What Should You Do When You Miss a Deadline?

At some point you’ll miss a deadline. Here’s how to handle the situation.

Recently, I’ve become the world’s flakiest freelancer. I’ve had a lot going on in my life the last two years. From two cross-country moves to a divorce to becoming more involved in my community to the fact that my son is a teenager with increasing activities and interests, there’s a lot happening. It’s not surprising that things are falling through the cracks.

I’ve missed some deadlines, including deadlines in the last couple of weeks. When you miss a deadline, it’s important to do what you can to get back on track. I’m struggling with getting back on track right now, but I’m trying. It’s hard because I’m a little more than two weeks into an eight-week travel extravaganza, but I’m working on getting back to be that freelancer that people can rely on.

miss a deadline

I’m fortunate because I have good relationships with amazing clients who have known me for years. I’ve built a solid reputation and I’ve earned a little grace (although I’m rapidly spending any social capital I have). Having a good foundation to start from can help you when you miss a deadline, but it’s still important to move forward.

If you miss a deadline, here are the steps to reduce the chances that you’ll be fired over it:

Communicate in Advance if You Can

If you can communicate in advance, that’s the best option. When I broke my wrist, I tried to contact as many of the affected clients quickly so they would know what was happening. In some cases, you can’t communicate in advance. However, if you can let someone know ahead of time, that’s your best scenario. Let your client know that the assignment will be late, and provide a realistic timeline for getting it turned in.

Apologize and Turn in the Assignment ASAP

Don’t forget to apologize for your lateness. I’ve forgotten assignments in the past, and when that happens I make sure to express my regret. Then I do what it takes to get the assignment completed as quickly as possible and turned in. In many cases, I manage to get it turned in only a few hours late, or only a day or two late.

Try Not to Let It Happen Very Often

The worst is when you become a repeat offender. I’m trying not to become a repeat offender, but it’s been challenging for me lately. With everything going on, I’m losing track of the day. However, I think I’m finding a rhythm. (Of course, once I am done with this massive trip, I’ll be back home to those responsibilities and I’ll need to get into a different rhythm.)

If you miss a deadline too often, you will end up with a reputation for being unreliable and difficult to work with. This is what I’m trying to avoid because I like my reputation for being reliable and easy to work with. I’m sure some clients and editors think that I’m losing it, but I’ll try to overcome that by being super on-time and reliable going forward. At least that’s the goal.

How to Reduce the Chance that You’ll Miss a Deadline

Setting yourself up to succeed is an important part of meeting most of your deadlines as a freelancer. Here are some of the steps you can take to reduce the chance that you’ll miss a deadline in the future:

  • Create a reminder schedule that works for you: Set up a calendar or keep a planner or do whatever it takes to make sure that you meet your deadlines. A scheduler or reminder system can help you stay on top of your workload. I keep a list of my assignments and due dates, and I try to check it each night before I go to bed so I can establish my priorities for the following day.
  • Give yourself a buffer on due dates: Many clients allow you to choose your own due date. If you think you can have something done in five days, tell the client you will have it done in a week. Give yourself a bit of a buffer on due dates so that if something comes up or it takes longer than you thought you have a little flexibility.
  • Know when you will have a challenging week: Often, I look ahead to see what items might interfere with my schedule. If I know I have a community obligation on Tuesday, and I have an assignment due on that day, I try to get the assignment done early so that I don’t run into problems. When you have extra time, tackle the next assignment on your list so that you don’t run into a time crunch later.

With a little effort and flexibility, you can avoid missing deadlines in the future – and avoid being labeled a notoriously flaky freelancer.

2 thoughts on “What Should You Do When You Miss a Deadline?”

  1. Hi Miranda, just a suggestion for the mobile layout of your site – can you increase the spacing between comments? It’s because the reply button on each comment on mobile screen seem too close to the next comment/commenter name – on which can be mistaken as commenting on that comment (which I’ve made). Love reading your materials!

  2. It is very unfortunate that some people do not apologize for missing deadlines. Personally, I try my best to always deliver on time and when that is not possible, I ask for an extension well in advance.

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