This week I was trying to finalise a decision on a project and was working in partnership with an external company. To do this, I needed sign-off from a senior colleague (in an organisational sense, he’s not that old!) on whether the project should go ahead or not.

His first response to my email was – not unreasonably – ‘When is the deadline to make a decision?’

Having been given a pretty loose deadline by our external partners, I responded by stating the importance of making a decision quickly and requested a response ‘ASAP’.

I waited 24 hours before seeing if he had made his decision. This is where I learned a valuable lesson.

He said that he does not respond to any request that has a deadline of ‘ASAP’.

Now… you may think this is the behaviour of a diva; someone who doesn’t respond to being asked to make a decision quickly.

You would be wrong.

He went on to explain that in an environment when we are all up against it, using the term ASAP or ‘as soon as possible’ doesn’t mean today. It doesn’t mean tomorrow. It means after the list of all of the finite and specific deadlines of things on his to-do list.

It was something that I’d never thought about before.

ASAP may sound like an important statement. It is, in fact, pointless – mainly because it is relative. The deadline is set by the recipient, not the person making the request.

That means it’s a request I, for one, will not use again. I may even choose to ignore ‘ASAP’ requests myself.

But what about my project deadline? By giving a fixed (and very short) deadline to my colleague, I got a swift and timely response and we moved on.

I have been working in my field for over 15 years, but I’ve learned you’re never too experienced to unlearn something you’ve been doing for years, especially when it comes to the expectations of other people.

If it took me 15 years to realise that ASAP was a useless expression, there are probably many of us still using it. Some with success, some not.

And that’s why I wanted to share my experience… ASAP