The size and complexity of the task I have just received (days only) does not match the firmly set deadline, when it should be done. How should I respond?

  • Simply say I cannot do this in time.
  • Agree to take the task and start working on it. It will not be done in time.

Which of these two approaches would do less harm to my reputation?

  • 1
    Why can't you do both?
    – bdsl
    Commented May 19, 2019 at 15:28

3 Answers 3


Not sure if either of these is the right approach. IMHO, you should reply back with a breakdown of the project into smaller tasks and give a rough estimate for each sub-task and then provide the grand total of the project and explain why the current deadline seems unrealistic.

This breakdown would show your "employer" the hidden aspects of the project and compel them to reconsider the timeline. They could also come back to you with their opinions regarding some of the timelines; perhaps the expected result is not as complex (or advanced) in their expectations or the employer might have something that simplifies some of the tasks or maybe they would consider adding more manpower for menial but time-consuming tasks.

This advice would apply to you no matter at which level of hierarchy you belong to. If you're a senior (or an independent contractor), this would open a door for you to discuss the project and you could present your concerns, perspective, etc and if you're a junior, this would help you understand the project better and also allow you to open up the same discussion with your seniors. Hope this helps, good luck.

  • Good answer. When you take this advice you avoid surprising your supervisors and your company. That is the height of professionalism; it lets others prepare to handle the unrealistic deadline they set.
    – O. Jones
    Commented May 20, 2019 at 14:36

You need both approaches at the same time, and a third approach as well (together with the other two).

1) Tell them in clear and no uncertain terms that it cannot be done in the time they want, and why. Otherwise, they could later use you as... a sacrificial goat. They could put the blame on you, through complaining that you did not warn them ahead of time. If a manager thinks that his position might be endangered, he will throw any of his underlings under the bus without a second thought. And if your manager was one of actually honest and good ones... well then you probably wouldn't have been in your situation in the first place.

You need a >> written << (email or something) record that you did warn them.

2) Accept the task, after doing the (1), as in, telling them it cannot be done in time. You want to keep your side of the bargain as much as possible - not only because of professionalism, but also to keep yourself free of any blame that might result. You do all you can, but never ever let them think that it will actually be done in the time frame they asked for.

3) If they turn to be unreasonable, start looking for another job, while doing your best at the job you have. If they don't want to accept the fact - that their wishes are impossible - don't tell them that you will quit. Just suck it up and quietly look for another job. If they don't want to accept the reality of the situation, then the only other info they should get from you is your two weeks notice after you have the next job locked in (as in, an offer on paper, signed by both sides, and with the start date and everything else agreed upon).


Do the

  • inform that the task cannot be done in set timebracket
  • ask if you should carry on with the task
  • inform what part/percentage/stage of task will/could be done in set deadline.
  • set a realistic deadline for finishing the whole task
  • ask, again is you should carry on with the task with point mentioned above in mind.

Write those in an e-mail. If any of the points is not answered reply with the question again.

Ps. "I don't care, just do it" is not an answer.

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