When you receive an assignment, determine the real deadline

We’ve all been there. Your supervisor gives you a writing assignment and sets a deadline for completion.

But problems can arise. Sources are hard to reach, don’t get back to you, are ill, or are on vacation. You’re just not able to gather the information you need to finish the piece.

You start sweating as the deadline approaches. What do you do?

I have a suggestion: when you first receive the assignment, determine the reason for the deadline. Ask your supervisor how they chose the deadline date.

Yes, sure, if you’re writing a news release about the upcoming quarterly earnings or a scheduled event, the reason for the deadline is obvious.

But sometimes a deadline can be changed, depending on the circumstances. Sometimes a supervisor will set a deadline arbitrarily, choosing a date not too far away because they have a sense of urgency. They might be willing to change the deadline.

If you’re not able to gather all the necessary information, then you have a choice: ask to postpone the deadline, find alternative sources, or determine if you can write the piece with fewer sources.

Please note: I’m not advocating for postponing a deadline. I think we all need to develop a sense of urgency. And it’s typically better to over deliver and turn in an assignment before it’s due.

But sometimes we need more time. If you know upfront the reason(s) for the deadline, you won’t feel as guilty later if you ask for a postponement.

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