Do you consistently miss deadlines for reports and other written communications at work? There could be several reasons for this. You may have been given an unrealistic deadline or perhaps other more urgent jobs demanded your attention. Although there is not much you can do about these real-life scenarios, accurately estimating how much time you need, and then pacing yourself, will help you get to the finish line on time.
Let’s say you have three days to research and write a 1,000-word report. Break up your time allocation based on the four stages of writing – planning, writing, revising and checking. Work backwards from the due date, allowing a break between each stage.
DAY 1: Allow 3 to 4 hours to complete Steps 1 and 2
Step 1. Plan (approximately 40% of total allocated time)
As soon as possible after your manager instructs you to write the report, begin your planning. Planning includes working out the aim of the report and the result you wish to achieve, completing any research, analysing your audience and determining the structure for your report. Jot down key points, but don’t start writing yet.
Step 2. Write (approximately 20% of total allocated time)
Refer to your notes and write a rough draft. Resist the temptation to go back and amend your writing as you go. Labouring over each paragraph or sentence at this stage will waste valuable time as you may end up deleting that information altogether. Just focus on getting the content down.
DAY 2: Allow 1 to 2 hours to complete Step 3
Step 3. Revise (approximately 30% of total allocated time)
Revise your draft at least once. In your first revision, check that the information flows well. Eliminate repetition or irrelevant content. Then revise again ensuring your paragraphs and bulleted lists are well structured and your sentences are clear and concise. If you have planned your report well, you shouldn’t need to rewrite it but you will need to revise your draft several times.
DAY 3: Allow 1 to 2 hours for a last revision and final proofread
Step 4. Check (approximately 10% of total allocated time)
I strongly recommend you have someone else check and correct your work as it will be difficult for you to spot errors in your own writing. If you do need to check your own work, try and leave as much time as possible between your last revision and checking. Don’t make editorial changes at this stage as you could inadvertently create more errors.
You’ll see from this breakdown that producing a good piece of writing is not a speedy process. If someone has done the research for you, you will need less time to complete Step 1. If you’re revising someone else’s draft, allow at least 1 to 1.5 hours per 1,000 words.
If you’re an experienced writer, a fast typist and quick thinker, you could potentially reduce these suggested timeframes without compromising on quality. But no matter how competent and efficient you become, always allow contingency time to deal with other urgent requests, unexpected life events or technology failures.