How to Handle a Missed Deadline (and Avoid Similar Issues Later)

Young businesswoman in eyeglasses holding blueprint and talking on smartphone

According to recent research, every second American is disorganized, and every fifth task is delayed. Are you one of these people? Or would you like to know how to handle a missed deadline and become more organized?

Here’s the trick:

Remember several simple rules that will help you to define time limits and enforce deadlines, thus becoming an efficient performer whether you are a freelancer or a part of a big team.

Luckily, some best practices were studied and presented as a short entry that will change the framework of your behavior if you miss a deadline again.

Person using a smartphone at work

  1. Notify your client (or your boss)

Once you realize that there are troubles in completing a task or project in time, notifying your client or a supervisor (boss) is a must. It is especially critical in case of initially tight deadlines that are more complicated to meet. Sending a not meeting deadlines email is a perfect option in such cases. Once you inform the customers and managers of your troubles, you might either ask for an extension or get ready to face responsibilities such as losing a customer or penalties. Still, it is the first step for managing missed deadlines.


  • Realize that a client is always interested in high-quality service
  • Reassure customers and senior management that a task will be completed as soon as possible and maximum effort are made to guarantee exceptionality of the result
  • Avoid procrastination to deliver the work as soon as possible
  1. Be polite

Politeness is one of the determinants of true professionalism. Once you see that there are risks of missing the set deadline, prepare an apology letter for delay in work. Make sure to explain why you can’t deliver the task in time. In this case, point whether the work cannot be completed due to customer’s actions such as too tight deadlines, inappropriate interference (e.g., changing instructions) or the lack of resources.


Even though an apology or politeness don’t speed up the process, they are an essential investment in the future cooperation with a particular client because they demonstrate your concern and involvement.

Donald Porter quote

  1. Identify your mistakes

Make an effort to understand what went wrong, and it was possible to avoid delay in delivering the project or task.

Here’s the trick:

Once you admit that failing to meet the deadline is your fault, you will be able to identify the related mistakes and avoid them in future.

This step is essential because it makes your client (and senior management) understand that you recognize the importance of meeting deadlines and it contributes to constant self-improvement.

Try to find out whether you made one or several common mistakes that often lead to delays in completing a task:

  • The lack of professionalism or particular skills
  • Arbitrary deadlines that add to stress due to the constant sense of urgency and inability to concentrate on work
  • Failing to commit deadlines to public (in case of working with colleagues)
  • Procrastination
  • Inappropriate allocation of resources or inefficient time management skills

If you realize that any of the above-mentioned mistakes were committed, work on avoiding them in future.

A journal laying on a table

  1. Create a cross-functional action plan

Let’s say, you identified the causes of your troubles and want to work on eliminating them.

Here’s the kicker:
Learning how to deal with missed deadlines begins with the very first action on the assigned task. It requires a thorough action plan that will become the foundation of work on all tasks and projects.

Consider some recommendations:

  • Always have a safe buffer—never hope to finish the task in the nick of time
  • Set up automated deadline reminders that will help you stay tuned and minimize the risks of forgetting to complete some urgent or important tasks. Google Calendar works perfectly for these purposes
  • Make notes so that you understand all aspects of the task and define time limits for completing each of them
  • Remember to set SMART goals

One more trick:

Do not ignore the importance of altering your plan when necessary. It is a key point in learning how to handle a missed deadline. For example, there is no point in automated reminders in case of rush projects. On the other hand, setting SMART goals is always a perfect option for meeting deadlines.

  1. Avoid the same mistakes in future

First of all, realize that if you miss a deadline, it is not always your fault. Sometimes, technical issues or human factor as well lead to similar troubles. Still, keep in mind that doing your best to avoid procrastination and developing a thorough and detailed plan for completing a task are two ways for avoiding the most common mistakes contributing to delays in work.

Some final tips:

  • Keep it real—define achievable goals and realistic deadlines
  • Be aware of your skills and knowledge and make profit of them
  • Remember that several instances of missed deadlines with one client make them think that you are unprofessional and might lead to losing them

A tired person planning her day at work

Want to know the best part?

Missing the deadline once does not make you unprofessional because most people do. Still, not all of them acknowledge how important it is to deal with these troubles and make an effort to avoid them in future. Do you want to know what are good excuses for missing deadline are? Freelancer or an employed team member, you should realize that there are none. Taking time seriously and developing self-management skills are determinants of true professionalism.

Now, as you know how to handle a missed deadline, take your time to develop a plan that will perfectly work for your environment and specificities of assigned tasks. Finally, remember that the abovementioned pieces of advice are not universal keys to success. Instead, change and adapt them to design a unique formula that will help you become productive.

Yasmine Lesse​
Yasmine Lesse​

Yasmine Lesser is a blogger at who has worked here as a freelance writer for some time. Due to her exceptional skills and comprehensive writing, Yasmine was accepted to the team after submitting just a couple of pieces as a freelancer. She currently lives in Leeds, England. Yasmine loves long walks around the city while listening to music or an audiobook. She studied journalism at Leeds Trinity University and has always enjoyed writing articles on various topics. She never liked limiting herself in terms of what she can and wants to write about. Before getting a job at, Yasmine worked for a small advertising agency.

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Comments (2)

January 31st, 2019 - 12:21 pm

Very insightful!

Yasmine Lesse​
Yasmine Lesse​
February 6th, 2019 - 5:31 pm

Thank you, Anna!