Chris Markiewicz's Blog
Every Monday – thoughts, observations and ideas that hold up a mirror to who & how we are

The world’s most counterproductive acronym?


 I was invited to visit a large public sector organisation to discuss some conflict resolution training for their staff. The meeting was to take place in Croydon with the HR director and training manager on a Friday afternoon early in the summer.

 The meeting went very well, so much so that I was asked to put together a proposal and send it to Mike, the training manager “ASAP” (as soon as possible)

 Thankfully, rather than take this request at face value, I asked them “When is the very latest you would like this by?”

 What then happened was fascinating. The HR director turned to his colleague and queried “Hang on Mike, Isn’t it half term next week, you’re on holiday aren’t you?”

 “Shoot, I forgot all about that, plus we’re up in Leeds all the following week!”

 “Two weeks Monday OK for you as a deadline?” piped up the HR director.

 This begs the question, what will have happened had I not requested a specific deadline? They wanted it “ASAP” and it was an important piece of work. Chances are I will have treated it as urgent, gone home & declared to Ingrid, my partner – “Sorry darling but I’m going to have to work this weekend, we’ll have to cancel the burnt meat party (aka barbeque)”.

 Come Monday morning, I will then have sent the proposal down to my new friends in Croydon ready for them to look at it. After all, they did ask me to get it to them “ASAP”.

 Now, here comes the sting in the tail. I call to speak with Mike on Wednesday to check it had reached them safely and all was in order, to be told by a colleague:

 “I’m sorry Mr Markiewicz, Mike’s on holiday all this week. In fact, he won’t be in again until Monday week”

 So, what do I think of Mike? What choice name might I feel like calling him for having ruined my weekend? Fill in the blank with your guess of choice name:  ____________!!!!

 This one simple, commonly used acronym wreaks havoc across the world of work and business, probably thousands of times a day.

 Why? Because it means nothing. It is vague, it is non-specific, it is utterly ambiguous. My ASAP may mean 10 minutes, your’s may mean two weeks – and therein lies the problem.

 Have you ever asked someone for something ASAP and then found yourself having to chase them? Do they get stroppy? Could it be that their notion of ASAP is different to your’s or, that because you weren’t specific, they simply overlooked or left it? How would it compare with a request such as “Can I have that by 11am this Monday (straight after I’ve finished enjoying CM’s blog)”. A specific day, a specific time – no confusion, no ambiguity.

 Conversely, how do you treat an ASAP request? Do you give it priority? Perhaps it needs to be top priority, equally (such as in my example above) it may not.

 If you happen to use ASAP, I strongly urge you to eliminate it from your vocabulary immediately and permanently.  Instead,  always give specific deadlines. If the deadlines are not acceptable, then negotiate, but always remain specific.

 When someone asks you to do something ASAP, then the phrase I used above will help things along:

 “When is the very latest you need it by?”.

 You may be amazed with the results:

  • Everyone knows exactly where they stand
  • Tasks are easier to plan and schedule
  • Less risk of being overwhelmed by things you perceive to be urgent
  • Clarity, less ambiguity and, therefore less risk of misunderstanding.
  • It can buy you more time – it bought me an “extra” two weeks!

 Eliminate one simple counterproductive acronym and, as a result eliminate so much potential confusion and damage.

 Finally, here are few variations you may also use or encounter. If so, treat in the same way as ASAP:

 QUAYL – Quick as you like  WYRE – When you’re ready eh?  AAW – As and when   ASAYC – As soon as you can  WYHAM – When you have a minute

 Any others I may have missed? Post a comment and let us know.


5 Responses to “The world’s most counterproductive acronym?”

  1. How about WIHT – when I have time.
    You never do. Make it.
    Thanks Chris.

  2. Hi Chris nothing prfound to say except that I have enjoyed reading these and to acknowledge you for writing them – great stuff thanks

  3. Totally agree Chris. This is one I bang on about in email writing courses. For some reason people seem to feel asap ‘sounds better’ than ‘by Thursday’. It sounds vaguer for sure. We usually end up agreeing that if the tone is a problem it helps to share the reason for the deadline. As in: ‘Could I have your response by Thursday so that I can collate them and get them to head office by the end of the week.’

  4. Is it that I am entering “grumpy old man” syndrome which at 52 is perhaps a bit young, but two things strike me from yet another entertaining post. Firstly, in the blackberry pie revolution we are in, people tend to “verbally” attach importance to almost everything, perhaps because it is “macho” to do so. Secondly, attention span is short, so if something isn’t done almost immediately, its priority naturally sinks lower down the pile, bit like an old in-tray, which by its nature was never urgent in the first place.

    Why is this I ponder ? Well perhaps part of this is social conditioning in that people actually believe immediacy is what is expected in today’s world, where the fastest and most agile are perceived to survive. We, as parents have also nourished the need for instant gratification throughout the lives of our now grown up offspring, mainly because we bowed to peer pressure and bought into the xbox, sky plus, Wii, ipod nano, tweet, facebook, and its equivelant before these gizmo’s. Or is is partly a fear on behalf of the ASAP recipient, that he/she doesn’t want to be caught without said information/proposal etc, now that would be a crime in today’s world

    Just Imagine the following :

    Alan to 2011 boss – “Oh, I said it would be ok in a couple of weeks, as it isn’t right at the top of my priorities right now – it gives me some time to think and it will allow Chris to do the best job he can”

    2011 boss “mmmm I think we need to move faster in this world, are you sure you are cut out for my organisation, I expect ….. ”

    Alan “leave it with me, I’ll have it ASAP”

    2011 Boss “thats what I expect – call me tomorrow with the cost”

    Alan calls Chris, phone diverted to vmail “sorry I can’t take the call at the moment, on leave for a week, I’ll call you ASAP on my return”

    Alan has an “oh sh**” moment, “what will I tell my boss now”. Anxiety, stress …..

    Back to the ideal world that I live in (not !!). Being really honest is refreshing “look, I have 2 big deadlines this week. I’d like to give this the proper thought it warrants, so would early next week be acceptable”.

    “OK, that fits in neatly with my plans, I’ll let my boss know . I’d rather have your very best work”.

    I must go know, my accountant has asked for my year end books ASAP !!!

  5. That’s a great blog Chris.

    Like freshword, I also think it is good practice to let them know the reason for the deadline – and also get back to them if the deadline changes in the meantime. Sometimes, if there is no real deadline, it is equally useful to tell them that you want it quickly because you are just excited about making progress!

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