CEOs, CFOs and departmental managers all get used to fielding “urgent” email and text message requests.
If you’re like most finance pros, your inbox is at its fullest on Mondays with flagged and exclamation-marked messages needing your attention. (And the folks who are really desperate to jump the queue text you for an answer instead!)
Question: Just how urgent are these requests for your input? In many, even most cases, not very. Some folks will ask you to drop whatever project or task you’re working on to address their priority.
How do you respond tactfully and manage others’ expectations, without stopping what you’re working on? Here are a few strategies to consider:
1. Just ‘how’ urgent?
Reply back: “When is action needed?” Urgent doesn’t always mean immediate.
The sender may simply be anxious about a problem or project. He or she may also figure you’ll drop everything and handle the request now if it has the word urgent or an exclamation point in the message.
2. Give the person a timeline
The sender may only need a plan of action, not a resolution, right away.
Write back something like: “I can take a look at this before noon tomorrow and get back to you. Will that work?”
Bonus: This tactic may persuade the person to seek help elsewhere, of if possible, figure out the answer on his or her own.
3. Get more feedback
The sender’s request may require that you postpone some initiatives that you’re both working on together. Sometimes if may be your boss or even board members who do this.
So ask him or her how the work should be prioritized. A critical project you’re working on may have to wait as a result, and that needs to be communicated.
4. Send the request down the chain
Keep an eye out for patterns to so-called urgent requests. Are they typically about the same issue? Do they come from the same person or department?
A senior staffer or assistant may be capable of handling messages for you when you’re busy, or on a more frequent basis if that works.