Deadlines! Everyone dreads them, yet they are unavoidable and very important. Deadlines help to keep you accountable, they help you to prioritize what you will work on and push you to get your work done. Meeting deadlines also keeps your bosses and clients happy and boosts the morale and productivity of your team.
As important as they are, sometimes it becomes impossible to meet your deadlines. Either you have a lot on your table, the design team didn’t get the designs to you on time, or you underestimated the time it would take you to get the work done. Regardless of the reason, you have realized that your deadline is fast approaching and there is nothing you can possibly do to get the work done on time. Butterflies start fluttering inside your belly and the panic hits you like a Mack truck.
You know your boss, client or whoever is expecting your work is going to be mad. Your panic is justified. A survey by recruitment company Career Builder shows that 35% of employers have sacked an employee for work-related delays.
If you have a looming deadline that you are afraid you won’t be able to meet, I have some good news for you. There is no need to panic. If you handle the situation with class and professionalism, you will not only keep your job, you will also earn the admiration of your boss or client, despite missing your deadline. Here’s what you should do.
GIVE ADVANCE NOTICE
No one wants to hear that the work they are expecting at that very moment is far from done. Here is the thing. You don’t just suddenly miss a deadline (unless you have an emergency or you scheduled the wrong day on your calendar). There are tell-tale signs that you won’t be able to meet your deadline.
Maybe there were some delays getting something you required for the project. Maybe your computer crashed, forcing you to redo the work from scratch (which is why you always need to have a backup). Regardless of the reason behind missing your deadline, there is a high chance you were aware that you will miss the deadline well in advance.
Here’s the problem with most people. When they notice that there is a chance that they will miss a deadline, they go on overdrive and pull all-nighters trying to get the work done on time. The problem with that is that if you actually miss the deadline, you will inconvenience everyone who was waiting for your work. Even if you manage to complete the work on time, there is a high chance it will look like it was done by a college kid.
To avoid this, you need to give an advance notice to everyone who will be affected by the delay. By notifying your boss, client or colleagues about the delay in advance, you give them the chance to readjust their schedule to accommodate the delay, rather than messing up schedules that were dependent on your work.
This also makes you look professional in spite of missing a deadline. Additionally, most people will have no problem obliging your request for additional time when you notify them in advance and provide a sensible reason for requesting the extension.
GIVE A BRIEF EXPLANATION OF WHY YOU ARE MISSING THE DEADLINE
You don’t want to come across as incompetent or lazy, so it is important to give a brief explanation of why you are missing the deadline.
Start by offering an apology for missing your deadline and then give the reason behind the delay. If it was your fault, take responsibility for it. Doing so shows that you are a mature person and that you have learnt from the experience and are unlikely to repeat the same mistake again. If the delay was not your fault, give a simple outline of the facts that led to the missed deadline.
When explaining the reason behind the delay, avoid giving meaningless excuses or placing the blame on someone else. Doing this only makes you appear unprofessional and immature.
GIVE AN ALTERNATIVE DEADLINE
Once you give a notification that your work will be running late, the other person will automatically start wondering when they will receive the work so that they can focus on moving forward. What many people in this situation do is to request for some additional time.
That’s not the best approach. Instead of asking for an unspecified amount of additional time, outline the amount of work that is remaining, explain what you are doing to get the work done and the amount of time you will need to get the work done.
This shows that even though you are behind on your work, you are doing everything you can to deliver the work as soon as possible. This also makes it easier for others to give their suggestions on the best approach to ensure that the work is completed as quickly as possible.
It’s good to keep in mind that your boss or client might push you to complete the work sooner than your alternative date, so you should be prepared for that.
GIVE AN OPTION OR A BONUS
Most people will have no problem giving you additional time to complete the work. Even if your boss or client gives you an extension, it is always best to assume that by missing your deadline, you have caused some inconvenience.
You should make up for the inconvenience by offering an option or a bonus. This shows that you actually take the deadline seriously, even if you were not able to meet it. If you are working directly with the client, you can give them a special discount to make up for the delay. For example, you can give the client a 10% discount on the project or give them a coupon that allows them to claim a discount on their next project.
Alternatively, you can offer the client a related service for free. For example, if you were writing an eBook for the client, you can offer to design a cover for them free of charge to make up for the delay. Another option is to offer to send the work you have completed already.
Offering such options or bonuses not only shows that you did not deliberately miss the deadline, it also allows you to create a positive impression despite the fact that you missed a deadline.
OVER-COMMUNICATE IN THE FOLLOWING DAYS
By missing your deadline, you have already caused some inconveniences and created unease in the mind of your boss or client. To ease their concerns, you should communicate with them regularly until you deliver the work.
Give periodic updates of what you are doing and the progress you are making towards meeting your new deadline. Regular communication does a number of things. First, it gives the reassurance that you are actually working on the project and that you won’t miss the new deadline.
Second, it shows the amount of work you are doing and justifies the extension. A daily or weekly update of everything you are doing makes it clear to your boss or client why you could not possibly meet the deadline and helps make sure that more realistic deadlines are set in future.
Finally, it helps you come across as professional and minimizes the chances of receiving a negative remark in your performance appraisal.
DELIVER ON THE NEW DUE DATE
You have already inconvenienced others by missing the first deadline. Nothing will make you appear more unprofessional than missing your new deadline. This is why it is very important to make sure that you can actually get the work done by your newly proposed deadline.
If you miss your new deadline, people will assume that lazy and not serious with your work. If you were working directly with a client, the client might even opt not to give you any more work. In addition to delivering the work before your newly proposed deadline, you also need to deliver high quality work.
What is the essence of requesting for an extension only to deliver low quality work? The higher the quality of the work you deliver, the less serious your delay will seem.
MAKE SURE IT DOES NOT HAPPEN AGAIN
Missing a deadline once or twice is perfectly normal and is understandable and forgivable. A report by Career Builder shows that 34% of employers do not mind the occasional delay, provided it does not turn into a habit. Regularly missing deadlines, on the other hand, is cause for serious concern. Despite having gracefully handled a missed deadline, you should give assurances that it will not happen again.
Don’t stop at giving assurance. Make sure that you follow through with your promise.
Sometimes, when people realize that their boss or a client was not too angry because of a missed deadline, they take it as a chance to take things lightly and slack off in their work.
Don’t do that. You should always keep in mind that your clients and your bosses hired you with the expectation that you will always do your best in your job and deliver all your assignments on time. If they notice that you are slacking off, they might not hesitate to let you go.
Whatever you do, make sure that missing deadlines does not become more than an occasional occurrence.
WHAT NOT TO DO
Apart from the above steps, there are some things you should avoid doing once you realize that you are going to miss a deadline. Doing such things will negatively impact your reputation and will make you appear unprofessional. These include:
Don’t Make Excuses
When you realize that you are going to miss a deadline, your first instinct might be to come up with an excuse to explain the delay. Either your computer unexpectedly crashed, you got sick, your mother in law came visiting, your kids got sick, your dog died, or some other funny excuse.
Also known as rationalization, this is a psychological defense mechanism that your mind uses to justify the unacceptable behavior while avoiding the actual reason behind the behavior. By coming up with excuses, you avoid taking responsibility for missing the deadline.
Well, no one wants to hear your half-baked excuses. They just want to know when the work will be ready. Excuses don’t make you appear like a victim of circumstance as you would wish.
Instead, they make you look like a lazy guy who cannot manage their time well. Therefore, instead of coming up with a litany of excuses, simply apologize for missing the deadline and give an alternative date when the work will be ready.
Don’t Ignore Them
This is another common response when people realize that they are going to miss a deadline. Instead of communicating the delay to the boss or client, they decide to go mute until they are ready to deliver the work. While your boss or clients does not want to hear lame excuses, it does not mean that they don’t want an update on why the work is yet to be delivered. Maybe you don’t want to get yelled at, and that’s understandable.
However, by going mute, you not only inconvenience the other person, you also make them more worried and angrier, which will only lead to a more intense lashing out when you finally decide to communicate. To avoid this, make it a point to notify your boss or client the minute it becomes apparent to you that you won’t be able to meet the deadline.
Don’t Engage In Blame Games
Sometimes, missing a deadline might not be your fault. Somebody else might have made it impossible for you to meet the deadline.
Either a colleague or client did not deliver something you needed on time, more work was added to the project, and so on. In such situations, it might be very tempting to place the blame on the person you feel is responsible for the missed deadline and rant about how lazy and incompetent they are, or how they lied to you. Don’t do this.
Directly accusing another person only makes you look like a jerk. What you need to do in this situation is to simply state the facts that led to the missed deadline and leave it to the person you owe the work to work out for themselves who to blame.
Don’t Make Promises You Cannot Keep
Once you miss a deadline, your reputation is already on the line. In this situation, it is very easy to find yourself making grand promises in an attempt to save your reputation. You might promise to have the work ready by the next day or to give them a special bonus to make up for the delay.
Before doing this, you need to ask yourself if this is something you will actually do. Are you confident that you will get the work done by the date you have promised? Are you actually willing to do some free work for the client?
Promising something and not following through will lead to an even bigger blow to your reputation. What you need to do is to be honest with, both with yourself and your boss or client. For instance, it is better to say that the work will take an extra week instead of promising that it will be ready within two days only for you to miss the deadline again.
HOW TO REDUCE THE CHANCES OF MISSING A DEADLINE
While the tips I shared above will make it easier for you to gracefully and professionally handle a missed deadline, it is always better to avoid missing the deadline in the first place. Below are some tips on how to minimize the chances of missing a deadline in future.
Have A Reminder Schedule Of All Due Deadlines
You should have a record of all promised deliverables, communication, or service. Enter them on your calendar or planner and then create reminders to give you an alert a few days before the deadline is due.
Doing this ensures that you are on top of all due deadlines and prevents deadlines from catching you unawares. Being reminded when deadlines are approaching also makes it easier to prioritize the work with the closest deadline.
Create A Buffer On Due Dates
If it is up to you to choose a deadline for a project, don’t give the exact date when you think the work will be done. Give yourself a buffer on the due date. For instance, if you think that it will take you 5 days to complete the work, tell your boss or the client that the work will be ready in a week.
The two extra days provide you with some flexibility to still deliver on time in case something unforeseen comes up or if the project takes longer than you expected. Giving yourself a buffer on the due date has an added advantage. If you complete the work within the 5 days, you can deliver it two days before the actual deadline.
This is a surefire way of leaving your boss or client impressed. If you are unsure of how long a project will actually take, don’t just choose a deadline and then hope that you will somehow beat it. Instead, reach out to someone with experience in that field and have them advice you on how long it might take.
Know When You Have Hectic Weeks Ahead
Sometimes, missed deadlines are a direct result of having too much on your table. To avoid missing deadlines because you had so much to do, you should look ahead to see other obligations that might interfere with your work.
For instance, if you notice that you have some work due on Friday next week yet you have meetings scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday, you can get started on your projects early so that the meetings do not derail you from meeting your deadlines.
Learn To Say No
Sometimes, you will be given deadlines that are impossible to meet. If you notice that the deadline is not workable, do not be afraid to decline the assignment. If you accept the assignment, it does not matter if you turn into superman in an attempt to get the work done; if you miss the deadline, you will still be treated as someone who does not take their work seriously.
To avoid this, make it clear to your boss or client that the deadline is not workable. If they are not willing to change the deadline, politely decline the assignment.
Get Started Today
I have noticed that when people are given an assignment, many of them wait until the deadline approaches before getting started on the work. The problem with this is that you will not be able to get the work done on time in case something unexpected comes up. To avoid this, you should get started on any due work as soon as you can.
Don’t put it off till later, unless you have some other important assignment you need to complete first. Getting started right away also allows you to identify early on if something you need is missing. Imagine being given a one month deadline for a project and then calling the recipient a week to the deadline and telling them that something you need to start the project is missing.
This shows that you do not take their work seriously and that you put it off till the last minute, and they are unlikely to be impressed.
Many times, people miss deadlines not because they did not have enough time, not because they had a lot on their table, not even because the assignment was challenging, but because of distractions. How many times have you spent an hour scrolling your social media feed or chatting with colleagues at the office when you know that you need to be working on a certain project?
I bet this has happened to all of us.
To avoid wasting the time you should spend working on your assignments, try to limit the amount of time you spend on websites, social media and office banter. Try turning off notifications on your phone so that messages and activity on your social media do not distract you.
If colleagues stop by your desk for a chat that exceeds a minute, politely let them know that you are busy and that you will get back to them for a chat once you are done with your work.
In the course of your professional life, it is inevitable that you will miss a deadline at some point. A missed deadline should not be a source of panic. If handled gracefully, you can turn a missed deadline into an opportunity to showcase your professionalism.
Once you notice that you are going to miss a deadline, give a notice as early as possible, apologize for missing the deadline, briefly explain what caused you to miss the deadline and then give an alternative date when the work will be ready. If possible, give options or a special bonus.
Avoid giving excuses, ignoring the recipient, blaming others or giving promises you cannot keep. Once you receive an extension, give regular updates on your progress, make sure you deliver by the new deadline and try as much not to miss another deadline.