So you’re going to miss your deadline. What now?

Have you ever missed a deadline? If so, you aren’t alone. Even the most conscientious worker will occasionally fall behind, especially when faced with a demanding task list. When that happens, the way you react could be even more essential to your future career than whether or not you finish your assignment on time.

There are many reasons for a missed deadline. You may find that there is simply not enough time to complete the work. In some cases, your own leaders and project managers may stand by, doing nothing, as clients change the project scope repeatedly. You may also find that other team members aren’t doing their part, forcing you to do the work of multiple people. Whatever the reason, it’s important to steer clear of the blame game and focus instead on finding a productive, positive solution to your impending deadline.

1. Document everything

Preparation for a missed deadline begins long before the final weeks. If you’ve documented everything you’ve done, as well as the sudden changes you were requested to make, you will be able to answer any questions with confidence. Your leaders may fully understand the delay, but your documentation could prove useful as they explain to the project manager or client that the schedule needs to be adjusted. For added security, consider using time-tracking toolsto clearly document the work you’ve put in. You don’t have to use the information, but you’ll feel better having it on hand.

2. Let someone know immediately

The sooner you can tell the powers-that-be that you’re going to be late, the better. If you have a project manager, start there. Project managers can be the best champions for teams that need extra time to complete a project. They also hold the job of managing client change requests to ensure they don’t go beyond the initially-stated scope of the project. If, however, your work has no project manager or isn’t even a part of a designated project, you’ll likely have no choice but to simply tell your supervisor that you’re running behind. The leadership team will then have the task of determining whether to add more resources or extend the deadline.

3. Offer a solid completion date

As soon as you’ve let someone know you’re running behind, the next inevitable question will be when you think you can complete the work. Make sure you choose a date you can commit to, since you’ll need to meet this deadline to prove you’re not falling into a new pattern. If you have a project manager, outline the work that needs to be completed and work together to come up with a new deadline. You may find that management pushes you to complete it sooner in order to appease the client, so be prepared for this. Outlining the amount of work that remains, along with the amount of time you’ll need to complete it, could help you make a strong case.

4. Ask for help

There’s nothing wrong with asking for help when you need it. If possible, ask for this assistance far enough in advance to help you finish the project on time. If the deadline is too close, request additional resources when you mention that you won’t be able to make the deadline. Managers may decide to pull employees off of other projects to work on yours in order to finish things quickly. Others in your organization will likely be happy to help out. Additionally, you may find that you form new bonds by working with people from other teams that you wouldn’t have gotten to know well otherwise.

5. Don’t make it a habit

One forgotten deadline can easily be forgiven, especially if you show professionalism. Employers grow concerned when an employee exhibits a pattern of negative behaviors that include consistently failing to meet obligations. Learn time management techniques that will help you get more done each day. Avoid unproductive distractions like office gossip or personal social media, especially if you haven’t yet completed your work for the day. Your daily work output will capture the attention of your superiors even when your deadline is far away, potentially putting you in line for promotions and raises. At the very least, your routine performance reviews will be more positive.

Project deadlines can be frightening, but with the right tools in place, you can turn a missed deadline into a positive for your career. Do you find you regularly procrastinate until your deadline is just days away? If so, you aren’t alone. Time management tools can help you improve your efficiency and become known as an employee who can be counted on to deliver.

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