Actions to take: Don't worry about missing the opportunity to give any single piece of feedback. Only give feedback about things that happened less than a week in the past. If you find yourself stressing over the fact that you couldn't find time to comment on a particular behavior, you need to be giving more feedback generally.
Better-boss.com advocates for casual, frequent performance feedback using the following formula: 1) ask if you can provide feedback; 2) provide feedback using the format "when you do X, it has Y impact"; 3) finish with a question asking them to change or an affirmation that they should keep it up. Feedback is short, simple, and can be about any work behavior. All posts about feedback assume this formula and strategy.
Note: some employee behaviors require a conversation regardless of how much time has passed. That is likely a disciplinary conversation or praise/recognition conversation, not feedback. Don't get the concepts mixed up.
Picture this: it is Friday afternoon. You pass the customer service desk on your way back to your office. As you pass, you overhear an employee speaking rudely to a customer. Clearly they are both frustrated, but your staff should know that matching anger with anger is never a successful strategy. You hear your phone ring and go answer. You are too busy to follow up with your employee that day, so you make a note to give feedback next week.
You get in on Monday and realize your employee has taken vacation for the week. The soonest you could give feedback about the interaction is the following Monday, 10 days after the incident. Do you make time to give the feedback, or do you sigh and forget about it?
You let it go.
If the rude employee anecdote resonated with you, you might want to disagree. When we have an employee with a known issue, every missed opportunity to address it feels like a major loss. We have been living with this issue for as long as we've known the employee. It is a big problem to us. But you must keep your employee's perspective in mind. They might have been in this job for years before you were their manager. That means they've been engaging in this behavior for years without anyone saying it is a problem. It is very much not a problem in their mind.
When you try to give feedback about things that happened over a week ago, it undermines the idea behind feedback as defined by this blog. Feedback is a little piece of advice about how to do things better in the future. Each piece of feedback is small, practically nothing. If you have a comment that you've been hanging onto for 10 days, it can't be a small thing. Your employee will recognize this. It will make your "little" piece of feedback feel insincere. Your employee will start to mistrust your intent with feedback. "The boss is trying to help" will get replaced with "the boss is out to get me."
If you find yourself stuck on the fact that you couldn't give feedback about this or that particular interaction, you are probably not giving enough feedback generally. Feedback is part of the everyday routine of an excellent boss. It becomes as mundane and as frequent as checking your email. The problem behavior will roll around again, I promise. If you prioritize giving feedback and make it part of your routine, you're likely to catch it next time.
In several important ways, feedback is like exercise: 1) you only see results when you do it every week; 2) missing a single instance won't matter; 3) waiting and trying to do it all at once will result in injury.
Average bosses give feedback so infrequently that they consider the little bit they do give to be of the utmost importance. Their perspective adds a completely unnecessary and often overwhelming tension to the situation. Better bosses know that, while feedback as a whole is one of the most important things they do, each individual feedback conversation is not important at all.