What to do if you’re going to miss a deadline

Feel that? The fluttering butterfly panicking at the anxiety disco in your rib cage feels like it’s going to bust right out and go all Hulk Smash on everything. If only you could channel that energy into the deadline you’re about to miss.

It’s as though the doctor said you have a week to live because that’s how much time you have until your deadline. That means you have today to decide if you can push through this fueled by an espresso IV drip and
no sleep. The reality is you’ll need to be honest with your client and boss about the likelihood of missing the deadline — cloudy with a chance of serious disapproval.

Don’t panic at the impending deadline. You’ve got this with class and professionalism — and yes, you’ll keep your job. Here’s what you do.

1. Extinguish the stress fire

Secondhand stress is real and spreads like wildfire — 26% of people experience increased cortisol levels simply by proximity and observation of a stranger expressing stress. Imagine seeing your boss, coworker or
loved one undergoing high levels of stress as a witness. For a romantic partner, when you observe this person stressing out, your cortisol levels rise by 40 percent.

You need to find the source and prevent it from spreading. Most of the pressure comes from yourself. If your boss and client add their pressure, the pressure feels tripled. Stop self-imposing irrational deadlines and negative self-talk on yourself. Take a break. Go outside. Pour yourself that cup of Joe.

Ask yourself hard questions with objectivity, and follow up with self-reminders of your accomplishments. What unrealistic expectations have I placed on myself? What are my fears? What are the fears of my client and boss?

To extinguish the stress, you’ll need to prepare solutions. Don’t worry — that’s coming up.

2. Hack the timeline

Ask yourself tough questions about what went wrong to discover what slowed you down in the first place. Also, observe what went right. Don’t let yourself dwell. You’ll come back to address your hiccups. Take what’s right, and see what you can give the client now. Or, do you need to push the timeline out farther? Do you need to get more people involved in the project? What processes can you cut out to still give the client quality work? Instead of juggling and multitasking, direct single focus to one task at a time — you’ll give your full attention to every step and eliminate distractions.

While hacking the timeline, you’ll come across many process improvements. Make note of this. Also, know that if you need to outsource work, that’s acceptable. Turn the anxiety disco into a party of productivity and quality client work.

3. You have to say something soon

It’s a Captain Obvious moment — you have to say something soon, or those worst-case scenarios playing in your mind may hold merit after all.

Accept the situation, and go into action mode. You don’t have to think through this alone, but you need to come up with possible and actionable solutions.

Start with an email, clearly and concisely stating the status. Indicate there were errors in projection without assigning blame, but if you messed up, prepare for concise and honest accountability without overdoing it. Right now, the focus is gathering everyone together at the office. You already faced your worst case scenario, and now you move on to solutions. Bring your hacked timeline to the meeting. This shows that you addressed what went wrong on your end and took measures to address and fix the solution. You show doing an excellent job matters to you. Getting everyone together stresses the importance of team effort and workplace support. Work together.

Everyone misses a deadline at some point. The important part is learning from the experience and trusting your gut when you know the projections are off.

You may struggle with figuring out what went wrong. In the meantime, what matters is that you stepped up to address the situation with accountability, promptness and solutions. While the project may not meet the original deadline, you’ll rebound with quality work because you took the time to do it the right way — with your job, reputation and passion for the work in check.