Why Responding to Your Boss Immediately Can Hurt You
The other day, I was struggling through some data analysis, a task I’m admittedly not very good at and need to seriously focus on in order to get done, when my boss emailed asking for an update on a different project. It wasn’t a time-sensitive request, but without thinking, I stopped everything so I could respond.
This is a pretty common practice for me. When I see my boss’ name pop up in my inbox or chat window, I tend to scramble to answer her as quickly as possible.
The reflex tends to be a hallmark trait of people who want to excel in their jobs. I know that my direct reports reply to my requests with speed they don’t often have for others. And I myself have always replied to my bosses or anyone above them with the urgency of a 911 call.
But is that a good thing?
You may think a lightning-fast response to all your boss’ needs is helping your career, but it’s time to re-think that strategy. Here are three reasons you actually don’t need to (and shouldn’t always) respond as fast as possible.
Not Everything Your Boss Sends You is Urgent
This may sound like a “duh” comment, but we tend to believe that everything our superiors are working on is extremely important. But in the same way that everything you do isn’t urgent, neither is your manager’s work. And while he or she may love getting an answer from you quickly, it might not make much of a difference whether you respond today, tomorrow, or Tuesday.
A great strategy to implement is something we call managing up, or letting your boss know what you need to get your job done (and done well). An example of that is to simply ask your boss if the matter is urgent or if there is a deadline. You could say something like, “I saw your request for the email campaign numbers for April. Can you let me know when you’d like those by so I can prioritize my work?” You may learn that he or she doesn’t need an update until the end of the week, in which case you can tackle it at a later time.
It’s Better to Show Your Boss You Can Prioritize Than Answer Immediately
As a manager, it’s great knowing that my employees can prioritize their work and don’t have to rely on me to tell them what to do and when to do it. I send my current direct report a lot of requests each day and value that she tells me she’ll get to some of them later because she is working on something that’s more time-sensitive. It shows me that she understands our business and knows how to optimize her day to get the most important things done.
You’re Hurting Your Own Work
In the example I used above, I ended up losing my place in the data analysis and had to go back and re-start a portion of it. I ended up wasting a lot of time to answer my boss on something she ended up not needing right away. If I had waited and finished my analysis, I would have ended up saving a lot of time, while still getting her what she needed long before she was expecting a response.
At the end of the day, unless your job is to be at your boss’ beck and call, there’s no reward for replying within seconds every time you’re asked for something. That’s not to say you shouldn’t be hyper-aware of your boss’ requests or ignore them. A quick reply saying that you’re on it and giving a estimated timeline of when it will be done will reassure your manager that he or she can trust you to get things done—and prioritize well.
Photo of phone courtesy of Shutterstock.
Elliott Bell is The Muse's Director of Marketing. He is a graduate of the French Culinary Institute, but opted for start-ups over 16-hour days as a line cook (for the better hours, of course). Previously, Elliott spent 6 years making Seamless.com into a nationally known brand, and 1 month as a culinary assistant on Iron Chef America. When he isn't Musing, he can be found playing tennis, making chicken stock, or understanding the meaning of rap lyrics on rapgenius.com.More from this Author