How to handle missed deadlines


Work piles up on us sometimes, as do deadlines. The painful equation of work + deadlines – time is unavoidable but manageable, if you know the right tips.

Let someone know

You’ve looked at your work pile and realised some things are going to have to wait, but waiting a moment longer to complete a task that was due a few days back is not an option. You should…

  • Categorise your workload by importance ranging from: ‘the business will collapse if I don’t do this (and possibly the office block too)’ to smaller tasks, that can safely wait until next week.
  • See if doing even a few elements of the task will be beneficial and make the process of eventually completing it smoother.

After these two steps take your concern to the other party, whether your boss or your colleague, and give them notice

  • Saying ‘I’m sorry, I’m going to need extra time’ as soon as possible will ensure you come across as both professional and considerate.
  • Don’t load the other party with detailed and elaborate excuses. Not to say your dog’s emergency vet trip is not a valid excuse for not completing work from home, but detailing the entire process of getting Fido into the car (accompanied with his favourite chew toy) will not only raise eyebrows but make your excuse seem petty. Just outline the facts, apologise and provide solutions.

Be considerate

Whether you work alone or in a team, you’re delivering to someone, somewhere and for some reason. This means your work has a knock-on effect. Missed deadlines are sometimes unavoidable, but they still provide increased or delayed work for someone down the line. It’s important to discuss your missed deadline calmly and reasonably. Don’t belittle yourself, but avoid arrogance at the same time.

If you’re offered an extension, show your appreciation. Not just by meeting it, but by not needing one again.

On the subject of not needing an extension, here are a few tips:

  • Employ a priority system so that if you do find yourself missing a deadline, it won’t be one of your most important tasks.
  • Set yourself a fake deadline: It can be by a few days earlier than the work is actually due or even just a few hours earlier. If you treat this fake deadline as the real one, you will always complete your work ahead of time (and who doesn’t like beating the clock)?

Do not make a habit of it.

If you only miss deadlines rarely, your boss will be much more forgiving and flexible when you do.

If it becomes a habit, you may struggle to get the support you need.