What to do if you can't meet a deadline

  • What to do if you can't meet a deadline

    It may be hard to admit it, but sometimes – despite your best efforts – your professional or academic plate is absolutely full. There are potential collaborations with classmates, a draft that needs revising and an essay you’ve been avoiding – and only a couple of days left to get it all done. While there are the options of all-nighters and rushed work, sometimes the best solution is to admit that there is just not time for you to do everything you need to do by the due dates. It may be hard, as it goes against everything you’ve learned about deadlines, but the sooner you realize it, the better. Here are some tips to get you through surviving missed deadlines:

    Address your anxieties

    Good decisions are rarely made when you have peak anxiety levels, advises Inside Higher Ed.  As a first step, be gentle with yourself. Mistakes happen, and while this missed deadline may feel like the end of the world at the time, a good general rule of thumb is that it is not. Take this time, before you let anyone know about your fear of not delivering on time, to clear your head and be the best advocate for yourself. Determine when you think you’ll be able to deliver and make a set plan for yourself. This way, you feel like you have a new grasp on the situation.

    Explain your new time frame

    Now that you realize you won’t be able to meet your original goal, and you’ve taken some calming breaths, you need to communicate your next plan of action. Be concise and objective when you explain why you think you’ll be missing the deadline, says CBS News. If it was your fault, this is your chance to own up to it – but be matter-of-fact about it. It’ll probably look better to keep excuses to the minimum, but a professor or higher-up may appreciate the reasoning behind your tardiness.

    Explanations should be relevant and timely. If the analysis took an extra two days than expected, say that. If there was a personal matter that affected your ability to work, you don’t need to go into detail, but succinctly let them know that something had come up.

    Give early warning, and communicate efficiently

    The earlier you realize you’re overwhelmed, the quicker you can communicate your concerns. The worst thing you can do is let the deadline pass before you reach out. One might say – disappoint people as early as possible. Don’t ignore the situation. The worst outcome is dealing with emails that are hunting you down. “Where are you on this project?” is not something you’ll want to open when it’s already three days late. Typically, you’ll know if you have too much on your plate and you’ll be able to acknowledge that before you’re drowning in your late work. The Muse suggests giving options. You can tell your professor or higher-up that you’re in the middle of a project that’s taking longer than anticipated, but ask if it’ll negatively impact their timing if it is a day late. Something along the lines of:

    “I’m working on this project currently, and it’s taking longer than I thought. Would it be inconvenient if I got it to you tomorrow? I can finish it up tonight if you need it, but I would greatly appreciate an extension!”

    Another option is to deliver what you have – say, the finished 6 pages at the moment – or offer that you’ll give them the complete 10 pages by the next day. That way, if they want to get started on looking over the beginning of your work, they can – or they can decide that they’ll wait for the finished product.

    Use your best judgment

    Let’s be honest, some things just can’t be late. There are job applications that have specific deadlines, or grant proposals. But if you’re working with a boss or colleague that you know, typically you can speak to them to determine what is needed and be able to strategize on how to get the finished product to them in a timely manner. If you’re juggling multiple things due around the same time, prioritize them. What has a hard deadline, one that is completely inflexible and needs to be done first? What is something that you can reach out about, if need be, and possibly get an extension? As mentioned above, it is crucial that you stay on top of your work and reach out before it’s due.

    Make sure it’s rare

    Most importantly, out of all of these tips, is that you don’t make missing deadlines a habit. Generally, your aim should be that you under-promise and over-deliver. Be careful when agreeing to deadlines, and consider everything you already have on your plate before over-committing. If you’re always reliable, professors and bosses will typically be forgiving and forthcoming when you ask for your first extension. It is not a surprise that people have a life outside of work and school. However, their patience may wear thin if you’re repeatedly missing deadlines and proving to be unreliable.

    Make sure to build up professional trust after missing a deadline. You may need to prove yourself again, but take it as a purpose to perform to the best of your capabilities. We are all human, and there’s always an endless stream of things to do – don’t fixate too much on your mistake. Just do your best to avoid it happening again.

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