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Whenever a manager ask us to perform a task, we often ask "when do you need this by?" Some managers try to be smart and often say: "yesterday".

What would be the best comeback response?

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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it deals with how you interact with your boss rather than a Project Management problem. It may be better suited to the Workplace Stack Exchange site here: workplace.stackexchange.com – Marv Mills Feb 27 '15 at 10:10
  • @MarvMills The question is actually about how to respond to bosses (or clients) expecting unrealistic deadlines, seems valid to me :) – Niels van Reijmersdal Feb 27 '15 at 13:10
  • Actually the OP mentions nothing whatsoever about whether the timescales are unrealistic or not, only that they are urgent (as indicated by the choice of wording). But even so, the best way to respond to bosses informal verbal deadlines seems like more of a Workplace discussion than a Project Management problem. – Marv Mills Feb 27 '15 at 14:00
  • Don't get me wrong, but I wont get more unrealistic than this, see the answer of Alberto for details. In Dutch this saying often means "As soon as possible" instead of very urgent, its more wishful thinking, certainly when used as humour. I would think PM's would be confronted a lot with this answer and it makes perfect sense to be answered here instead of by the general public in workplace. – Niels van Reijmersdal Feb 27 '15 at 23:59
  • It is the PM that is giving the "yesterday" answer. – Marv Mills Feb 28 '15 at 11:36
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If he is a friendly boss I would answer: "can you borrow me your time machine?" and then laugh!

When somebody makes humour he loves to get humour back, you will earn some points. Also, always laugh when you make humour. A lot of times people don't understand humour and this leads to misunderstandings.

If he is not friendly, simply answer "i'll be faster than light!" (which actually means to go back in time)

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  • This is definitely the answer I was looking for :) – javaPhobic Mar 3 '15 at 5:19
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This does not require a comeback response. He is obviously not being literal and perhaps he is invoking a bit of humor on something that is extremely urgent, a common method to help cope with stressful situations. Clearly, the message is the task is of highest priority, meaning you must demote everything else on your to do list down a notch. If he provides you with a deadline date, then he is giving you permission to reset your priorities as YOU see fit, meaning you may do something else before this new task. Yesterday means, do nothing else but this until it is finished and delivered.

We speak using metaphors all the time. There is no need to try to 'come back' with a smart statement. Interpret the metaphor and get to work.

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    I interpret the "yesterday" comment in exactly the same way that David has. However, having worked in environments where there are wide cultural differences between team members who work in different geographic locations, I can also understand that different cultures can interpret humour (or even non-humorous comments) in different ways. This can certainly cause difficulties in interpreting comments that are not intended to be taken literally: I can vouch for that! – Iain9688 Feb 27 '15 at 23:27
  • That's a great point, Iain9688. I did not consider that perspective. – David Espina Feb 28 '15 at 1:13
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Yesterday is impossible, if you mean as soon as possible, this realistically will be done around date xyz.

Its unclear if this task needs the highest priority:

  • If its a joke than it isn't high priority
  • If it really needs to be already done, then its the highest priority and you might need to drop other tasks.

The best action is to ask again what the priority is, just to be sure its a joke or not and to find out what the real priority is.

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Its no use to start a battle of words with your manager.

If your manager says "Yesterday", then you can tell your manager your estimated delivery time on spot or later on email. If eatimate does not suit him, ask him to prioritise your tasks on hand.

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  • are you a manager? – javaPhobic Feb 27 '15 at 5:15
  • I am a Project Leader. – Manoj Agarwal Feb 27 '15 at 8:27

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