I accepted a position which was to be project-driven. I was to lead projects in my area of expertise, including providing technical input. I've worked like that all my professional life.

The position resulted not to have anything to do with projects. I'm responsible for answering ad hoc requests. These range from simple ("Please contact [another team]") to more complex (e.g. creating a description how to solve some problem, 30-60 min. effort mostly).

We don't use a ticketing system, just emails and communicators.

How would you organize your work? I have the impression I can't focus on anything and I don't ever get into the flow since I'm constantly expected to react to ad hoc emails and communication. I've created a structure of folders in Outlook to mark the emails I'm still to reply to but I'm still getting lost and have difficulties changing topics every 10 minutes or less the whole day long.

I'm the author of this question: What to do if you discover your team is not responsible for what you were hired for . I didn't register back then, hence a new nickname.

  • What does your manager say when you told them about wanting to work on a project and not just work on adhoc requests?
    – jcmack
    Commented Mar 29, 2020 at 8:45
  • 2
    Do you have to answer immediately?
    – FooTheBar
    Commented Mar 29, 2020 at 9:03
  • 1
    @jcmack, he's been evasive and I don't want to escalate the situation too much until I find an alternative job.
    – cumb1
    Commented Mar 29, 2020 at 9:26
  • @FooTheBar, to some request yes. Some aren't urgent but if I don't answer immediately I normally get a second request concerning the same thing within the net 48 h.
    – cumb1
    Commented Mar 29, 2020 at 9:27
  • have you tried to give an estimate? Just a "I received your mail and I will look at your problem on Tuesday"?
    – FooTheBar
    Commented Mar 29, 2020 at 9:35

2 Answers 2


This is, I think, a common problem and it can be hard to solve. It's a burden that tends to impact generalists and cross-functional people more than others.

Perhaps the most important thing is to recognize that what you may consider to be not so important is actually very valuable to the organization. You get a call/email when someone is blocked. When you help them, you enable their productivity and they can keep working. When you help a lot of people the positive benefit to the organization is huge and perhaps far more significant the cost of slipping your project deadlines by some amount.

The way that teams handle this is with a help ticket system and scheduling their staff to "round-robin" work on the help queue. The important thing here is NOT the help ticket system but sharing the help-ticket work. If you can't have a help-ticket system, you can get the benefits of one by creating an email address specifically for this and share it with 1 or 2 other folks. Take turns servicing emails using a predetermined schedule. That way, users get fast response and your team each gets at least some days per week where they don't have to answer these requests.

I suspect however, that you're going to say that this responsibility falls only on you. In that case, the help-ticket system won't help you much because you're always going to be the one servicing it. At best, a "one-man-helpdesk" can only provide you with a mechanism for "slowing down" the expectations of users.

In that case, you should consider a long term approach. Instead of trying to deal with each user as quickly as possible. Try to train them a little each time you interact so they know more than just how to resolve their immediate problem. Over time the users get better and better and less dependent on you for trivial stuff. If you can maintain a wiki for users that will help even more as users will try to self-service when they have enough knowledge. If you do this well enough, you'll see a second order effect where some of your users become mini-experts and are able to help out their peers before they even get to you.


I'd like to suggest two things; but first, a caveat: I'm not sure I'm entirely clear on what a typical day "looks like" for you, but it sounds like you are looking at your email a significant portion of the time (as I'm assuming that is how you mostly receive the ad hoc requests). Also, in response to a question of whether you need to respond to these requests immediately, you said for some you do, while others

aren't urgent but if I don't answer immediately I normally get a second request concerning the same thing within the net 48 h.

There is a whole lot of time between "immediately" and 48 hours later. Since this is the Workplace Stack, I want to note that, imo, when receiving any requests, you should respond - at least to simply acknowledge receipt of the request - within 24 hours. Honestly, if someone's job is to respond to questions/requests and I send one in and 48 hours later, I've not heard anything, not even "Your request will be processed in the order it was received," I'd probably be rather unhappy with that person's performance.


  1. Set up a routine schedule of checking your email for the requests. For example, you arrive at work and sit down at 9am, check for requests. Then close that window (or minimize it with notifications off, with particular people, e.g. your direct supervisor, whitelisted for notifications). Your next scheduled time to check for requests should be approximately 1pm / after lunch (assuming you have enough requests carrying over from the prior day and/or the morning to last that long). Then check once again at around 4ish. 4-5p is a good time to knock out some of those quick requests that are concluded with just a reply email.

  2. Since you don't have a ticket system, and assuming you have some flexibility with respect to software you use, essentially create your own system. Some tools you may find valuable include:

    • RULES in Gmail, Outlook, Apple Mail, etc. The folders you've created are a good start, but it sounds like they simply exist and you are still filing emails into them. Automate that! Use the robust rules options to make specific emails containing certain subject lines, body content, sender, etc., go in various places and other actions.
    • IFTTT, which stands for If This Then That. After you connect the apps you want to use together (e.g., Gmail, Uber, Slack, Alexa, whatever), you make a rule in accordance with the service's name: If X, Then Y...: "If email is received from domain @mycompany.com, then create a new entry on an Excel spreadsheet". You can vary the information included in the spreadsheet, of course.
    • Zapier, same concept as IFTTT, my sense is Zapier is a bit more business-oriented and a little easier to visualize your workflow as you're creating it. Both are worth checking out. Free for 5 workflows, subscription beyond that.
    • Notion, an app that bills itself as an all-in-one workspace for your notes, tasks, wikis, etc. The app can be a little overwhelming in its breadth, but it could be worth it. Limited free, subscription beyond that. With Notion, I think the best way to get an idea of its potential is to check out the "Dashboards" people post on this Reddit sub. In particular, I thought this one may inspire you.

Hope this proves helpful to you in any way. Good luck!

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