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How to Manage Ad Hoc Requests: Tips & Tools

Navigate ad hoc requests like a pro with these expert tips to streamline productivity and enhance your workflow.

By Alexandria Hewko  •   December 12, 2023  •   7 min read

Your level of productivity is influenced by many key factors; one of those factors is how well you can focus on the set of tasks in front of you. When you’re frequently faced with new projects or requests that pop up and distract you, you’re enduring the challenge of context switching, which detracts from your deep focus time. Finding effective ways to manage and track ad hoc requests will allow you to stay tuned into your top priorities and get the most out of your day!

What are ad hoc requests? 

According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, ad hoc refers to anything that is done “without consideration of wider application.” Therefore, ad hoc requests in the workplace can relate to any one-off task that isn’t backed by strategy or doesn’t align with your set of priorities for the day. They are also characterized as projects that only happen once and won’t be recurring over time. 

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Examples of ad hoc requests 

Remember that ad hoc requests can take a lot of forms. Essentially, an ad hoc request is anything that doesn’t relate to your current strategy. Some examples would be if someone asked you to:

  • File or find documentation that isn’t related to the project on which you’re working
  • Conduct an activity on behalf of someone else while they’re away
  • Give a presentation to a group to which you don’t normally speak
  • Start a project that doesn’t directly relate to one of your objectives and key results (OKRs)

The impact of ad hoc requests on productivity 

Ad hoc requests can have a negative impact on productivity if they’re not managed and prioritized effectively. When you’re frequently flipping back and forth between tasks, you’re engaging in a behavior called context switching. This reduces productivity because it takes time to set up, plan, and focus long enough on a task to complete it. But when you have to stop and start an activity over and over again, you’re going to spend more time getting re-set up or re-focused than actually executing—taking a lot longer to get projects completed. 

Ad hoc requests can provide the feeling of “quick wins,” which is motivating but can also distract from other priorities that need to be completed, leading to delays or missed goals. 

How to manage ad hoc requests 

Assess their urgency and importance

The first thing you should do when you receive an ad hoc request is prioritize it. There are helpful project management frameworks—such as the Eisenhower Matrix, which helps you compare which tasks have high vs. low importance and which tasks have high vs. low urgency—that are helpful in this process. Whichever tasks have high urgency and high importance should be tackled first! Some productivity software systems also have built-in tools that automatically help you choose tasks based on their importance to your team’s OKRs. 

Figuring out how to prioritize the right tasks can be overwhelming, but with a tool like Fellow, it’s easy to visualize your upcoming tasks and organize action items based on urgency and importance.

Learn to say no 

Learning to say no is difficult but important, so try practicing this as early as possible in your career. In the workplace, professionally declining tasks that don’t relate to your priorities will help you stay focused and productive. If the task doesn’t align with organizational objectives, it’s a good idea to turn down the project. if the task does align with the company’s strategy but you don’t have the time or expertise to work on it, this allows you to demonstrate leadership skills by delegating the task to another member of the team. 

Set up a triage system

Just like in hospitals, triage systems can help you determine which task to tackle first. You can rely on your findings from the Eisenhower Matrix if you used it to create your list of highly important and urgent activities, or you can find another metric that helps determine priority. For example, reflect on questions like:

  • How many people will this project affect if I don’t do it?
  • What is the expected revenue impact if I complete this task?
  • Is there a high level of risk involved? Do I have enough risk mitigation to go ahead?
  • Do I have all the information I need to start this project?

Set realistic boundaries 

You and your team have a finite workload that you can take on at any given time. To avoid employee burnout, ensure that you set realistic boundaries. Some types of boundaries you can set include:

  • How quickly a project will get turned around
  • How likely you are to do a good job based on the resources available
  • The budget needed to make the project a success
  • The expected frequency of communication while working on the project (and any calendar blocks that need to be respected)
  • The style of communication that is needed (for example, appropriate channel, tone, etc.)

Use tools to stay organized

Fortunately, there are a ton of fantastic software tools that can help you stay organized. Fellow, for example, connects to-do lists directly to meetings so you can track talking points and action items. You can also find tools that help with setting team priorities, logging ad hoc requests, tracking progress on request completion, collecting feedback about project success, and organizing communication between you and the task requestor. 

Delegate and distribute tasks

You may need to act as a project manager to ensure ad hoc requests are handled and balanced alongside the current responsibilities provided to the team. It’s a good idea to look at other team members’ workloads to see who has the capacity to take on an ad hoc project.

You can also delegate based on people’s skills and growth opportunities. If there is someone who is particularly adept or wants to improve in the area in which the ad hoc project falls, ask them if they’re open to taking on that new task.

Overcommunicate with requesters 

Requesters may have different ways of communicating their needs. Overcommunicating with them by asking follow-up questions on the request can be one way to ensure that you’re correctly understanding what they’re looking for. Try to be as specific and measurable as possible when communicating with requestors to minimize how much could be misinterpreted. Additionally, be sure to explain any boundaries or expectations set by your teams and frequently provide updates on progress. 

Monitor and review the process

Manage team progress to ensure that requests are being handled effectively. One way to do this is through weekly check-in meetings to see if there are any additional resources needed to complete the request in time. Fellow has a variety of weekly meeting templates you can leverage to keep your team on track. It’s also a good practice to track ad hoc requests in a shared document with your team so contributors can add results to their assigned action items. You can then pop into the document anytime to see what has been completed and what’s still left to do. 

How Fellow can help with ad hoc requests

Fellow is a productivity tool that simplifies and automates communication and goal setting, which helps your team manage ad hoc projects effectively. As a team, you can host a shared area in Fellow to set, document, and track team OKRs and oversee a dashboard of ongoing meetings and projects. 

When a new request comes in, use Fellow to create a collaborative meeting agenda where you can chat with the requestor about the purpose of the project, the resources needed, and any boundaries or expectations set by your team. You can also view the OKRs side-by-side to validate that the project aligns with your team’s goals.

During any meetings to discuss the ad hoc request, you can use integrations to access your agenda directly in a video conferencing platform like Google Meet, Zoom, or Microsoft Teams! Use Fellow to track the meeting notes as you go, or even leverage the AI Meeting Copilot to automatically record, transcribe, and summarize the meetings and share the activity with the person on your team who will be taking on the assignment. 

You can also assign the new ad hoc task directly to that team member within Fellow, which allows you to see when the action item is completed and allows the team member responsible for the task to view it on their overall to-do list. Or, use another integration to send the assigned task directly to another project management platform!

When it comes time to follow up with your employees or the meeting requestor, you can leverage one of Fellow’s pre-built meeting agenda templates to guide your review of the project to date! This ensures you have consistency in your communication channels with stakeholders. 

Parting advice 

Staying on top of ad hoc requests as they come in will allow you to stay focused on what matters most to your team. You can also leverage automation tools to minimize your context switching even further, which will allow you to spend even more time getting important work done. As you go, don’t forget to collect feedback from your colleagues about how your ad hoc request management process is working. It’s likely they’ll have constructive insights on how to optimize it for your specific workplace, which will allow you to generate even higher results!

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