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What “In a Timely Manner” Really Means

“In a timely manner” is a phrase often thrown around in professional contexts of all sorts. But what exactly does the phrase, “timely manner” mean? Can we even pin down a concrete “timely manner” definition?

Cecilia Gigliotti
Cecilia Gigliotti

Certainly, the meaning has shifted and evolved along with our work habits. Typically we take it to mean “punctually,” “on time,” “on schedule,” or “when expected.” But as our professional networks become increasingly globalized and we struggle to seamlessly integrate schedules of different intensities into our own, we approach collaborative projects with more or less leniency depending on their urgency. What constitutes punctuality to some may seem quite soon or too late to others.

In the age of COVID-19, “in a timely manner” has been left open to a wide range of interpretations. Deadlines are pushed back, agendas are rearranged, and the idea of how closely we can (and should) work together — as we know it, anyway — has been deconstructed.

So if someone sends you an email saying, “Please review this document in a timely manner.” how are you to decode it? There are two main methods to determine what “timely manner” means.

Take the phrase in context

You can rely on your instincts to decide how urgent a particular project is — or, in non-professional environments, a message or a task on the to-do list. If you need to proofread an article that is slated to go out at a certain date and time, for example, “in a timely manner” would obviously be any timeline that leaves a wide enough berth for the article to go out as planned. Trust yourself to make that judgment.


I would like to ask you to fill in a form and send it back in a timely manner.

You can also hear the “in a timely fashion” expression, which has the same meaning as “in a timely manner.”


You'd better pay your bills in timely fashion to avoid problems in the future.

Ask for clarification

If you’re truly at a loss for the time frame your collaborator is on, just ask them! They’ll be urged to clarify their needs to both themselves and you, which promotes freer communication and greater productivity.


The dialogue between an employer and a client:

Employer: “Our company will do the reconstruction in a timely manner.
Client: “Excuse me, but what are the specific terms for this work?”
Employer: “2 months. Does it work for you?”
Client: “Yes, thank you!”

Examples of using “in a timely manner“ and “in a timely fashion”

The Devil's Advocate (1997)
Victor Frankenstein (2015)
Idioms & expressionsEnglish

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