate each have their own tradeoffs and you have to accept the pros and cons equally.

    2. Smap*

      This part stood out so much to me. Your team probably has adopted this “everything is on fire”
      attitude because they are emulating your standard operating procedure. If you want to encourage a less burnout-inducing environment, you’ll need to: A.) explicitly reset expectations about turnaround, and B.) lead by example and stop working late when things aren’t actually due! Take a page out of Sondra’s book.

    3. Pam Adams*

      Also, if you are saying Sondra’s style is fine, but you and your boss are living the hustle culture, your message won’t stick. People act on what they see, not on what they hear.

      This change needs t o come from above.

    4. Boof*

      Yeah that stood out to me; apparently this employee is finishing the same amount of stuff in the requested timeframe as others, but isn’t staying late in order to get it done asap (for no reason other than a culture of asap)? If that’s right op ought to work on tamping down the culture of artificial urgency, or at least emphasizing steady regular work is fine if that’s someone’s preference!

  31. BecauseHigherEd*

    “She will read the request, think about it, maybe do some other fairly time-sensitive work, then maybe reference some relevant materials to prepare to work on the request, then maybe do some other time-sensitive work again, then work on the request, and finally perhaps take another break doing other work so that she can review her work with fresh eyes before sharing it.”

    That honestly sounds like a very effective way to use one’s time and to ensure that a final project isn’t given to the team until it’s 100% ready. I agree that if there’s an issue with the turnaround, then people need to manage their expectations, not be mad when she does exactly what’s been communicated. (Especially if her output is good!)

    1. BellyButton*

      I wonder if the LW has looked at her quality compared to others. She might not be giving the same turn around, but is her work of higher quality, less communication needed because she was clear and concise in her answers– which would ultimately save time? It may look like someone responded within 30 minutes, but then if there were mistakes or they had to clarify their answer with multiple slack messages or emails- it ultimately takes more time.

      1. BecauseHigherEd*

        That’s what I was wondering, too. I also wonder if Sondra is producing a *perfect* product when what the team needs is a rough product that they will then workshop/build upon/revise…in which case, OP should just say, “It’s better to churn something out the same day so that we have time to revise as a team.”

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          Or even a smaller difference, like getting from 96% perfect to 98.5% perfect–when 96% is truly a reasonable submission. Certainly possible that she’s chasing some diminishing returns, and could cut down on her turnaround time that way.

  32. Lilo*

    I’ll add to the chorus of “this is not on Sondra”. I juggle a lot of balls at work, I can absolutely turn something around immediately but if I don’t have to sometimes I push it off for more urgent tasks. You have to communicate.

  33. Margaret Cavendish*

    This is one of my biggest pet peeves at work. If you ask me to give you something on the 15th, I will give it to you on the 15th. But don’t come to me on the 9th wondering where it is! If you want it on the 9th because you want to review it before you send it to someone else on the 15th, then *tell me that.*

    I have about a bajillion items on my to-do list at any given time, and I’m always triaging and rearranging my priorities based on whatever else is going on. So if you tell me the 15th and I have three other things I need to do by the 9th, then I will do those first. If you want your thing on the 9th, then I have four things to do by the 9th – which I can do, as long as I know about them!

  34. Kitty Cuddler*

    I definitely feel for Sondra. This sounds crazypants to me! One of the quickest ways to destroy morale is to move goalposts. I know I am by nature a procrastinator, and I’ve learned to be deliberate in how I prioritize things. But I also know if I have something big with a deadline in 2 weeks and I’m feeling unsure about, I’ll do it in little sections and effectively “eat the elephant” one spoonful at a time. To punish someone for working that way because you had a secret deadline is crazy.

  35. uncivil servant*

    I work in a big bureaucracy and I admit, there are times when I want to scream about whether anyone has heard of triage because there are services where regardless of whether of what you ask for, you always get an answer in their service standard of 10 business days, never much sooner. And then people end up trying to go around them because when someone asks me a quick question but I need to collect two small pieces of info in order to answer them, then it becomes a month long ordeal.

    So yeah, there are times where I think it’s not crazy or playing mind games to want things done ahead of time.

    If Sonia were writing in, one thing I’d warn her about is that she could end up with less flexibility if people know that she will always respond at the last possible minute. People who COULD work with a Friday deadline if their colleague is swamped, but would prefer Wednesday, will always ask her for Wednesday. Personally, I’d be happy like that because I tend to work better to externally imposed deadlines. But if she values having a bit more time for some projects, she could lose that wiggle room.

    1. Sunny*

      These sound like slightly opposite situations to me. The service turnaround time is set by the department receiving the request – so they give you the deadline, and you can take it or take it. I’ve owrked in those sorts of systems before and agree it’s maddening.

      But Sonia is not setting the deadlines here – the people submitting the requests are, and she’s taking them at their word. They could just communicate their needs better, and the problem might go away, but they haven’t even tried that.

  36. CTT*

    I have definitely been guilty of this and Alison’s response is super-helpful. Sometimes when I’m assigning work, the person who gets it will say something like “I’m not busy so I’ll get started today.” If it’s something that doesn’t take more than an hour or two and a few days have gone by, I find myself thinking “but if they weren’t busy why haven’t they turned it in yet so we can get it out the door?” Which is absurd thinking, but that’s how my mind works sometimes! I really like the “drop dead date is X, but if you can do it earlier that would be helpful” language Alison suggested. And I probably need to stop taking “I’ll get to it today” so literally…

  37. Amesip*

    Ooooo, this gave me anxiety just reading it! My supervisor at my previous employer did this all the time. I personally tend to take directions and deadlines very literally, and my supervisor would often give me deadlines but really expect the work to be done days (or even weeks) sooner. It was early in my career, and I didn’t fully understand the importance of expressing my frustrations with the ‘fake deadlines’ directly. I (extremely immaturely) chose to maliciously comply with the communicated deadlines. So it may be, as with my situation, that Sondra definitely picks up that she is not completely syncing up with the culture. However she probably figures that if it was a real problem, shorter deadlines would be explicitly communicated.

    Reading about it from a manager’s perspective brings all those feelings of frustration and pettiness rushing back. My advice is to, as Alison wrote, communicate the expected deadlines more clearly. I would have really appreciated the two deadline thing, though I am sure that would not be for everyone.

  38. Hell in a Handbasket*

    I think the real question is, is Sondra completing the same amount of work as others on the team, or not? It’s not totally clear to me from the letter but “I am being told it is not fair for Sondra to “carry less of the load”” makes it sound like she’s doing less. If her coworkers are finishing things 3 days before the deadline and then picking up and completing the next task, whereas Sondra is taking right up to the deadline and not picking up anything additional, then the real problem is her efficiency rather than the deadline thing. If she actually IS getting the same amount done, then I agree with all the other posts that she is not the issue here.

    1. Beth*

      Even if the issue is that her colleagues are pushing to finish early and grab extra work and Sondra isn’t…if no one’s assigned her additional work, and no one’s pointed her to wherever you document additional projects that need someone to grab them and told her to make sure she’s taking a share, then that’s still a management issue. If OP and their team are hoping she’ll magically know what needs doing and do it without anyone asking….I mean, you can make that your team culture if you want, but it doesn’t sound to me like one that will set the team up for success.

      1. Hell in a Handbasket*

        Sure, but it’s very possible that the team does have this system and everyone knows about it. The OP doesn’t give us any information about how work is assigned.

    2. LCH*

      this feels like a separate issue from the deadlines one. if OP/the team/the company needs Sondra to do more work, then they need to assign her more work. with the appropriate deadlines included. right now, it sounds like Sondra is managing her time based on the amount of work assigned.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        And it might not even be an issue. I’ve worked with plenty of people who just assumed that people who managed their time well or whose work results weren’t immediately obvious to all were somehow slacking. The LW doesn’t make clear if Sondra’s productivity is lower or if her coworkers just perceive it to be. She also doesn’t tell us if Sondra’s quality is higher or the same.

        Much like for Sondra, I feel like more communication would help me understand the LW.

  39. JustMyImagination*

    LW, you’re definitely correct when you say it’s unfair to hold her to secret deadlines. It will take a lot of effort to change the company culture around deadlines. If you can, I think it’s a fight worth fighting for the reasons Alison mentioned. In the meantime, you could consider talking to Sondra and telling her “I know they said you have 7 days for the deadline but senior management’s expectations are X task takes 3 days and Y task takes 2 days. Please consider those your actual deadlines and work to them.”

  40. pearly*

    I have one coworker who did this when he first started. It drove me – and everyone else – nuts. He would give me a date (“I’d like to send this out by Friday”) and then email me the next day and say “I haven’t seen anything from you so I went ahead and did it.” This caused legitimate problems, since many of the things I do are solidly out of his purview. It took four conversations with him and his manager to get him to actually tell me when he wanted things to be done. We work much better now that he just tells me his real, ideal timeline.
    I totally understand having a hustle mentality, but it’s not effective, efficient, or fair to push unspoken rules on a new hire.

    1. House On The Rock*

      I had to intervene when we hired someone specifically to take over a chunk of work that had been burning one of our staff out. But Burned Out Staff Member didn’t want to let it go, and kept taking it back over from New Person.

      It was frustrating for all involved (including the customers who didn’t know who was doing what when). With a lot of coaching and supervision, it worked out, and now Formerly Burned Out Staff Member is happy to have less work…but it was a struggle. Some people get really invested in the hustle and have a hard time stepping back. It kind of sounds like that’s the case in LW’s office.

  41. bamcheeks*

    we hired Sondra so we would have more bandwidth and have to hustle less, but because the rest of us still operate in that hustle mindset, I am being told it is not fair for Sondra to “carry less of the load.”

    This sounds SUPER important to me. It sounds like you’ve got a strategic commitment to trying to change the culture and move away from hustle and into something more sustainable, but no actual will to change. I think you and your managers really need to get aligned on this, because “change the hustle culture but also keep hustling and punish people who don’t hustle” is a crappy and stressful way to keep going.

    Apart from hiring Sondra, what are your metrics and what else is in your process for moving to a sustainable and stabilised work process? What would that look like? Do you need to reset expectations with your manager, your clients (internal or external) and the rest of the team? What change are you going to make to your own work process?

    Maybe you actually DO want to stay in hustle mode, in which case the kindest thing to do would b e to be clear about that with Sondra (and any future Sondras) and let her decide whether this is the right environment for her. But if you and the organisation do seriously want your team to move out of hustle mode, this is your first test.

    1. Awkwardness*

      I think you and your managers really need to get aligned on this, because “change the hustle culture but also keep hustling and punish people who don’t hustle” is a crappy and stressful way to keep going.


    2. linger*

      A lot will depend on how serious and urgent the org is about expanding the size of the team, and whether or not the workload is expanding faster than the headcount. If Sondra is the first of several projected new hires, without an expansion in team workload, then the team will naturally be able to move away from hustle mode. If not, then the original team are not being given any reason to shift mode.

      1. bamcheeks*

        I think some teams move “naturally” away, but others need far more active and conscious work on changing the mindset. It’s easy for things like scale-ups, new functions etc to assume that it will all happen naturally, and for things to go wrong because nobody is deliberately taking charge of that process. So I think it’s worth LW and her manager getting clear on that timeline and where they are now, and then figuring out whether they need Sondra to change, or the wider culture to change.

  42. Goldenrod*

    I totally agree with all the commenters who are annoyed by the unclear communication of deadlines. Deadlines and expectations should be made perfectly clear.

    At the same time, one thing I think is really valuable in employees (at least where I work) is having a sense of urgency. Some people naturally have it. Others naturally have a very slow rhythm. It’s a hard thing to change. I’m not sure it can change, I think internal rhythms may be hard wired.

    I admit that people with slow internal rhythms sometimes drive me crazy at work. Also, I’ve mostly worked at places where being able to prioritize is extremely important. So, yeah, while I would *like* to take a lot of time doing one thing perfectly, it’s usually more important to get more done things quickly, and less perfectly.

    If the communication becomes more direct but the employee still cannot work faster, she may just be in the wrong line of work. Slow people can do certain kinds of work very well, but a fast-paced office may not be the right environment for this kind of person.

    1. Margaret Cavendish*

      I have a slow internal rhythm, and it drives my boss crazy! And she drives me crazy in return, by asking for things by the 15th then starting to fret about them on the 9th.

      Fortunately, she’s pretty receptive to feedback. So things got much easier for both of us when I named the pattern and asked her to tell me the actual date she wants the thing – I promised to get it to her by that date, and she promised to stop bugging me about it beforehand. Clear communication works, folks!

    2. kiki*

      I think a sense of urgency can be good, but it can also cause unnecessary stress and strife if everyone isn’t careful. A sense of urgency needs to be carefully calibrated to prevent burnout. I have worked with somebody who had a tremendous sense of urgency, but it was exhausting! For them, there was no differentiation between the paper supplier for the office being a bit more expensive that it could be and a literal fire. It was hard to watch them burn themself out over issues that generally could have taken a few days. It also drove them to go for the fast solution, which wasn’t always right and would often create more problems.

    3. Fluffy Fish*

      ” I think is really valuable in employees (at least where I work) is having a sense of urgency”

      I think I would say to that that we have to be careful of our own biases. Just because we value something (which is often qualities we ourself have) doesn’t mean it’s the only thing that’s valuable nor does it mean that people who lack it aren’t valuable in other ways.

      This has loads of implications in hiring and dei. Homogeneity is pretty routinely bad for most human interaction situations and almost always at work. We want diversity and people with diverse skills.

      1. Goldenrod*

        Hi Fluffy Fish! Yes, I totally agree and I apologize if it sounded like I was criticizing my slower-rhythmed friends. :)

        What I meant was that “sense of urgency” is crucial for *some* kinds of work…But not all work, not all the time, and not all offices.

        1. Fluffy Fish*

          i didn’t see it as criticism. i just really want to challenge your idea that urgency is crucial even for certain kinds of work. maybe it is an absolute requirement. but often we have ideas of certain qualities that someone has to have and the reality is that’s just our own bias talking. we can challenge that by breaking down what we think is necessary and examining it. good time management skills and grace under pressure would probably be required skills – that can certainly present as someone very calm and collected.

          Mill Miker’s comment below I think is a good illustration too of sometimes what we think is the skill can appear to be but really isnt which is a related concept.

    4. Mill Miker*

      I have a really good sense of urgency. Past experience says it’s pretty accurate. I’m really good at sensing if something is urgent or not.

      I’ve also worked with people who claim to have a sense of urgency, but I just see them rushing to do whatever tasks are presented to them in the loudest or most visible way, while letting quieter problems bubble under the surface until they cause an emergency, and present as the loudest and most visible task.

      It’s like someone with a tooth infection saying they have a great sense of taste because they can always taste the metal in everything.

    5. LCH*

      i’m not sure we have any evidence that Sondra is a slow worker. right now, she is getting stuff done by the deadline. if the deadline was moved up, she may still be getting it done on time. we just don’t know that yet.

  43. Some Cajun Queen*

    I work for a boss like this – one who constantly expects work earlier than stated, tells us that turning in work early shows initiative, and explicitly prioritizes “hustle culture.” It has run me (a person who has worked in hospitals and womanned an entire fundraising department during multiple disasters) absolutely ragged, and it is one of the primary reasons I am leaving the organization after a year. If you prioritize churn and burn, make sure you’re okay with the burn part.

  44. DramaQ*

    OMG I dealt with this all the time with the sales team in my old job. I pushed back that I am not a mind reader. If all five of you submit samples on Tuesday it’s first in first out unless my MANAGER tells me otherwise. Your imaginary deadline means nothing to me. If you need something by X you tell my manager and she will approve it and communicate to me and I will adjust my schedule accordingly.

    Same here we have a five day turn around time. This is communicated upfront. You want it sooner than 5 days you must talk to the supervisor to have it approved AND get it to us in time. I have lost count of how many people come down at 4:30 pm Friday with a frozen solid sample and want us to turn it around same day because their manager expects results by 9am Monday morning. Ummm . .. no? You should have planned for that and brought it to us on time. Everyone has gone home already and most of our tests can’t be turned around that fast or sit over the weekend and be accurate.

    Sondra deserves to have it communicated to her what her priorities actually are. Does Jane REALLY need this by February 5th or is Jane someone who just likes to get things in first but the stuff she is giving Sondra isn’t a high priority because the real deadline is February 10th so come to the manager if Jane gets snippy. Meanwhile John really DOES need it by the 5th so when he comes to you with the project drop what you are doing and focus on this. Manager will manager project Y’s expectations until you finish John’s stuff.

    This passive aggressive hustle culture is going to make Sondra leave because nobody likes to feel like a failure for being incapable of reading minds. It sounds like she is actually doing a pretty good job of prioritizing her workload based on the information she’s given. She’s just not being given the correct information. That’s not fair to Sondra. It’s insane she’s expected to stay late to get something done that has a deadline 5 days out just so she can say she got it out 2 days earlier. For what? Is there a reason besides bragging rights that you hustled your way into getting it in sooner? That is something to reflect on as you hire more people. Is the hustle actually needed or has it become a badge of pride/I suffered now you suffer thing as time has gone on?

  45. I should really pick a name*

    One approach that might help is to tell Sondra that if no deadline is given, then the deadline is X days.
    This is assuming assignments are comparable enough in scale that you can give a fixed number like that.

  46. Cat Tree*

    I’ve managed people like Sondra and honestly they’re great (as long as those due dates they are meeting are true). They put thought into it and produce high quality work. It was a bit nerve-wracking the first few times and I was closely managing those projects. But once I knew what to expect it was a lot smoother.

    OTOH, I had an enthusiastic employee who would churn out reports right away, but they were poor quality. Several times I explained that she should review and edit her work even though it would take longer, as long as she could still meet the due date. It actually got bad enough to become a performance issue but she was laid off (completely unrelated) before I could start the PIP process. It was so disheartening because she was really enthusiastic and clearly trying, but she just did not get the concept of investing more time to create good work. I really wanted her to be successful.

    But yeah, I’ll manage a thoughtful Sondra any day.

    1. kiki*

      My mom is a Sondra. She doesn’t work fast, but what she delivers is often much better thought-out and/or higher quality than her peers. She tells a story of working on a proposal for a client. Two folks internally were creating separate pitches, so the client would have multiple options. The person leading the competing proposal was known for being prolific– he could get so much done. They had two weeks to work on this proposal and he said he had landed on the approach and strategy within the first day. The next two weeks were spent adding more and more to the proposal to go above and beyond. My mom lead another team and they spent the first week brainstorming. Their end product was much simpler and lacked some of the bells and whistles that the other team had.

      But the client chose my mom’s proposal because it actually solved the right problem the client had brought up. The other guy had barreled forward to get something out the door that wasn’t right.

      This doesn’t apply to all scenarios– sometimes tasks are just tasks and there’s not a benefit to adding too much thought– but sometimes the slow burn employees like Sondra are the ones with the better approach.

    2. Hiring Mgr*

      That can be the case at times, but there’s no reason to think in this letter the other employees are doing poor quality work

  47. Slow Starter*

    This was the first letter that made me do a double-read to figure out if it was about me I plan my week in advance, and while I’m happy to move things around if an emergency comes up or a high-priority item comes down the pipeline, I like to keep my schedule planned in advance (and it’s really helpful for my ADHD!). One of my new colleagues complained recently about this and I pointed them to our explicitly outlined project timelines. I’m never late, but when I’m juggling 3 high priority projects and daily maintenance tasks, I’m not going to bust my butt to get projects turned around days early just because.

  48. Anne Bananne*

    I agree that everyone needs to be clear about actual deadlines here. I find myself wondering why so many people in this workplace resent Sondra for not working ahead. When I have been frustrated like this by a co-worker, it has usually been because I was used to co-workers dropping the ball, meaning I could not just delegate or assign the task and move on, but rather had to monitor their progress to make sure they were holding up their end of things – basically managing other people without any of the authority to do so. If you have been understaffed in the past and people had to constantly follow up with co-workers to make sure projects were moving along and deadlines were being met (basically having to manage their co-workers), then you may have to retrain the team not to micromanage each other.

    1. GreyjoyGardens*

      I think this is a good point. I’m solidly on Team Sondra here, and that everyone needs to adopt a straightforward, what I say is what I mean culture and communication. But I’ve been in your position, with balls being dropped left and right so I couldn’t get what I needed without being a nag or a micromanager (without any real authority). This may well be something LW needs to retrain their team on, if it’s been an issue in the past.

  49. Relentlessly Socratic*

    The Sondras of the world are really valuable–I am in a line of work where there’s a hustle mentality. We do work to deadlines and I am clear with my team about the real deadline, and also am clear about when “deadline is X, but send work to me as you complete each section for review”

    Hustle Jane can crank through work, but she misses details and her work is slightly sloppy, leaving it to others to clean it up.

    Steadfast Sondra gets me work closer to the deadline, but it seldom needs revision or extensive review.

    1. Eldest Child of My Workplace*

      As a speedster, I have sat in a performance review where I was explicitly told “yeah, the mistakes aren’t great, but we don’t want the financial consequences of you slowing down and thereby accepting fewer jobs, so it’s more profitable overall to just allow plenty of time for reviews”. Recognising the positives of slower but more accurate workers is the first step, but the second step is to actually accept the tradeoffs and either champion Sondra’s quality-over-quantity approach or tell her that her work doesn’t need to be perfect because that’s what the review process is for. Each way has pros and cons and you have to weigh them up and be clear and realistic about what you want from your workers.

  50. Andy*

    “You know what, Stan, if you want me to wear 37 pieces of flair, why don’t you just make the minimum 37 pieces of flair?”

  51. cookingwithclaire*

    Wow I’ve been working for 20 years, and it’s never occurred to me that given deadlines may not be the actual deadlines. I know I can be too literal *sometimes*, but what on earth??

  52. Lady_Lessa*

    I can appreciate this conversation. We frequently have information requests from a chemist working at the home office. Normally it takes about a day or less to get/calculate the information, and they seem satisfied Today, with no apology or explanation about needed it sooner, he requested again about 1.5 hrs after the first email, and even offered to do the calculations himself.

    It only took me 15 minutes to look it up and send it to him. I admit I was tempted to do a delay sending.

  53. MistOrMister*

    I had a coworker ask if she could give me a task (she wasn’t too busy to do it, it was just more difficult than our usual tasks and she didn’t want to be bothered.). I said yes to be a team player and she told me, this isn’t due until the end of next month, but if you could get it back to me within a few weeks that would be great. In my mind, I had 3 weeks to do this thing. I started it but had to pivot to my own work. A few days after she gave it to me she asked was it done. I said I’m still working. Next week she asks can she turn it in. No! I’m not done. Day later she’s asking again. I got it to her after a couple of weeks but it was hugely frustrating. Point being, don’t give people deadlines that are not the deadline. No one wants to be pestered for things or told they’re behind because something isn’t turned in before the requested date.

    As far as Sondra is concerned, it doesn’t seem she is doing less work than everyone else and it is weird to me that they are acting like she is. From the letter it sounds like she gets the same amount of work, she just prioritizes it differently. If her work is accurate, I do not see the big deal. She seems to be coming at the work in a thoughtful manner. Just because others work differently, why is it inherently seen as bad that she wants to take the time to think about her assignments to make sure she gets them done correctly? And not everyone will work at the same speed. As long as each person is working their set hours, it should not matter that person A turned in 3 reports on Monday and then spent the week doing admin tasks where as person B turned in 3 reports on Friday and spent the entire week doing both their admin tasks and the reports as long as they hit the deadline. This seems like such a non-problem to me.

    1. Eldest Child of My Workplace*

      There can be a tradeoff in terms of how much gets done. But in that case it’s up to the manager to weigh up the options and either tell Sondra that she doesn’t need to get it perfect because small mistakes can be picked up in the review process, or accept that her current speed is optimal in order to get the best possible work from her. Also if she’s less experienced than the others, accept that being slower at first is part of the learning curve.

  54. Bunniferous*

    I used to sell foreclosures for the VA and their managing company always made it clear to us that it was expected for us to get things done BEFORE deadlines-in other words, work that I technically had a week to complete-they really wanted to see done in one or two days. We got graded monthly on this along with a few other things, and since we were competing for asset assignments-well, you get the drift.

    I think at the least OP should communicate the expectations to Sondra so she can decide how she wants to handle things.

  55. Molly Millions*

    As someone with a work style similar to Sondra’s, I wonder what Sondra’s average response time is and whether she’s keeping people waiting longer than necessary for routine inquiries.

    If someone asks her a simple question (e.g. “Are you available to meet with the group Wednesday?” “Can you send along that stakeholder list?”) does she get back to them immediately, or does she wait hours because she’s focusing on the report due two weeks from now?

    It can be easy to fall into the trap of prioritizing your major project and not realizing that something minor on your end might be delaying someone else’s big task.

    If that’s a concern, Sondra might need to figure out a system that allows her to preserve her focused work blocks without holding others up (e.g. deliberately scheduling a break every hour or two to go through her email and knock off everything she can handle quickly).

    1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

      But how is Sondra to know that any given small task is holding someone up? People need to communicate this. “Can you send me the Watkins document?” might have the context of “So I can have it for my records” or it might be “I am in a meeting right now and someone is asking me a question about the contents.” No one is impacted if Sondra doesn’t respond right away to the first inquiry, but in the context of the second, Sondra really needs to pause the big project and respond right now.

      1. Molly Millions*

        For sure – if someone needs something urgently right now and doesn’t state it outright, then they’re the problem. I was thinking more along the lines of, “does this date work for you?” where it might be reasonable to assume the person is depending on your response before they can take next steps.

        I have no idea if Sondra is doing any of that. But the mismatch between LW’s perceptions and her coworkers’ make me suspect there’s some other bone of contention that the complainers aren’t properly articulating. Even if it’s unreasonable, it’s better for Sondra to identify that so she can succeed in this workplace.

        Being slower to close the loop on routine inquiries is one of those things that can make you seem disengaged when you’re not.

  56. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

    You need to communicate the real expectations to Sondra. Currently your team and internal customers are expecting her to read their minds, which is unfair.

    Does Sondra do less work in total than the others or is it just the optics that she is not staying late and looking stressed?

    Would you prefer her to be quicker but less thorough?

    1. Eldest Child of My Workplace*

      Consider also how much experience she has compared to the others. I learned the hard way to let my newbies focus on quality first and then build up speed later.

  57. Hashtag Destigmatize Therapy*

    This is one of my favorite posts in a while. Kudos to LW for having an inclusive mindset, and I love Alison’s answer. When everyone on your team has a similar mindset, it’s easy to assume that anybody who does things differently is doing something wrong, not working hard enough, “just doesn’t get it,” etc. I think Alison is exactly right that this team needs to learn to communicate more explicitly, so that they’ll be able to work with people who don’t think the same way.

    The thing is, while the hustle mindset does have advantages (e.g., the quick turnaround time without it being explicitly requested saves other people mental bandwidth, for instance), it also has disadvantages (e.g., less room for outside-the-box thinking, sometimes getting a lot of things done isn’t as valuable as doing the most important things really well). Different doesn’t mean inferior. In fact, if everyone on the team has the hustle mindset, you might get more value from having someone like Sondra who considers things more carefully.

  58. Awkwardness*

    Oh, this makes me so angry.

    Tell her when you need it. If you expect something to come in a week earlier than the deadline, you should name this as the deadline.
    You cannot blame people for things you haven’t told them.

  59. Ann O'Nemity*

    Does Sondra’s approach improve the quality of her work? Are the delays in turnaround a fair trade-off for higher quality work?

    I’ve generally been taught to limit the amount of work in progress – stop starting and start finishing. If I have 10 projects that each take one day to complete, it’s better to complete one project a day than to keep all of them in progress for 10 days. The first nine projects are going to start providing value to customers sooner. Plus, I’m not spending so much time switching between projects.

    On the flip side, sometimes it makes sense to build some thinking/reflection time into complex projects. And in that case, the quality of the work may improve if there are opportunities to review it with “fresh eyes.”

  60. Chad H*


    LW, You communicated an expectation, you recieved what was communicated. Either you have a problem with communicating, or a problem with your actual expectations.

  61. VP of Monitoring Employees’ LinkedIn and Indeed Profiles*

    I’m detecting an attitude of “It’s not my job to tell you the actual deadline, it’s your job to know.”

    1. Tiger Snake*

      “You don’t get to work by your start time. You have here 30 minutes before hand and be at work, logged in, have gone through all your emails and starting the work I want you to do that day by the start time.
      But you only get to clock in at start time, not 30 minutes before.”

      1. Former Admin turned Project Manager*

        I joined a 10:05 call at 10:02 and the host exclaimed “oh THERE’S Former Admin!” as though I had been holding everyone up for an embarrassing amount of time. He schedules meetings with a buffer on purpose, but I was the bad guy for actually using it?!

    1. Resentful Oreos*

      Apparently you need to approach or exceed 37 to show proper enthusiasm. I put in a comment about this before I saw your post! Maybe it’s 42.

  62. Seriously?*

    Could this be a culture thing? I wrote a report for a Global HR class in 2022 about different cultural expectations. I read a paper that used an Indian company working in Australia as an example. In India, it was understood that a manager would say we will finish this project by X day, which everyone knew was impossible, and it would be actually finished later. The Australians didn’t know, and actually expected it by X, and then everyone was upset!

    1. I should really pick a name*

      Do you have any advice in the event that it’s a culture thing?

      The source of the behaviour tends to be less important than describing the behaviour and engaging with the employee on the best way to change it.

    2. Not A Bear*

      And not just culture differences between countries, but between industries – if you watch the Star Trek: Lower Decks episode “Temporal Effect” (about “buffer time”) that’s basically the primary approach to deadlines for government agencies in the US, because nobody is immune from their contractors taking longer than expected or someone at the top of their level of government suddenly changing the parameters or whatever, and when that fails, it goes to “push the deadline back so we’ll still meet it.” But on the other hand, the tech and entertainment sectors in the same geographical area all function on a “crunch time” mentality where everyone is hustling 60-70+ hours a week in the couple weeks leading up to launch/release day.

  63. Lucy*

    Yeah, this is something I struggle with. I have fairly well-managed and well-controlled ADHD but I still need to work against a deadline. One time, I was given a deadline and five (working) days before it, on a Friday evening, my boss gave me a head’s up, she’d be asking colleagues to support me with the project the following week to ensure it was done on time. I completed it over the weekend in my free time and resented it so much! (Obviously, my manager’s comment wasn’t punitive – but I didn’t need help to get it done in the time given to me, and didn’t want to give that impression!)

    After that, in a list of potentially helpful ADHD accommodations, this went down as vital – always give me the true deadline of a task, and don’t necessarily expect to see me working on it the way another colleague might. If there’s a problem with the finished product I’m open to discussing my process, but if the product is good, and completed in time, holding me up to someone else’s habits is going to stress everyone out! If you want something a week earlier than you say, just give me an earlier deadline – I’ll still get it done!

    None of this is to suggest that ADHD is an issue for this report – but honestly, I think accommodations for additional needs very often are accommodations that would be helpful for most people!

  64. RagingADHD*

    Sounds like LW and their manager need to understand the distinction between a “due date” and a “deadline” or “drop-dead line.” They are not the same.

    And then they need to communicate that distinction to the entire team, not just Sondra.

    There is also the possibility that the team values “hustle culture” for its own sake, and Sondra isn’t actually any less productive than the others. The response doesn’t actually mention anything about real results, just optics and the feelings of the team. Those things matter, but please be honest with Sondra (and upper management) about what is actually affecting the bottom line and what is artificial urgency that is being created for optics.

    1. Eldest Child of My Workplace*

      And if it is affecting the bottom line, consider whether the temporary costs are a necessary investment in training up new staff. Having newbies focus on quality first and then letting them pick up speed as they get more experienced is a good way to lay the groundwork for the good pace + good quality you want to have eventually.

  65. No Longer a Bookkeeper*

    This sounds like my old boss who scolded me for turning something in on Thursday instead of Wednesday — when I had it in writing that she wanted it “Wednesday or Thursday.” When I pointed this out she acted like she didn’t believe me, but she didn’t let me pull up the email to check, so we both knew I was right lol. But that didn’t stop her from holding it against me!

    The kicker is, I would’ve had it done WAY earlier if she hadn’t taken a MONTH to approve the spreadsheet I sent her. She did this shit constantly — she could take all the time in the world but then suddenly it’s panic mode the second the ball was back in my court.

    All that to say, it’s not Sondra’s fault that her coworkers/ OP’s boss keep moving the goalposts and expect her to be psychic. If I was Sondra I would be so tempted to tell them my crystal ball is on backorder and they have to use their words.

  66. Wetpigeon*

    “Requested by: Feb. 9
    Drop-dead by: Feb 15”

    Here’s a format you can use to set expectations clearly. Communicate that the first date is when you would want something by and the second date is the actual deadline when you need it.

    Besides this, it sounds like she’s 100% meeting the expectations and 100% of the problem is on management on not communicating their needs properly. So your culture needs to shift.

  67. EA*

    Many commenters seem to share Sondra’s style, but coming at this as someone who works quickly, I’d recommend:

    1. The manager take an objective look at how much work Sondra is doing in a two week period vs. her colleagues. I think it’s worth looking at whether she really isn’t producing as much as others and being able to present that hard evidence to the boss.

    2. Give a “big picture” of projects and work flows to the whole team. It might be true that the final due date is in ten days, but if other team members depend on Sondra’s work to do other tasks or advance in other parts of the project, that could be frustrating for them. Maybe if Sondra understood better how her work fit into the whole group’s work it would help her prioritize better.

    3. I think it’s reasonable to work with Sondra to understand how she’s prioritizing tasks and ask her to complete smaller tasks more quickly, or at least to communicate when she’ll do them if they don’t have a deadline. I’m not sure if this includes responses to emails or quick info requests, but it’s pretty annoying when you send an email and your colleague takes five days to respond to something that clearly took them 15 minutes to do.

    1. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      “if other team members depend on Sondra’s work to do other tasks or advance in other parts of the project, that could be frustrating for them. ”
      Then they are giving her the wrong deadline, not her fault she doesn’t guess at their hidden needs.

      1. Momma Bear*

        And if she’s thinking about it before doing it, then it’s not just 15 minutes. I do that sometimes – let something roll around my head like a subprocess for a while and then hammer it out quickly because all the thinking had been done prior. But I do agree that if they gave no deadline, then they shouldn’t be mad at a 5 day turnaround. Say what you mean and mean what you say.

      2. EA*

        Exactly, that’s why my advice to the manager is to help everyone understand the whole work flow of the project better. A work management software like Asana or can also help.

    2. Tiger Snake*

      “The manager take an objective look at how much work Sondra is doing in a two week period vs. her colleagues”

      And if she is producing less work – is that actually not a reflection of Sondra, but a reflection that the workload being given to everyone else is too high?

    3. samwise*

      “it’s pretty annoying when you send an email and your colleague takes five days to respond to something that clearly took them 15 minutes to do.”

      I take my car in to be worked on. The actual amount of time to do the work is, say, 2 hours. But I don’t get it two hours from when I take it in. Maybe I get it in four hours, because there are other cars ahead of me and a limited number of mechanics to do all the work.

      I contact the doctor to get a letter supporting my request for FMLA. It takes the doctor (or one of her admins or a nurse) 15 minutes to fill out the form. I get it 10 days later because my request for the letter is not the most important thing that doctor or her team is doing. Maybe they get to those once a week. If I need a referral for a procedure right away, they get on it right away. If it’s not urgent, I’m gonna wait, and rightly so.

      People are not letting Sondra know what requests are urgent or important. In fact, it sounds more like, they just expect their stuff to get done immediately, regardless of its actual urgency.

    4. MaryLoo*

      Your #2 item is an example of poor communication and poor planning. If a project needs to be complete by a certain date, but pieces of that project need to be reviewed, evaluated, sent back to the author, updated & corrected, then stated as final by whoever has final say, then ALL of those dates need to be spelled out to all parties. Time for each piece needs to be built into the schedule, and all parties need to acknowledge all of this. Expecting people to read minds is toxic.

      1. aebhel*

        THIS. One of the things managers are paid to do is juggle all of those balls so that the individual contributors can focus on their parts. If you’re a manager, making sure that every individual completes their part of a task on the right timeline – which requires communicating that timeline to them, at a minimum, is literally your job.

      2. EA*

        Yes, I think instead of just saying “this is how Sondra works,” there are some actionable communication improvements this manager (the person who wrote in) could make. That may mean the requesters need to adjust their communication and it may mean that Sondra does. Like I said above, we’ve seen a lot of improvement using for complex projects – it provides a lot of visibility to sequencing of tasks as well as who’s assigned different tasks.

  68. Middle Aged SME*

    I once had a leader give a group deadlines for feedback– turns out, those were HIS deadlines to turn in the compiled feedback, so we all needed to reply back before the date he told us. Unfortunately, I only learned this after missing a few deadlines.

  69. Dawn*

    If it helps with your boss, you will likely have a very hard time recruiting/retaining good people if you continue to work like this now that you’re no longer the tiny organization you started with.

    Expect to start seeing Glassdoor reviews like “Was penalized for completing work by the deadline given and not staying late to finish it sooner.”

  70. Susan banana cake*

    I have a similar colleague in my team and we got to a solution that really worked. We also have a ‘go, go, go’ culture and his pausing to reflect on requests looked to others like he wasn’t catching the ball or being responsive.

    Our workaround, when he received an email request, was for him to respond quickly when the email landed and say words to the effect of ‘I’ve seen this, I have seen your deadline is Friday, I’m going to come back tomorrow with a fleshed out plan for getting it sorted’. We were finding the stakeholders didn’t necessarily need the work finished immediately, but did want to see the response and have comfort he was on it. It built him his breathing space to then go away and think.

    Might help you too!

  71. Axel*

    I think there’s been a lot of great feedback in the comments so far about how this is setting Sondra up to fail and extremely unfair to her to penalize her for failing to meet an expectation that was never communicated to her, and her approach to work sounds thoughtful and commendable. I do want to raise a bit of a concern about a couple of things that stood out to me in this letter – you say that Sondra was hired to correct a culture of rushing and overworking, a ‘hustle mindset’ that the rest of you *still have*. You say that you and your boss handle ‘situations like this’ by adopting a standard of “speed up and/or work a little late to keep things moving quickly” but what I’m not clear on is what you mean by ‘situations like this’ given it sure seems that the ‘situation’ at hand is just… the regular approach to work on your team. What you’re relaying is not actually an unexpected thing coming up that Sondra is suddenly needing to complete faster, or an emergency, last-minute project shift. This is just the regular assignment of work and communication of deadlines. So I do wonder if you’re so deep into that ‘hustle mindset’ that everything is treated like an emergency all the time, when it really isn’t. It’s worth considering whether you might need to commit more strongly to undoing that hustle culture that doesn’t seem to have gone anywhere or changed at all, especially if both you and your boss are maintaining it in your own conduct. Like managers who stay late and work overtime, it’s not enough to say ‘no one else is expected to do this’ – you actually have to set a good example, too, otherwise we end up in situations exactly like this: someone isn’t going above and beyond to an unhealthy degree, and is being penalized for it, even if just in the way people think/speak about her. Working in a constant state of hustle and anxiety and sense of emergency is not healthy or sustainable, and it’s worth examining whether that’s what you’re expecting and setting a standard of.

    1. Sloanicota*

      I will say, and I’m obviously in the minority here – for a lot of the work requests or questions I receive by email from my wider ecosystem of internal and external colleagues, the expected turnaround is probably … an hour? However this clearly varies a lot by field. We are in policy and people are asking generally quicker questions. When my boss or grandboss asks me a question they expect me to drop everything and answer it – right now. To be fair a lot of what I get are more like yes/nos so I think we’d know if that was the context here and I think we’re all picturing something like full reports. But I absolutely do flub emails by setting them aside to come back to, and I’m generally wrong to do so. My boss would be correct to flag it for someone who joined our team and came back the next week if things can be done sooner.

      1. Axel*

        Yeah, see, I don’t think that’s really relevant here because that’s extremely field-specific and not the situation that the LW is referring to. Your boss would be correct to flag it if that is the actual necessary function of your workplace, but presumably given that is the case you are not being told ‘answer this project by the 16th’ for assignments given on the 1st.

        The situation the LW is in, which is what I was speaking to, is not that, because the projects are getting done on time, but they are communicating that they and their boss regularly rush and stay late in ‘situations like this’ – which appears to just be the regular course of work and a culture of ‘if it’s not early it’s late’ which is both deceptive and unfair. If there is not a real, legitimate reason for there to be an ‘get it done now, even if you stay late or push yourself into hyper-drive’ approach, that is an unhealthy and unsustainable path directly to burnout, and it was directly stated that Sondra was as a direct attempt to ensure people had to rush like this less. She’s being penalized for not fitting into a culture she was directly hired in an attempt to change, and that’s not the situation you’re in at all.

    2. el l*

      If the standard practice is for a fast operating cadence, faster than the drop-dead deadline – then management has to make a cultural decision. Say that, and say why.

      Because it’s really not obvious from this letter that’s required. “Good, fast, cheap – pick 2.” Right? Sondra’s default is good, her colleague’s is fast, but – we just don’t get a sense for why it usually/always has to be fast. There are organizations where they always have to move fast, sure – but I don’t see why that has to be true here.

      Sondra has inadvertently pointed out a cultural flaw. Perhaps the right answer is, “She needs a faster deadline,” but that has to be a conscious decision with a why to it, and it has to be communicated explicitly at a cultural level.

      1. Axel*

        Yeah, exactly, like. This is just not a good situation and I am deeply troubled by the contradicting information being presented in this letter – was Sondra hired so that the team has to rush and hustle less, or is she a bad fit on a rush and hustle team (that has not been communicated to her as being one). Because it can’t be both, and yet both is what we’re being told. I don’t even think she’s *inadvertently* pointed out a cultural flaw – it seems to me that they’re well aware of this flaw, given she was hired in an attempt to correct it! And now she’s being punished, albeit informally at this stage, for not fitting into that culture. It’s a ridiculous double-bind that the LW seems oblivious to in their presentation of these entirely contradictory factors.

    3. Escapee from Corporate Management*

      Amen. If Sondra is supposed to be a change agent, you all should be emulating and praising her.

  72. el l*

    Bottom line: It sounds like where Sondra is running into trouble is her colleagues always assuming all requests to be (a) Rough and (b) Fast. That may have been required in the past, but is that still required now – only management can say.

    Sounds to me like Sondra’s default mode is to work towards quality, rather than speed. When given a tight deadline, does she do good work and meet it?

    Second question: Is there justification given for WHY the deadline is what it is? Because you can absolutely – when making a request of colleagues – say “I need it for reason x. If I had it by date y, that’d be optimal, but if for whatever reason you can’t meet it I need it by date z or there’ll be trouble.” Because not all requests are created equal! Some require quality work on a short timeline; or perhaps a quick but rough answer; or perhaps it’s necessary to have a final (quality) ruling but there’s time. Yes, you do have to think through – when making a request of colleagues – what you need, at what quality, when. That’s good practice.

  73. KP*

    Ugh. I hate this so much. I’ve been caught in this too where the date isn’t the real date.

    I work “slower”, by design, just like Sondra. I say “slower” because the extra time is to let my work settle/marinate before I review it. My ADHD brain does not always see typos and errors unless I have some space from it.

    I can get your stuff done faster if you tell me the real date. BUT, don’t spring it on me. My brain doesn’t work that way.

  74. Tiger Snake*

    Show of hands; how many of us read the entire letter and just said at the end of every single paragraph “But Sondra’s meeting the deadline, so that doesn’t even matter”?

    1. Ms. Murchison*

      I was so confused for most of the letter, because Sondra sounds like an ideal employee, someone who consistently turns in well thought out, high quality work _on time_ and will never burn out. Then the LW got to the “hustle” bit and I realized that she doesn’t fit in with their unhealthy M.O.

      1. pally*

        yeah- not seeing the issue here – there’s nothing in the letter indicating the work is in any way sub-par.

        So give shorter deadlines to Sondra- if needed. Let her decide if they can be met.

  75. TG*

    Honestly I don’t like this letter – it triggers me. Why is someone doing a good job meeting deadlines bad when comparing to people who jump into things? She is going her work on time. I hate the “everything is urgent” mindset because not everyone works that way! Why put someone down who is methodical and meets deadlines? You want it sooner / give clear deadlines and deprioritize other work! And I’d be thrilled someone is planning and learning before they execute because sometimes jumping in leads to big misses!

    1. Angela Zeigler*

      Yup, this brought back some bad memories for me. It’s easy for managers to lose sight of the end result (work quality and delivery on time) and fixate on details like *how* the work was completed, which is a slippery slope that leads to micromanaging, which leads to a miserable workplace.

  76. Abe Froman*

    I think this may be one of the most helpful things I’ve ever read on this site (which is saying something, cuz I’ve learned so much here!). Thanks for this, Allison! Its such a common workplace thing to have unwritten rules or a particular culture of doing things, and a new person coming in can absolutely run afoul of them without knowing. As someone who just started at a new place with a very different culture from what I have experienced previously, this is so timely.

  77. Maleficent2026*

    I feel like Sondra has, at some point in her career, been overly penalized for either (A) rushing too fast thru her work, (B) making careless mistakes, or (C) not spending the same amount of time on X task that a much slower, but more trusted, coworker does. She could also be one of those people who needs a lot of time to think over things, but gets the actual product done fairly quickly once she sits down to it.

  78. Cat Executive Officer*

    I’ve literally been Sondra in a previous job where a manager made similar complaints about me in a performance review. To the point that I wonder if this letter is about me, except that job was five years ago. I’ve always wondered if I was correct to think the complaint was unreasonable, and it seems like today I got my answer. I feel vindicated, to say the least.

    1. Cat Executive Officer*

      I should add that in some jobs/for certain tasks, I understand that a certain degree of promptness is needed. But it’s not always the case and, barring more context, it’s not obvious why Sondra waiting until the deadline is bad.

      Like, I sometimes get last minute requests from my boss to look up information or whip up a graph for a presentation she’s due for tomorrow. Obviously I will put what I was working on before on hold to accommodate this time sensitive request.

      But if I get assigned something and am told the deadline is a week from now, I’m going to schedule it accordingly.

  79. Exhausted*

    Here and there I understood where the LW was coming from (and clearly LW is in the middle), but the piece about speeding up and/or staying late to get something done, paired with the fact that the deadline doesn’t support that timing, is odd to me. If I had an employee staying late to complete work that isn’t due for a few days, I would find it troubling. Allison’s advice, as always, is spot on. Don’t ask Sondra to read your mind, and don’t penalize her for not being able to do so.

  80. Kara*

    I know I’m late to the comment thread, but I am 100% a “if this is the deadline, you’ll have it by the deadline” person.

    I tend to jump on new requests quickly, do the prelim work, then walk away and let it percolate. I know myself and in the past when I’ve jumped on a request and turned it around in a matter of days (or hours), I’ve missed something crucial. So now my own internal process is to allow some “settling” time to make sure I’m doing things correctly/efficiently/completely.

    If someone were to tell me that by adhering to the deadline, I’m late, it would be a complete disaster. And I’d feel completely mislead to be told X is the deadline and then have people be upset with me when I didn’t deliver on X-minus.

  81. Evergreen*

    There’s perhaps a broader cultural mismatch to also consider with Sondra; that your team has historically been operating with a strong hustle culture, and Sondra’s background is more ‘take the time to get it right’. Spelling out for her the level of quality you expect (especially if at the moment she’s overshooting that bar) could be a good step.

    Or equally, if your team has had to let quality slip just to get through the hustle, having that discussion openly with your boss that actually there’s a lot to learn from Sondra’s approach and that you’re committed to levelling up on quality.

  82. Jaina Solo*

    I’m so glad Alison answered this because I’ve seen so many avoidable issues if people would just communicate. I actually had a (less eloquent) version of this talk with my one boss when no deadlines were given but somehow I was “behind.” It felt like the deadline was till I finished the work or dropped dead from my heart exploding. (I’d also had outpatient surgery during this time and had to push back on her freak out about getting the work done so I could at least get to my appointment. Ended up majorly sick a few weeks later from burnout.)

    Other bosses or colleagues during my career have been super unclear with expectations too and it’s so frustrating. If we agree to a timeline, I’m going to push back if you try to change it mid-project. Or if you don’t tell me when it’s due, I’m going to get to it when I get to it. (I promise you there’s a bunch of stuff that needs doing on my list.)

    The worst is when bosses get upset but they’ve never given any kind of timeframe. I feel like saying “do your job” to them because they are supposedly getting priority from their bosses but not sharing it until something goes wrong. Then suddenly it’s my fault. I always meet my deadlines, but if there is no deadline then there is nothing to meet *shrugs and sighs*

  83. Angela Zeigler*

    Managers: I need this done by 2/15
    Worker: *submits work on 2/15*
    Managers: *shocked pikachu face*

    As someone who deals with this sort of planning every day: Don’t judge someone for doing their job and doing it well. This worker is doing what they’re asked to do, and it sounds like there’s no concerns with the work quality. So what’s exactly the problem? They’re not doing what they’re *not* told to do? Sorry, but this is just splitting hairs imo.

    1. Angela Zeigler*

      And to add: Whenever I see people rushing to do things I’ve assigned, but there’s no rush involved, I actually question how well that person might prioritize and keep track of their workload. It takes good judgement and organizational skills to stoke a lot of fires at once. Rushing to finish the next thing that grabs your attention is often when small mistakes are made, details overlooked, or broader implications aren’t considered, etc.

      1. Abundant Shrimp*

        YES exactly this. What were Sondra’s teammates working on when the last request came in that they then “turned around quickly”? what happened to those earlier requests?

  84. ele4phant*

    I’m not a fan on unspoken expectations that everyone should just “know”.

    Ask for what you want, and be clear about it. Be clear when there is flexibility and when there isn’t. Like:

    “Hi Sondra, I have this task. I’d like it done by Feb 9, but there is some flexibility if you can’t fit that in before then, just let me know what you can do.”


    “Hi Sondra, I have this task. I’d like it done by Feb 9 if possible, but Feb 15 is the drop dead date.”


    “Hi Sondra, I have this task. I have to have it back by Feb 9th. Let me know if you have any conflicting priorities and I can work with you/work with your manager to shuffle things around.”

    I honestly don’t respect cultures that aren’t super clear and forthright about expectations. Even if it’s “working” for everyone, people come and go all the time and come in with a different sense of things. Its easy to fit into a culture that’s very clear about things even if that’s not what you just came from. The reverse is not true.

    Ask for what you want when you want it and let the person know whether there is or is not flexibility upfront. Don’t build in the flexibility without telling them you gave them cushion and then get mad when they take it.

  85. ele4phant*

    Also honestly this:

    “I know that how myself and my boss handle situations like this are to just speed up and/or work a little late to keep things moving quickly, but I think not everyone feels they can do their best work that way.”

    Sounds like a problem.

    Do you NEED to get everything done so urgently because everyone wants it. Or have you all just gotten habituated to this? Maybe…in addition to starting to give people the actual deadlines something is needed, make sure they are reasonable?

    1. Axel*

      This was genuinely the most concerning part of the letter to me – especially when combined with the detail that Sondra was hired in order to prevent the need to hustle so much. Time and time again we’ve read about how managers with unhealthy work habits – staying late, skipping days off, never taking vacation, etc – sets a terrible standard and expectation for everyone, and it sounds like Sondra is being dinged for not doing that herself. I also question what the LW means by ‘situations like this’ – because I’m not seeing a ‘situation’ here? Just the standard approach to workflow – assignment, deadline. If the ‘situation’ that results in LW and their boss speeding up and working late is getting assignments in before deadlines, something is very wrong here.

  86. merida*

    Oooooh yes, I am so glad to see a letter address this type of deadline communication style… or lack of communication. At my last job, I was like Sondra. I was getting dinged for not having things done weeks before the deadline, yet then when I started clarifying the deadline I was always told that the original (far out) deadline still stood, and then I’d get dinged still for not having it done way sooner. It was a no-win situation. I was labeled as “not a team player” because I didn’t understand that there was almost always an opposite meaning between what people said and what they meant. I also heard a lot of mean-spirited gossip about who else on the team wasn’t “pulling their weight” (aka who wasn’t weeks ahead on their work).

    Now at my current job, I still feel a bit unsure that I can trust what anyone says – when my boss says something can wait until next week does she really mean that or does she expect me to read her mind and know that obviously I need to drop everything and do the task immediately? So much needless internal panic because of some people with extremely unclear communication. Please, on behalf of all the Sondra’s out there, let’s say what we mean and mean what we say! Or at the very very least, warn new hires that the verbal communication will not at all match reality. Brene Brown says “clear communication is kind communication” and I couldn’t agree more.

  87. Abundant Shrimp*

    “She will read the request, think about it, maybe do some other fairly time-sensitive work, then maybe reference some relevant materials to prepare to work on the request, then maybe do some other time-sensitive work again, then work on the request, and finally perhaps take another break doing other work so that she can review her work with fresh eyes before sharing it.”

    That… is how I work too? How’s the time-sensitive work going to get done if Sondra drops everything and jumps on a new request each time one comes in? By time-sensitive-work fairy? I am seeing her prioritizing her assignments as best she knows how. If an assignment is top priority but she does not know it because it came to her with a far-off deadline then whose fault is that? This place sounds way too chaotic and I won’t be surprised if important work falls through the cracks in the name of “turn things around very quickly for coworkers without being asked”.

    This is the reason why project tracking software exists. This is the reason why sprints exist. So that the work is organized in order of priority and not on the “squeaky wheel gets the grease” principle, sheesh. I am feeling very annoyed with LW’s workplace right now.

    1. Dinwar*

      We had a contractor that does the “squeeky wheel” thing, and it ends up killing the schedule. They’ll be in the middle of one task, then something would happen and they’d rush over to deal with that, and halfway through that they’d rush to do some other thing, and in the end it would be three days–or weeks–or months–before they got back to the original task. It keeps everyone bustling and busy, but the actual progress is essentially nil.

      Worse, quality control issues didn’t seep in or pour in, they inundated the contractor. The human brain can only handle so many tasks at once. Max that out, and tasks drop behind–and once they drop behind they stay behind unless they become the squeaky wheel. Plus, being so distracted meant they missed simple stuff, which snowballed until it became damaged equipment.

      The same thing happens with reports and spreadsheets and the rest. If you’re constantly putting out fires, you never have time to actually put out any of the fires.

    2. Ele4phant*

      “How’s the time sensitive working going to get done if Sondra drops everything and jumps on new requests.”

      By working late. As that’s apparently what they are all – unnecessarily – in the habit of doing now. She’s getting all her work down on time without working extra and that comes across like her not pulling her weight.

      1. Bird names*

        Yep, been there, done that and left the workplace since apparently only being on the edge of a burnout at all times was acceptable.
        My most aggrieved coworker and boss (both constantly rushing around, whether the task load demanded it or not) were amazed at me easily handing in complex tasks with hard deadlines without crunch time in parallel to truly urgent tasks. Since I didn’t act like my hair was on fire 24/7 and I actually left work on time most of the time I was obviously not pulling my weight *facepalm*
        Reader, I did stuff correctly the first time and my work only needed to be adjusted when new information came in afterwards.

  88. Yorick*

    To be far, there ARE times when it’s frustrating that someone waits until the deadline. When we were applying for my husband’s green card, our attorney would wait forever to do what we needed from her, and when we’d call to find out what was the holdup we’d hear “they’ve extended the deadline so you actually have 90 days to get this in, so it isn’t due for 6 more weeks.” But we don’t want to turn everything in at the deadline, we want to get through this process as quickly as possible.

    I realize that’s different from coworkers. If they want something sooner than the deadline if possible, they should say that when giving the deadline. BUT it does make sense that people are frustrated when everybody else in the workplace tries to keep things moving but then work keeps getting stuck with Sondra.

    1. Beth*

      It sounds like the issue there wasn’t her working to deadline–it was you saying “we hired you to do this, the deadline is X” and her saying “actually no it’s not, the deadline is now Y.” That might have been the government’s drop-dead date, but it wasn’t the deadline you hired her for!

    2. I DK*

      It doesn’t sound like work is “getting stuck” with Sondra, it sounds like more what DramaQ’s comment brought up earlier …I hustled so now you have to hustle or you’re not pulling your weight … Sondra is getting penalized for meeting deadlines because she has a different work style. It’s funny, (sad-funny, not happy-funny) that her colleagues can’t communicate expectations but have no problem communicating complaints.

  89. Daria grace*

    As a fellow percolator who tends to do better work when i think about things for a bit before I do it I’m quite sympathetic to her. Perhaps there’s a mid point here, telling her something like unless it is been specifically requested you don’t always need to drop everything to start on new requests but you should be starting them within two business days and giving a progress update within a week

  90. Dinwar*

    Why is Sondra being reprimanded? For not turning her work in on time.
    Why was she late? Because she was told an inaccurate deadline.
    Why was she told an inaccurate deadline?

    THAT is where your problem is. Sondra is meeting expectations, full stop. The issue is that she’s being lied to about the expectations. That sounds harsh because, well, it is–what’s being done to her is inherently wrong. In such a situation there’s no possibility of success, because the metric for success is deliberately being falsified.

    Yet instead of addressing the actual problem–the false information being fed to your employee–you’re attacking Sondra for not knowing information she had no capacity to know. It’s worth asking why. And “This is how my boss and I work” isn’t a good enough answer–not because your boss and you aren’t good at your jobs, but because Sondra obviously isn’t and obviously doesn’t work that way. Square pegs don’t often fit in round holes. You could fire Sondra, sure, but that won’t fix the underlying issue; it’s like trying to lighten the load of the Titanic by ripping out the hull and tossing it overboard.

    As someone who’s gone through a team expanding from tiny to substantial, I can tell you first-hand that there are growing pains. You’ve got to learn new ways to do things, including new ways to communicate. Confusion among 3-5 people is easily cleared up; confusion among 30 people festers and eventually boils over.

  91. alex*

    It sounds like Sondra spends a lot of time futzing around. I picture someone casually walking around with her coffee, taking long lunches, and spending time “reflecting” instead of doing tangible work. If everyone else is steady hustling and working late, I can see how that would be a huge disconnect in terms of workplace culture. It sounds like her style may not be the best match here. I would be curious to see how her work output compares to others with the same job. If it’s significantly less, that’s a problem.

    I also agree with the above comment that it may be worth discussing with Sondra how her work fits into the larger scheme of things. Are others waiting for her parts of projects to be finished before they can start on their portion? If she’s waiting until the last minute to turn things in, does that mean others have to rush to meet subsequent deadlines? I can see how that would cause some consternation with her coworkers if that is happening.

    I guess I’ve always seen deadlines as the last possible date to turn something in, not “don’t wait to turn it in until this date.” In my current job, the deadline is technically Fridays to turn in completed products, but in actuality I need to keep things moving and get them turned in earlier in the week when I can so the rest of the team can fulfill their deliverables. If I waited until Fridays all the time, it would not be good for my team.

    1. Kevin Sours*

      If other people have to rush to meet subsequent deadlines because Sondra turned her work in on schedule instead of early then the problem is the deadlines, not Sondra.

    2. Ele4phant*


      If someone getting you something by the deadline means you’ve got to crunch, you’ve given them the wrong deadline. That’s a you not them problem.

      It should be a pleasant surprise to get something early, but fine if it comes the time you said you needed it.

      If it’s not, move up your deadlines. People aren’t mind readers, so build in the time you’ll need when you decide when to ask for things back by.

    3. Eldest Child of My Workplace*

      As someone in a fast paced job, if you quote a deadline to me, that’s when you’re getting it, because I have a million other things to do before then. If you have processes to do after my work, calculate my deadline based on that.

    4. DameB*

      “I guess I’ve always seen deadlines as the last possible date to turn something in, not “don’t wait to turn it in until this date.””

      What you’re talking about is a culture clash between people who assume that you instinctively understand the unspoken rules (high context) and people who assume that you say what you mean and you mean what you say (low context).

      High-context cultures really only function when they are homogenous. By definition, high context also has a lot of unexamined assumptions built in and those assumptions can lead to deeply toxic workplaces. For example, you are assuming that Sondra futzs and takes long lunches and lingers over coffee, even though there is exactly zero evidence of that in the letter. That’s a lot of judgement there.

    5. Billy Preston*

      I don’t see where you get futzing around from working on other time sensitive work and meeting deadlines.

  92. Resentful Oreos*

    If you want them to wear 37 pieces of flair you should make the minimum 37 pieces of flair

  93. Nom*

    I’m with Sondra. I like to take my time with things, especially because i sometimes think of things days later that would change my approach. If you don’t tell me you need it ASAP, i’m waiting until your deadline.

  94. ElderMillenial*

    This place sounds like a nightmare to work at, and an example of needles hustle culture. Expecting people to stay late to finish a task by Wednesday when you told them you need it by Friday is unreasonable. It’s not fair or productive. People can’t be expected to read minds, and should not be penalized for not understanding that there are unwritten rules they should be playing by. I’m glad the younger generation is not putting up with these sorts of mindgames anymore.

  95. Looper*

    If your company has eyes to expand, you may find it quite difficult to find good staff with that kind of culture. Strong workers don’t want to join passive aggressive teams with poor communication and irrational relationships to work and deadlines.

  96. Aardvark*

    So Shonda works methodically, completing work rather than jumping from one thing to another. She can prioritise urgent tasks before less urgent tasks and produces work of the required standard by the communicated deadlines.
    To me that seems like a model employee.
    Is is just that people are expecting her to visual jump on to the new thing so she is more overtly showing it is important? Don’t penalise the quiet acheiver because they don’t fuss and tell everyone how busy they are.

  97. WasThisWeirdOrWhat*

    The environment I worked in for many years was notorious for completely unrealistic deadlines and absolutely no one wanted to be the one who called it for what it was until everyone had been jumping through hoops for weeks to try to meet the deadline. I finally got to the point where I would ask/demand the truth to keep my sanity and manage my workload. We called it “triage” but it was really like trying to drink from a fire hose every day. The company then hired a very methodical employee to help with the work, but they simply could not adhere to this pace. It was hard not to resent the fact that they wouldn’t be assigned the same amount of work, but at the same time we had to admire their boundaries.

  98. Que Syrah Syrah*

    On a humorous note, I can’t help but think of that scene in Office Space where Joanna says, “you know what? If you want the minimum to be 36 piece of flare, why don’t you just MAKE THE MINIMUM 36 PIECES OF FLAIR.”

    That said, I understand the practicality of AAM’s advice.

  99. the cat's pajamas*

    Whenever I need something from someone else, I always assume they are prioritizing their own work no matter what the deadline.

  100. New Senior Mgr*

    Alison’s advice is spot on as usual. I can almost feel Sondra’s potential stress at working in a culture like that. She doesn’t sound like a good fit there but may strive in a more laidback, deadline-friendly culture.

    1. Zarniwoop*

      She’d fit in fine where I am which isn’t “laid back at all”. It’s more stodgy, rule bound, and risk averse (which is good when you make safety related components for nuclear power plants.)

  101. Manglement Survivor*

    If they want work completed earlier than the deadline, they should give her an earlier deadline!! It’s ridiculous to be angry that work isn’t completed by the deadline.

  102. Me*

    The LW’s approach seems to be, “I told Sandra to get it done by the deadline, which she did, but I’m not happy because I wanted her to get it done before the deadline, even though I never told her that.”

    That kind of unspoken management directive is deadly for employees. She did exactly what you wanted, but it wasn’t good enough because you wanted her to do something extra that you never told her you wanted.

    1. Jam Today*

      Not for nothing, but its also deadly for managers and for the business as a whole, since they’ll constantly lose talented people who aren’t interested in these little power games that their incompetent management likes to play.

  103. Tullina*

    Sonda seems like a great employee. Self aware and concise with her work. That is an excellent work ethic to have.

    Also she may have come from a bad work environment that nit-picked her work which could explain why she prefers to take her time to complete and self review her tasks before being satisfied

  104. HG*

    In my experience people who pad deadlines are often really hoping to see some gradual progress being done on the work and just don’t want it thrown together at the last minute. In which case it would help them to break the task down into parts and give deadlines for each subtask. But that seems to be a motivation.

    1. Mango Freak*

      But are they entitled to that? Do they NEED gradual progress, or do they just assume that’s better? If the output quality is good, what does it matter?

      It sounds like Sondra has a different workstyle (one I relate to as someone with ADHD, though I don’t know that hers is actually similar) and coworkers are just used to theirs being “right.” Like early risers being frustrated with people whose circadian rhythms are different and confusing that with virtue.

  105. Pdweasel*

    Oh my gentle jellybeans, I feel this in my soul. For the love of sweet little green apples, SAY WHAT YOU MEAN AND MEAN WHAT YOU SAY. *stares menacingly in neurodivergent*

  106. fhqwhgads*

    I’m sort of wondering if maybe it’s a thing where on Monday they ask her for five things by Friday, and it’s not so much that they’re giving her one deadline and expecting another, but rather, they’re assuming five things in five days is reasonable, and that she’ll turn over one thing day one, a second day two, etc. but instead she’s turning over all five Friday. It’s not occurring to them to say the deadline for thing 1 is tomorrow, thing 2 is the next day, etc because it’s not that any given one is needed earlier, but rather they’re expecting progression, rather than a lump at the end. And that’s the mismatch in expectation, and also partly what’s giving them the impression she’s working “less” because they’re perceiving “she’s not even done with 1/5 by Thursday” as “must not be working”. When really it’s more like she does 20% of all five things each day. What’s not clear is if they do genuinely need the things to come in piecemeal and not in one lump at the end, in which case they should say that, but I can see how it might occur to them to need to spell that out and also might not occur to Sondra to think of it as a possibility.

  107. RJ*

    The use of the preferred vs. drop-dead deadline is really helpful. That’s a question I always ask of those requesting things from my team.

    I think something else was missed here, though – the OP mentions they and their boss are also used to just “speeding things up” or “working a bit late.” Those shouldn’t be norms. They mentioned the team being maxed out pre-Sondra; it sounds like their hustle culture isn’t healthy, they’re used to people working at breakneck speed more than 40 hours a week, and I don’t think Sondra is the one who needs to change. She was hired to help ease the load – everyone should be able to slow down a little, aka not working late hours or rushing jobs.

    One last thing – only the OP knows the type of work being done and how relevant this is, but in my field, taking some time to think things through and spreading hours on a project over a longer time period is really beneficial. The work I do is very thought-intensive, detail-oriented, open to unanticipated “side quests” coming up, and very easy to make mistakes. I’ve been in this field a dozen years; as a new manager last year in a company with major “hustle” expectations, I w to get as working hard to get them used to scoping out not just how the number of hours in a project map to the number of hours in a day, but also how those hours should spread out. E.g. if I told the client relations manager at 3 pm that it would take 10 hours to deliver for a client, he thought it should be done by 5 pm the next day. No, not unless you want it to be unthought out, hastily thrown together, error-riddled sh*t. I need time to step away and come back to it, to let my brain work out the best approach, to take breaks in difficult parts and switch to something else, to have the space to realize a new discovery or something important.

  108. Pink Sprite*

    If Sondra’s work is to the expectation of you, your boss, whoever, and it’s on time according to the deadline YOU have given her, then so what?

    Either change the deadline or let her do the work by her process.

  109. Laura*

    I got out of the habit of finishing things early, because it feels like every single time I do there will be some last-minute change in requirements. If I’m done early, I’ll just have to re-open the whole process to implement the changes. My time is better spent putting some extra thought into the task and prepare well, so I can react quickly if/when something changes. (It’s happening in other contexts than work, too.)

    Maybe that’s where Sondra is coming from.

    1. Lacey*

      Yes. This is so common.

      And then you just end up completing the work two or even three times.

      There’s one person at my company who everyone waits a full 24 hrs to start work for.
      They always have 2-5 things they forgot. There’s no point in jumping right in.

  110. kalli*

    It sounds like Sondra’s doing what the workplace WANT their culture to shift to, and everyone’s annoyed that Sondra’s doing the job she was told to do.

    If you want to change your workplace culture from ‘work late to get stuff done ASAP regardless’ and ‘everyone meets deadlines and goes home at 5pm and everything is fine’ your whole workplace needs to change, but not by codifying ‘everything done ASAP’ but by letting Sondra do what she was hired to do and codifying ‘that’. If stuff genuinely needs to be done sooner then people can say that, but they also need to recognise that not everything is an emergency and it’s ok to have stuff back when it’s ready.

  111. kicking-k*

    I’m Sondra, it’s me.
    If there is a deadline, I physically cannot get things done earlier than the deadline. And I really need deadlines. If you say to me “Do it anytime” it may never reach the top of the priority list. I am very proactive about asking for deadlines and am assiduous about meeting them, but I need them to be real and set by someone else. (I am awaiting assessment for ADHD and I’m told this is not rare, not that I want to diagnose Sondra here.)

  112. HonorBox*

    Oh this pisses me off so much. If people are telling Sondra that the deadline is a particular day and they’re upset because she’s not done before the deadline, they’re being inconsiderate. They need to (in the words of Dan Savage) USE THEIR WORDS and tell Sondra what their expectations actually are. I hate this word in a lot of cases, but this isn’t fair to Sondra. She’s being judged against expectations that she doesn’t even know. That’s like being pulled over in a town you’re passing through because they’ve outlawed blue cars but didn’t bother to post that rule anywhere. Yes, that ridiculous.

    I like Alison’s suggestion that giving two deadlines – preferred and absolute – is the best way to set this. And the rest of the team, especially as new people come on board, need to make sure they’re setting their preferred timeline appropriately, too.

  113. Anonny NonErson*

    My husband manages a large staff.

    The staff all supposedly do the same thing – some have more years/experience/knowledge than others – but all can get the “next ticket” by virtue of answering the phone.

    If he needs something done *fast*, he’ll assign it to person X.

    If the order has a lot of Special Things, he’ll assign it to person Y (who has the most experience with Special Thing).

    If he needs something done methodically (an order with a lot of details, for example), he’ll assign it to person Z.

    Sondra is person Z. Why are you trying to use her for X and Y?

  114. Lacey*

    Yeah, people need to be communicating better. Or realizing that they have unrealistic expectations around deadlines.

    Which, can happen when you have people who are quick at their work.
    It’s happened in my department a lot.
    There’s a standard turn-time, but people don’t leave room for it because MOST of the time my coworkers and I can turn it around much faster than that.

    Then we get swamped or people get lazy about filling out their information correctly which causes delays while we hunt it down – and suddenly everyone’s grumpy that it’s taking the full turn-time.

    But we’re not late, they’ve just development unreasonable expectations and they need to adjust them.

  115. Michelle Smith*

    Good for you for having Sondra’s back. Sheesh, this environment would not work for me. Tell me the real deadline, not a fake one later than what you actually want!

  116. Audrey*

    I’ll bet other people in the office hate these secret deadlines too and they’re just working around it.

  117. Jam Today*

    I had a boss who use to pull these stunts with me, he’d say “I need X by end of week” and I’d say okiedoke and prioritize my list of stuff, some of which would already be in flight when he asked for X, so that I could have X done by the end of the week. Then at the end of the same day he asked for it, he’d yell at me (in public!) for not having done X by the end of the day.

    (I hated that guy, one of the worst managers I’ve ever worked for.)

  118. Heather*

    I agree that there’s no reason to provide accurate deadlines. I hate passive/indirect communication at work. Tell me what you want, when you want it, and how you want it. Both sides are left frustrated when proper expectations aren’t communicated fully.

    I left a job I’d been at almost 15 years because of an issue like this. One of the top people who assigned work had a personal style of waiting to close to a deadline and then working long hours and on weekends. After he assigned me TWO huge projects in a year with only three weeks to get them done when he could have assigned each one almost two MONTHS earlier, I knew it was time to leave. I don’t need to work dozens of unpaid OT hours because you couldn’t be bothered to provide me the proper notice and time to get the project done. Nor was it good for my mental and physical health.

  119. Coffee*

    She might come from a background like I did, where if I turned things in before the deadline, there was ALWAYS more work to be done on it. But if I turned it in at the deadline, it was always great enough. I learned fairly quickly to turn it in at the deadline. I might even work on it, have it completed, and let it sit for days or weeks, so I won’t have to do it again.

    This was a fairly silly workplace.

    Also, when I give a deadline, I don’t plan on looking at the information until then. So getting things in early don’t do anyone any good, and asking about it isn’t useful.

    That doesn’t seem unreasonable.

    Basically, as everyone has said, communicate with her.

  120. Mango Freak*

    Also, do coworkers actually NEED it done that fast, or has the office culture just become one of artificial urgency?

  121. Not A Bear*

    I think this is a very specific work culture problem. I work in Sondra’s style, and part of the reason is because I’ve also had problems when I’ve gotten work done *too* much in advance of the expected deadline, only for it to get buried or misplaced or lost because it wasn’t needed right away so other work piled up on top of it, and then the person who wanted the work came to me five minutes before the deadline like “Where is this????” and I have to spend time telling them the date, time, and subject line of the email and then either getting on a Teams call to talk them through how to find it or re-sending it altogether.

    Asking for a deadline or due date is also something I have to teach a lot of interns, because they could have had “impeccable” time management skills according to their teachers and professors – who never gave out a single assignment that didn’t have a due date, and who didn’t care if the student submitted the project three weeks or three minutes before the deadline so long as it did get submitted, excepting the occasional “it got lost bc it was so very early” scenario which is less of an issue for students who went to school during a time when everything was online.

    (I’ve been pushing for my office to get project management software, probably MS Project bc we’ve got a contract for Office products, so we can save time dealing with these kinds of issues, but no luck so far)

  122. Zarniwoop*

    ‘because the rest of us still operate in that hustle mindset, I am being told it is not fair for Sondra to “carry less of the load.”’
    Seems to me your options are
    1 Tell Sondra to “hustle” more
    2 Tell everyone else they’re allowed to stop “hustling” so muc
    3 Live with the griping.

    So now you need to decide how strong is the business need for the “hustle”?

  123. SusieQQ*

    Punishing someone for not completing work BEFORE a deadline is basically the flair argument from Office Space. If you want her to wear 34 pieces of flair, make the minimum 34.

  124. TootsNYC*

    there are benefits to mindful procrastination.
    To start, then pause to percolate, and then come back to the project.

    And Sondra does seem to operate that way.

  125. Slow and Steady*

    The way Sondra described her working style is generally the optimal way to work on complex tasks. Making sure that things are properly planned out and then tackled in bite-size pieces results in higher quality work, better team performance and happier employees. My industry’s best practices suggest all work should be planned this way unless it’s absolutely cannot be avoided.

    I suppose you might find a few folks that prefer to work in a scatter shot fashion and spend time on projects without knowing if they’re going in the right direction. But not many. LW’s team might have a lot to learn from Sondra.

  126. Sewbabe*

    I was just typing the same thing, Slow and Steady. I’m willing to bet Saundra’s work product is excellent and that her colleagues could stand to take note of her thorough. thoughtful procedures.

    But the Secret Deadlines also need to go. Tell your staff what you need and when you need it!

  127. Hiding from My Boss*

    I once worked under someone who insisted on a meeting every morning to discuss what they wanted me to do that day, and would proclaim after numerous tasks on the list, “THAT is your NUMBER ONE priority.” By the end of the meeting I’d have 5 or 6 number-one priorities.

    Then there was the Evil One who fired me because, among other things, I was “slow.” Like completing a mass mailing a day before the deadline. While catching up the backlog left by the predecessor who, EO told me, was let go because he was “slow.”

  128. RAM*

    How long should these requests that Sondra’s putting off take? I can see her process being fine if it’s something that would take multiple hours or days to complete – but if she’s doing this on a question that requires 20 minutes to research, I’d be extremely frustrated as a coworker relying on Sondra. AND if I was also swamped and felt like she wasn’t pulling her weight (whether fairly or not), I’d be even more annoyed being told that I needed to manage her schedule for something that should be an easy request.

    Could you just sit down with Sondra and explain more of the general timelines the organization expects? Like.. unless told otherwise, for questions that take 20 minutes or less to answer, please have those answered within 24 hours. For questions that take under 2 hours to answer, answer them within 3 days.. etc. Then, she’s got some framework of what to work within.

  129. rebelwithmouseyhair*

    I like to hand work in a little ahead of a deadline, usually a matter of hours rather than days, in that I rarely have projects lasting more than two or three days. I find that the client usually appreciates getting the work somewhat early, that way they don’t have time to panic over whether I’m going to make it.

    This is usually possible because I always negotiate a deadine that will still leave me time to fit emergencies in, and I factor in a few hours for last-minute questions. This obviously puts the onus on the client to answer my questions in a timely manner, so I’ll say something like “I’ll need the answers by X time in order to make your deadline”.

    I wouldn’t want the double deadlines Alison suggests. I’m much like Sondra, I like to let things percolate gently through my brain. I’ve often told my clients that bread is best when you’ve let it rise overnight in the fridge. I’ve even recounted the tale of when I woke up in the middle of the night proclaiming the word that had been on the tip of my tongue yet escaping me for days (a great Eureka moment).
    So if I hear two deadlines, and the first is in the least bit tough, I’ll breezily ignore it. I’d much rather be given the first deadline as a matter of course, which I’ll then negotiate if it’s tough. If I’m told the 6th when the hard deadine is the 10th, I’ll probably be happy even if I’m just the 7th, so the client would still have it earlier than really necessary. If ever it turned out that there wasn’t a second deadline, I’d simply suck it up and work harder to meet the deadline.

    Clients usually let me know when something is urgent or the deadline is incompressible.

  130. Ultie*

    I’m ADHD and I absolutely need the communication approach that you outline here – often with a third *even earlier* deadline I put in my personal notes because that “oh fuck I’m going to be late” adrenaline boost is sometimes NEEDED to get over a bad executive dysfunction day.

    Otherwise – yeah. I work like Sandra. Slow and steady with lots of time to think and let things percolate. I work a creative job. That percolation time is key.

  131. Orange You Glad*

    This is almost exactly the situation I’ve run into with many employees and coworkers over the years. Our department does a lot of deadline-driven work and we make it a goal to complete things well before a hard deadline in case unexpected issues arise. We also have to manage requests coming in from other teams that don’t have to be done immediately but can’t be ignored for too long.

    I partly had to reset my expectations (it’s ok if everything isn’t done on the 1st if we have until the 5th) but also clearly communicate what is expected (we may have until the 5th but I’d like to see this done by EOD on the 2nd so there is time to review). I coach a lot on time management and for some processes, folks can’t work efficiently until they have a lot of experience with the process.

    You can make finishing sooner part of Sandra’s goals for the year – set metrics and timelines, etc. You can also help her gain more confidence in her work product so she doesn’t feel like she has to review it multiple times before submitting it.

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