11 Helpful Tips For Dealing With A Missed Deadline

It’s 7 pm, and you’ve been off work for a couple of hours. You’re having a beverage and enjoying some patio time with your friends. And then, you realize… you missed an assignment deadline. Your heart rate doubles as you run to your computer to check the due date, and then double and triple-check it. All-day, you felt like something was off and maybe you were forgetting an item. But it just didn’t occur to you until right now–4 hours past the deadline.

Your brain runs through a set of worst-case scenarios. “What if I get fired?” “What if my boss or colleague doesn’t trust me anymore?” “How do I smooth things over so I can continue to find more growth opportunities at work?” “Will this set me back?”

Any question you have or worry you feel may be totally valid. However, having a proactive attitude can help you rise above your mishap, no matter if you’re a full-time employee, freelancer, or otherwise. If you’ve missed your deadline– or realize that you may be about to– here are some tricks of the trade to consider.

Before you miss your deadline

Some people have the advantage of knowing they may not be able to finish something in advance. If you have been working through the thick of your priorities and realize you will not make a deadline before it actually happens, there are some steps to take that will help smooth things over and instill your colleagues’ trust in your abilities.

1. Give your superior a heads up

Contact your superior. Giving them a heads up that you may not make the exact time of your deadline will help ease the tension of the situation. It doesn’t do anything to reverse your situation. However it will help them to adjust their expectations and timeline, and maybe help them re-prioritize tasks associated with the project.

Be mindful of how you approach your correspondence. If you can, keep all communication within the boundaries of their preferences. If your manager prefers a message through your work chat application and is logged on, message them there. If you are keeping all correspondence within a specific email chain for easy searchability, reach out there. In some cases–and especially if you will need to follow up with logistical ideas on how to get everything finished appropriately, you may want to make a call to discuss the matter.

If you are aware that you will not make a deadline in advance, try to communicate that as early as possible. This will better demonstrate the respect you have for the work, and enable people to shift their priorities if anyone else has to step in and manage any portion of your work themselves.

2. Explain the situation

When you contact your department head, team manager, a C-suite member in charge of the project, or another colleague who is running point on everything, let them know why you are missing the deadline. Make sure to let them know you understand the gravity of your mishap, and that you will do better next time. If you can, ensure that they know you are committed to the project.

More often than not, deadlines are passed up because of other work that is more highly prioritized – be it by you, a client, or the company itself. Sometimes, other necessary assets and pieces within the management of the project are necessary to complete your task. When those aren’t finished on time, or your coworkers cannot meet their own deadlines, then it may be time to assess if the deadline itself is realistic. In other instances–especially if you have a remote or hybrid work environment – personal factors could play a part. After all, it happens to everyone at some point.

3. Propose a new deadline

If you can assess the scope of the project and propose a new deadline that you can really have everything complete by, then include this in your initial correspondence with your manager or client. It never hurts to ask for an extension. Sometimes, you just need a few extra hours and sometimes the scope of the work will require extra days or weeks. If you are working directly with a client, prepare for their questions and to justify the extra time you are spending on the project.

4. Be prepared for a “no”

As in all cases when asking for an extension or favor from a superior, you may want to be prepared to hear a “no.” If and when this happens, you will want to adjust your calendar to accommodate this work or project before everything else.

If your employer does not grant the extension, you will want to respect their wishes. Let them know that you have multiple projects to juggle at the moment – or whatever the roadblock may be – and find out if they have any input on which project to put a hold on while you complete this work. If all else fails, asking for their professional opinion will let them know that you respect their experience and position and that you want to do what you can to make them happy.

During the missed deadline

If you find yourself in the middle of a missed deadline, there are still actions you can take to help mitigate the situation. It’s not the end of the world, and you can still make the most out of the situation by trying to catch up.

1. Prioritize and reassess

Take a step back and assess the situation. What tasks or components of the project are most important to complete? What can be pushed to a later time or even removed altogether? By reassessing your priorities, you can focus on what is necessary to make the biggest impact and avoid wasting time on less important tasks. Hive lets you easily organize and assign tasks, with the ability to prioritize anything as needed.

2. Communicate and collaborate

Keep open communication with your colleagues and manager. With Hive’s chat feature, you can let them know what your progress is, what challenges you are facing, and what you need from them to help catch up. It’s important to work together as a team and not be afraid to ask for help or input when needed.

3. Plan for extra time

Be realistic about how much time it will take to complete the project, even if you’re behind schedule. If you rush through tasks or cut corners, you may end up with an unsatisfactory result. Instead, plan for extra time to ensure you can deliver high-quality work. Hive features a clean interface which is ideal for scheduling, planning, time tracking, time estimations, and more.

4. Learn from the experience

Things don’t always go as planned, but we don’t have to wallow in misery when this happens. Use this as a learning opportunity. Think about what led to the missed deadline and what you can do differently in the future to avoid it. Whether it’s better time management, improved communication, or a change in your approach, take steps to prevent future missed deadlines. Remember, mistakes happen, but it’s how you handle them that defines you as a professional. Check out our article that looks at commonly made project management mistakes and how you can avoid them.

After the deadline has passed

As previously explained, maybe you haven’t been able to prioritize the work before the intended deadline. Maybe you simply forgot about the project, assets, or outreach altogether. Depending on the nature of your work, overwhelm may be a large factor in work consistency and your ability to complete a task. If a deadline has passed already, there are preferred ways to approach the situation.

1. Be honest

Once you’ve missed a deadline, you’ll want to own up to your mistake and acknowledge that you know it was wrong. Reach out to your superior as soon as you realize your mishap–via email, a phone call or in-person–to own up to it. Apologizing professionally and taking responsibility for your actions are incredibly important as part of any team.

2. Offer corrective help

Once you have missed the deadline, you will want to let your manager know that you are around to offer support in other ways, in addition to completing your own task. Letting them know you are available for more work in the aftermath could help them alleviate the penalties your tardiness causes other people or factors in the project. You want your team to know you are willing to go above and beyond to correct your mistake and limit the damage to your project’s timeline.

3. Work to prevent future deadline issues

Once a mistake is made, it will stick with you. Work to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Put reminders in place in your digital calendar and make mental notes and personal notes in your project management system. It may even behoove you to ask colleagues to help you keep tabs on up-and-coming projects.

If you have been having trouble meeting deadlines at work on a more consistent basis, or it has occurred more than once, you may want to consider these 7 tips to correct the pattern.