Less “I’ll do my best?” at work

I almost hear “Do my best” twice a day; It’s a common phrase in US. My problem with this phrase at work are two folds. 1) I don’t know whether the person means it or not; 2) I don’t really know what is the “best” in each person’s definition. Depending on who’s saying this phrase, it can make me excited or depressed. Therefore I start to use this phrase a lot less. Instead I replace it with the following choices:

Repeat the requirement

There’re 70% of chance after a person hears the work requirement, he or she can’t remember anything after 5 seconds. Where is the 70% coming from? I don’t know. It’s just my personal experience. The number could be higher than that in practice. Can you remember all the things your wife tells you to do? Yeah, you got the point. If you ever get 10%, you can be very good husband.

So the best way, IMHO to understand the requirement, is to simply repeat, or try to repeat the requirement in your own vocabulary. This is not only helping your brain to absorb the words, but also give you one rehearsal time to comprehend the requirement. The chance you’ll remember it afterwards can be drastically boosted. Even you can’t remember 100% of it after repeating, your remembered version can help you stitch the missing parts together.

Repeating the requirement is a calming way to demonstrate that you are really with the person who’s giving you requirement. Just make sure you don’t repeat it in exactly the same way, because this could make it sound like you are a megaphone. The goal is to show to both person you have the potential to get the job done, please take the repeating part as a mini contract therefore you need to elaborate the matter in a bit more detail than “I’ll do my best.”

Write down the requirement

There’re 5% of chance you might see yourself writing the requirement down. This is a rare case. A project manager who writes down things others reporting to he/she is a really good project manager. Whenever I see a person like that, it most time turns out to be an effective and rewarding team asset.

So if someone needs to write down what you are telling he/she, please give he/she some time to do that. Maybe even slow down a bit. If the writing down part can be accompanied by the repeating part verbally, that’ll be the ideal case.

Acknowledge the requirement

If you don’t want to repeat or write down the requirement, the worst case is to acknowledge the requirement by saying “I’ll do xxx”. Make the title xxx catchy and easy to remember. I believe any of us can do that, it shouldn’t be too hard and the effect of this acknowledgement is a lot more clear and meaningful comparing to “I’ll do my best”.

What’s the problem with “best”?

Why do you have so much problem with the “best”? Yes I do. For some reason, from the project point of view, I don’t believe your best is that important. Most of time, I only need your being normal. We’re not in any movie scene every day, we don’t want you to rescue anybody or become someone that you might not be able to. We just want you to be normal. Maybe “I’ll do my normal.” is more proper to describe what we ask from you.

Second, your best is most time irrelevant to the project. Your best could be shinny, bright and inspiring. But what we ask from you most of time is boring, tedious and hard work. If you can deliver that first, we don’t mind you being extra characteristics. But characteristics only isn’t going to cut it, sadly speaking. So maybe “I’ll do my normal and then hopefully the best.” could be a better way to describe it.

Third, but most importantly, does your “best” equal to the requirement? If not, what the error or your confidence level to nail the gap? Or what is your altitude to change if you notice there’s a gap? These are million dollar questions that are hidden from your tagline. And here this is not a complement at all. By putting your “best” out there, it almost immediately jeopardize your success rate by 10%. So be careful what you are wishing for?


Please try to limit your usage of “I’ll do my best”, instead, replace it with more detailed version of what you want to do. “I’ll go walk the dog in the morning and then go home and take a bath and then go to school.” I can listen to the second version all day long, and I can even help you accomplish your goal.



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Fang Jin

Fang Jin

Front-end Engineer, book author of “Designing React Hooks the Right Way” sold at Amazon.