Why People Miss Deadlines and How to Avoid Missing Them

As a wise man once said

“I love deadlines, I particularly like the sound they make as they go flying by”.

Sounds funny right? But its a profound statement with serious implications.

Go through any project plan that last a considerable duration and you’re likely to find overdue tasks with red dates and red bars. Usually these red dates are for overdue tasks and worst case for unplanned ones. Needless to say these affect the companies planning, productivity and critically the morale of the employees involved in the project.

What happens when so many overdue tasks start appearing in your project schedules? You start to think it’s normal and that’s how we should be operating. This in turn affect planning, resource allocation and when you get these wrong you miss deadlines.

Why Do People Miss Deadlines

Each missed due date is a badly managed expectation.

When you look at why people miss deadlines in the first place, it is clear that most of these happen because of poor work management. People say “yes” to a piece of work without really understanding how much time and effort it involves and without understanding how much work you currently have on your plate.

The second major reason for missing deadlines is that you don’t clearly understand what you have been asked to do. Due to this lack of clarity, when you have an extremely busy week, with half a dozen  significant things you have been asked to do, you will tend to only do the things that you are clear about.

Now we know the reasons, lets figure out how to solve them.

Reschedule & Guesstimate

One way to fix this situation is to reschedule the work by adding new deadlines, add in due dates to those unplanned tasks and add estimates to tasks which don’t have an estimation.

If it seems too hard to predict the due date, then give your best guesstimate and be realistic. The same goes for task duration’s. It is not expected that you’ll get it right first time and if it is wrong, you can update it later when you think you have a better estimate.

The key for the proper time estimation is to use your experience with similar task done before. If you don’t understand the given task, add estimation including the research and learning time. This way not only you will be achieving goals on time but will learn by experimenting at the same time.

The keyword here is estimate. Its a rough calculation so its okay to be a little off the market. Once you and your team get more experience in the project you’ll start to estimate things better.

Divide & Conquer

If you’re looking at a task and finding it hard to estimate the work its likely that you need to break it down even further. Not only this makes it easier to estimate tasks but probably makes it much easier to allocate resources as well.

Below work breakdown structure example shows how you can achieve major goals by breaking them to little tasks. The ultimate goal in this example is to clean the room. But as it’s a major task, there are multiple sub tasks you can create to achieve this goal immediately.

Cleaning Room - Work Breakdown Structure

Cleaning Room – Work Breakdown Structure

Don’t Accept Things You Can’t Do

Sound obvious right? But because of peer pressure, managerial pressure etc far too many are accepting things that they can’t realistically finish by the given date.

It’s okay to say no, but be ready to justify that by showing your workload. In the end you’ll be help responsible for getting the job done and burdening yourself with too much work is  a sure fire way to miss deadlines.

Doing ad-hoc work is fine, but if you accept too many ad-hoc tasks you may lose your focus on the actual tasks you’re supposed to finish. This applies for doing chores for others as well. Helping your work mate is an acceptable work ethic. But it shouldn’t be interrupting your work plan.

Why Hitting Deadlines Matter

First of all it gives you a sense of achievement. Secondly its much more enjoyable to work in a smoothly flowing project. Imagine checking your task manager every morning and seeing plenty of overdue tasks. That’s a very depressing way to start your day.

For the company this means finishing projects on time, customer satisfaction gained from delivering on time and hitting those all important KPI to satisfy the investors and shareholders.

Always remember that the time is one thing that you cannot get back. Doing these things should help reduce the “flying by” sounds we often hear and help to make the cheers louder as we hit due dates!

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Shalin Siriwardhana

Internet marketing enthusiasts and a tech blogger, started working for Creately handling e-marketing and blogging. I love to spend my time playing guitar and computer games when I’m not exploring the world of marketing, you can find me writing at shalin's marketing blog here. Follow @Creately for useful diagramming tips and tutes!


  1. Andrei Bernovski

    To me, a lot of it is due to the missing the single most important rule of Project Management – The Project management triangle.

    I have recently written an article – on the fundamental nature of Project management triangle

    Hope it will be helpful

  2. james Pabling

    Thanks for this wonderful topic/guide. It made my mindset a little different now. I have enjoyed reading it and thinking how to change my atittude for deadlines that most of the time I miss.

  3. Edith Parra

    This is a spot on topic! We tend to miss deadlines because of a lot of reasons, valid or not. But in business, results count, not effort. Therefore, it is important that we deliver on time as there are a lot of things at stake. In order to do this, discipline is the key and the power of anticipation. Exactly Shalin, you don’t have to accept projects you think you cannot finish on time. If you can, then commit to finishing no matter what the cost. We must take responsibility for our actions because that is one way to grow and become better with our chosen endeavor.

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