Tired of dealing with ad-hoc requests from clients and colleagues?

We hear you and you’re definitely not alone. 

Heck, the average worker is interrupted up to 10 times per day

But consider that last-minute projects aren’t just annoying: they’re a net drag on your team. Constantly switching your attention between tasks is a recipe for poor productivity, not to mention burnout.

The reality, though? Last-minute projects are unavoidable. This is especially true when you’re “always-on” and client requests can pop up around the clock.

That’s exactly why you need a game plan for dealing with ad-hoc projects. In this guide, we’ll cover how to handle these requests and tips for reducing them in the future.

What are ad-hoc projects, anyway?

Ad hoc projects are unscheduled, unexpected requests. Such projects are almost always due to an unforeseen roadblock or issue (think: miscommunication) and their completion is time-sensitive. 

As a result, ad hoc requests require you to deviate from your existing schedule and disrupt teammates. Stop us if you’ve heard this one before:

“Well, the client needs it by the end of the day. It’s super urgent.”

Oh, or this one:

“We need those revisions ASAP. Seriously, though: this can’t wait."

There is no one-size-fits-all cause of ad hoc projects, but they’re typically the result of:

  • Poor communication (think: failure to set expectations or deadlines)

  • Manual errors (think: inaccurate info on a report, a scheduled campaign wasn’t actually scheduled)

  • Abrupt schedule, budget, or personnel changes

Keep in mind that not all ad hoc requests occur because someone dropped the ball.

From legitimate personal emergencies to personnel issues (think: your point of contact leaves the company out of nowhere), life happens. Again, ad hoc projects are inevitable even for the most put-together teams and clients.

5 tips for handling ad hoc projects (without the headache)

Let’s say an unexpected project comes across your screen. What next?

We’ll bite: dealing with sudden requests is tricky. It doesn’t help that they’re often treated as do-or-die.

Don’t panic, though! Below are five tips to stay calm and attack ad hoc projects head-on.

1. Don’t throw your current project management process out the window

First thing’s first: your process for scheduling projects shouldn’t be a total free-for-all. 

teamwork resource scheduling

That means having some sort of formal approval process that goes beyond email. If you can get an overview of your available resources, like what you see in Teamwork above, that works even better.

But let’s say you don’t.

Although ad hoc requests often bypass your traditional project requirements, that doesn’t mean you should drop everything immediately. You don’t need to send out an “Uh oh” message to your team, either. Instead, ask yourself:

  • What is the primary goal of this project? 

  • What is the timeline of the project? What’s realistic?

  • Who needs to be involved?

Based on these answers, you can decide who to reach out to and schedule your project accordingly. Remember: ad hoc requests should disrupt as few people as possible.

2. Assess every ad hoc request in terms of risk, complexity, and urgency

Piggybacking on the point above, the rules of prioritizing tasks still apply here.

And sure, ad hoc requests typically “skip the line.”

However, your team’s existing workload and tasks aren’t going anywhere. That’s why it’s important to consider risk, complexity, and urgency with each ad hoc project. Assess the following:

  • What will happen if this doesn’t get done? Will we lose a contract or client? 

  • Is the proposed deadline for this project possible? Do we have the bandwidth?

  • What actually needs to be delivered?

The upside of most ad hoc projects is that they’re relatively straightforward. Quick revisions might only take a few minutes and require one of your teammates to complete. Still, consider your team’s current bandwidth and schedules before diving in.

This sort of assessment puts some responsibility on the stakeholder requesting an ad hoc request. Just because someone claims a project is urgent doesn’t mean that’s actually the case.

3. Log your ad hoc requests and track your team’s progress

To be clear, you should absolutely log your ad hoc requests in your project management software.

Because when your projects wind up off the books (think: not on your calendar), there’s no transparency or accountability. Your team’s time should be accounted for, particularly on an intensive or time-consuming task.

If nothing else, logging creates a sense of unity as you divide and conquer an ad hoc project. And from a team lead standpoint, it pays to track your team's workload so you have a bird's-eye-view of everyone's tasks.

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This speaks to the value of using a tool like Teamwork. For example, our platform encourages cross-team collaboration and brings teammates together for any given project.

Not only do resource allocation views help in Teamwork, but you can also do a lot with Kanban board views to help you:

  • Assign necessary participants without disrupting your whole team

  • Consolidate project communication into a single platform

  • Track the progress of your project (including % completed)

Image of board view project collaboration

4. Assemble the right teammates to tackle the task (hint: not everybody)

Communication and collaboration are keys to knocking out last-minute projects.

And we’ll say it again: the fewer interruptions among your teammates, the better.

For the sake of productivity and reducing stress on your colleagues, make a point not to put additional work on the plate of someone who’s already overwhelmed. 

This yet again highlights how valuable a tool like Teamwork can be as you can see the real-time workloads of any given teammate:

Teamwork overview example

Meanwhile, real-time communication is key to completing time-sensitive projects. Team chat software (specifically, private channels) provides a place to go back and forth to prevent bottlenecks when you’re against the clock. 

An added bonus of using Teamwork is that your interactions are all logged by default. This creates some much-needed accountability for time-sensitive projects.

Teamwork Chat example

5. Acknowledge legitimate emergency projects when they occur

Sure, you can say that your business doesn’t accept ad hoc requests.

But as noted earlier, emergencies do indeed happen. Is sticking to your schedule really worth potentially upsetting or losing a client?

Hitting the proverbial panic button sucks, sure. That said, it happens. Having a process and planning for unexpected projects makes them so much less disruptive.

Luckily, Teamwork has the perfect solution to help you mitigate, manage, and document the various risks of the project. It's simple to add risks to any project within our platform.

Teamwork Add Risk Entry example

You can track and record various risks within your projects as well as add notes or mitigation and response plans for the team. This keeps everyone up to date so the entire team knows when a risk forms into something bigger.

How to prep for (and prevent) future ad hoc requests 

Anything you can do to reduce ad hoc projects from coming down the pipe is a plus.

To wrap things up, we’ll highlight how to keep last-minute requests from becoming the norm.

Implement a project request and approval process that reduces 'surprises'

Simply put, you can’t afford to freestyle your project management process.

You can rein in so much chaos and eliminate surprise projects by moving away from email chains and into an actual project management platform. Clients or colleagues requesting projects should go through the proper channels.

Doing so not only organizes all of your ongoing projects but also clues you in on key details needed to complete them.

For example, Teamwork allows you to use intake forms to collect the necessary information to complete projects correctly and in a timely manner.

Build time for ad hoc requests into your schedule

No surprise here. Giving your team some breathing room prevents burnout and makes it easier to tackle last-minute issues.

If you haven’t already, consider implementing time-tracking to better understand how workers are allocating their schedules.

Make sure your team isn’t shorthanded 

The more hands you have on deck, the faster you can deal with ad hoc projects. 

Many smaller teams and agencies struggle because they simply don’t have the bandwidth to take on sudden tasks. Resource allocation tools help you understand how many hours you're using or have left.

teamwork allocated time and budget

Foster a collaborative team culture

Finally, consider how your team’s culture impacts your ability to take on time-sensitive tasks.

For example, a proactive team with a streamlined internal communications strategy is much less likely to get overwhelmed or caught off guard. Ideally, your teammates should feel comfortable asking for assistance with ad hoc projects (and likewise feel empowered to ask for assistance).

Of course, collaboration tools are key to keeping your internal communication in order. With Teamwork, your teammates are always just a few clicks away.

How do you deal with ad-hoc requests?

Ad hoc project management can be messy.

That said, a bit of planning and preparation can go a long way toward reducing the stress and need for last-minute projects.

Sticking to the tips above can help you stay productive and likewise make sure your clients’ requests get taken care of in a timely manner. 

And of course, remember that tools like Teamwork can help you conquer your ad hoc requests by streamlining communication between your teammates and clients alike.