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Next time the boss asks you for a date, give a date for a date!

Have you ever been in meeting and your boss asks you to provide a date for a deliverable? Sometimes you have the answer to the question on the top of your mind, or you can perform a quick mental calculation and answer the question with a fair degree of confidence the date when the deliverable will be available. This is referred to as giving a date.

Occasionally, however, you are not prepared to answer the questions and you need to collect additional information before you can provide a fair and accurate answer. How do you respond to your boss? Do you provide an educated guess with a margin of error? Do you decline to answer? Or do you provide a date for a date?

What is a date for a date?

It is a concept that I learned while watching a leader that I admired greatly. As she explained,

If you need to collect additional information, provide a date (Date 1) for a date (Date 2).

During the meeting (Date 0) you provide a date (Date 1) that is a few days in the future. Between the date of the meeting (Date 0) and the first date (Date 1) you take time to speak with your colleagues and develop a reasonable plan. Then on or before the promised date (Date1) you contact your boss and provide them the planned date for the deliverable (Date2) and supporting details as appropriate including assumptions and risks.

Providing a guess with a margin or error may be safe, but what if you’re wrong? What if you your boss presses you for details in the meeting and you can’t provide them? Either way, you run the risk of setting false expectations and putting yourself and your team in a difficult position.

Providing no answer is not an option.

Providing a date for date enables you to get the time you need to provide an informed response, while responding in a professional manner, without setting unrealistic expectations or goals.

So next time your boss asks you for a date and you don’t feel prepared to provide an answer, provide a date for a date.