This is a short rant about ASAP, which translates to, “please, stop whatever you are doing and work on my task instead, and complete it by sometime in the future, but preferably yesterday”.

To give more background information on why I’m taking time to write this non-technical post: I recently received an email from a coworker asking me to trigger a business process ASAP. I received this message on the 14th of the month planning to work on it on the 15th of the month (the following day). By morning, of the following day, I had a follow up message asking me what the status was of the task I was supposed to be working on, with a gentle nudge that he had hoped to go live with things that afternoon.

The problem with ASAP

There are many problems with ASAP but the biggest problem that I see is that ASAP is not a real time frame. If it is, it certainly means different things to different parties. ASAP could easily mean; stop everything you are doing and complete this right now by the end of the day, just as easily as it could mean; finish up whatever you are working on however long that takes and then see if you can fit my task into your schedule.

The second problem stems from the first problem in that it’s impossible to agree upon a deadline when the deadline is ill defined via ASAP. Thus, “ASAP” reduces the likelihood of a conversation about when the task can actually be completed. For example, if a person asks for a task to be completed in an hour from the time the task was assigned, then it opens up a dialog about how reasonable or unreasonable that timeline is and both parties can then negotiate a realistic time. Without a concrete starting point the negotiation is rarely started and so both parties can end up being disappointed.

Both parties are disappointed because the person assigning the task will inevitably see the task done later than they would like (since ASAP means yesterday) and the person working on the task will be disappointed because they put in serious effort to stop what they were doing and transition to a new task only to have their coworker wonder why it wasn’t done sooner.

The last problem with ASAP is that if you translate the phrase into the real meaning of the phrase then it becomes clear that the phrase is just a nice way of being rude. As stated above, the phrase basically informs the other person that whatever they are working on right now is less important than the task that the task assigner wants done. If you were to say this to people in a real life, collaborative environment, you would be met with some sour looks and worse attitudes and eventually your employees would be less productive, not more.

What to do instead

This problem can be solved by doing any one the the following things.

  1. Ask for something to be done by a concrete deadline.
  2. Ask the person you are assigning the task to set their own deadline.
  3. Plan earlier and better so that the task can be part of normal workflows (minimize special cases).
  4. Create systems that allow people to complete their own tasks.

An observation

Don’t put anything in an email that you wouldn’t say face to face. I for one could never imagine myself telling a coworker to their face that they need to do something ASAP, but all too often the impersonal nature of email and skype impacts our etiquette, leading to the use of phrases we would otherwise avoid.

Lastly, if I have ever sent you an email with the phrase ASAP, I’m sorry, I was wrong, please forgive me…

Thanks for reading my rant, hopefully this was amusing and informative enough for you to leave a comment on this blog ASAP