When your boss gives you a project and says it is important but doesn’t give a due date, you need to ask for one. The boss may respond “As soon as possible.” Of course you are already working on stuff so now you face a dilemma. Do you stop everything and work on the new project? Or do you finish what you are doing and then start on the new project?
This is when cultivating a good relationship with your boss is key because you need to know how to prioritize work when working for that individual.
A good habit to get into is to track questions you have for your boss and wait for a good opportunity to clear up those questions. For example, during an annual evaluation or similar meeting simply say something like:
“When you give me important projects that need to be done as soon as possible but I am working on another project with the same directive how would you like to me to handle that? Should I bring to your attention the other project and have you tell me which is the priority or use my discretion or something else?”
If the boss says to ask, then you have laid the groundwork to ask during those high-pressure moments. Also you refer to the conversation.
“As per your instructions in situations like this, should I drop project X temporarily to do project Y? Or finish project X then do project Y?”
Create a cheat sheet of these types of questions and answers. Then you have a reference point as to what to do when specific situations arise.
Be sure when having these difficult discussions with your boss that you be as succinct as possible with your scenario descriptions. Also be sure to take notes on your boss’ response. We are notorious for forgetting things like this, especially when we are in a stressful situation.
For more tips on helping the boss help you, check out my podcast episode on this subject at http://abigailwurf.com/010-how-to-help-your-boss-help-you/.