How to Delegate Last-Minute Work Without a Mutiny

No matter how well you plan out your team’s work, you might occasionally need to delegate an urgent project at the last-minute. Here’s how to do it without sending your team into rebellion or causing anyone to have a panic attack.

1. Acknowledge to your staff that the deadline is not ideal. Employees are more likely to get frustrated if they feel that you’re not acknowledging when something is a challenge. Things will usually go better if you don’t try to pretend the interruption isn’t a hardship. That doesn’t mean that you should fall all over yourself apologizing; after all, most workplaces have times when last-minute, urgent work pops up. But don’t pretend that it’s not a disruption.

2. If possible, explain why the project is coming up at the last minute. People tend to feel better about dropping everything to race to get something done when they understand the context for it and why it’s important.

3. Proactively address how this will impact the employee’s other work. Are there other deadlines that will need to be pushed back to make room for the new project? Projects that can be moved to someone else to clear space in your employee’s calendar to work on this? While some employees will raise these questions themselves, many will assume that if these steps were possible, you would say so without being asked – so make sure you do!

4. Get the employee help, if possible. Are there others who can be pulled in to help? Can some pieces of the project be delegated to others to make it go faster?

5. If someone has to really go above and beyond to make the deadline – such as working all night or canceling important plans – go out of your way to reward them. Order them dinner to be delivered while they’re working, encourage them to take a comp day once the work is done, or otherwise make their life easier and show your appreciation.

6. Say thank you. If someone races to get something done by a last-minute deadline, works late, takes on additional stress, or simply does an excellent job, letting them know they appreciate is not only kind, but makes them more likely to go out of their way for you in the future.

7. If you’re chronically needing to assign tight, last-minute deadlines, figure out why. Could better planning or communication solve the problem, or is it simply the nature of the work? Sometimes it really is just the unavoidable nature of the work, but it’s worth looking at whether better planning to head off some of it.

Avoid last minute work, download the OnDemand recording of yesterday’s online round table –  3 leading productivity experts sharing their most valuable tips.







Alison Green

Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.

More Posts

  • http://freemindtraining.com/ Arijit Banerjea

    Hi Alison, I have certainly been there (haven’t we all!)
    “Things will usually go better if you don’t try to pretend the interruption isn’t a hardship” – I believe this is the most valuable lesson from your post! Often, managers tend to pretend that it’s business as usual, which makes things worse. Work doesn’t get done any faster if the team feels unfairly treated!

    [Reply]