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How Do You Communicate a Missed Deadline to Your Client? (With Email Samples)

Aug 17, 2022
(updated: Apr 26, 2023)
Lesson duration: 5 min

When you miss a deadline, it's natural for panic to set in. We've all been there. Not only do you deal with the pressure of getting your project back on track, but you also face the difficult task of communicating the missed deadline. While it might feel like a failure, it's important to remember that it's how you handle the situation that truly matters.

In this lesson, we will provide tips on meeting deadlines and how to craft an email explaining the situation. All while reassuring your client that you have a solid handle on the task.

But first: Why we miss deadlines and tips for managing deadlines

Given that time is limited, setting realistic deadlines for your task helps you make good use of your time. Overall, a deadline gives you a clear timeframe of when to complete your tasks according to their level of importance.

And when you prioritize those tasks likely to produce the best results or the most favorable outcomes, you quickly achieve your goals. So why do people keep missing deadlines when they help define and achieve goals?

We can meet deadlines by breaking down the reasons behind our missed deadlines:

  • Failure to commit to early action: The more you put things off, the more your problem magnifies. The situation worsens when you delay taking action early. 

So the idea is to internally pressure yourself and commit to working on the task immediately to avoid leaving all your work to the last minute.

  • The planning fallacy: The planning fallacy is a phenomenon describing our tendency to underestimate how long it takes to complete a task. The phenomenon happens to people of all levels in every occupation.

And it leads you to do way more than you anticipated close to your set deadline, possibly missing it altogether.

  • Setting unrealistic deadlines: You may be overestimating your capabilities. For this reason, set a realistic deadline. Do this: Take the original deadline estimate (say six hours) and increase the figure by 25% (an hour and a half). 

Your set deadline should be seven and a half hours. The extra hour and a half are to allow for any unforeseen circumstances or factors beyond your control.

By addressing these core reasons, we can now think about the solutions that can help us meet our deadlines without failure at all times.

Here are some valuable tips for meeting your deadlines:

  • Set aside uninterrupted time: Failure to meet deadlines comes when you work on several tasks at a time. To combat this problem, set aside uninterrupted time for deep work to help tackle your big tasks or to complete several smaller tasks.
  • Create a daily checklist: Completed a task? Cross it off on your daily checklist. Using a task manager like Indy’s Tasks will help you easily create a list of to-dos and manage time more productively. There’s also a positive feeling that comes with crossing off the tasks you achieved for the day.
  • Identify your productive period: If your most productive time of the day is in the morning, then work on tasks during this time. Knowing your productive period helps you stay more focused and on task, meeting deadlines in the process.

So often, we discover that the things we were initially afraid of doing (to help us complete our tasks on time) weren’t as bad after we tried them. The more you take time to practice the above tips, the easier it becomes to meet your deadlines.

Don’t panic when you miss a deadline

Getting into panic mode while cramming to meet a deadline won't help get things done, especially if your task is due in a few short hours. The best and more professional option is to send your client an email communicating the situation.

In the email, take responsibility and don't place blame. This way, your client will believe that you can identify where you went wrong and can prevent the problem in the future. You can also provide updates in your email to show you’re on track to get things done.

If possible, share a new deadline, and — whatever figure you come up with — don't forget to increase it by 25%. You don't want to send your email twice. Lastly, make assurances that the mistake won't happen again. Then turn in your tasks early from here on out.

Here's what your email template will look like if you put the above details together:

Source: The Muse

What should you include in a missed deadline email?

Apart from sending the email as soon as possible, your email should embody a casual and apologetic tone. (The more polite and friendly you can be, the better). Other essential elements to have in your missed deadline email include the following:

  • An email subject line: A solid and friendly email subject line reassures the client you're not a spammer. This is important, especially if your client may not be familiar with your email address or have it saved in their contact list.

For example: “Missed deadline apology letter,” “Apology for missed deadline,” “Missed deadline for school assignment,” etc.

  • Salutation: A salutation in any email is important, so don't agonize over this. Just avoid using the standard “Dear [recipient name]” salutation and instead use “Hi” or “Hello” with the person’s first name for a friendlier or more casual tone.

For example: “Hi John Smith” or “Hello Jane Smith,” etc.

  • A friendly message: Since your goal is to write an apology letter (in the form of an email) for your missed deadline, skip the niceties and get straight to the point.

For example: “I'm sorry I missed my deadline yesterday. I know how important this business project means to you and the team in general.”

“I sincerely apologize for not getting the report to you and the team on time yesterday morning.”

Ensure you clearly explain your situation (don’t provide excuses) and then offer reassurances to make things right going forward.

  • Express your gratitude: Make sure to thank your client for their understanding. Remind them of how much you value your relationship, and then assure them that you won’t repeat the same mistakes.

It’s worth noting that it’s essential to write your email in block letter style, where the entire text is left aligned and single-spaced.

Missed deadline email template ideas

To get you started, we're going to show you how to politely tell a client you've missed a deadline. We've prepared some missed deadline email templates you can use on your clients. Just remember to change the information in the emails before sending them.

Example #1: Late work finished email template

Have you recently missed a deadline? We all have at some time. Here’s a simple email template to send your clients communicating that you’ve just finished your task.

Subject: Phew! It’s all finished now. Please take a look.

Hello [First name],

I was expecting to finish the blog articles sooner, but the work took a little longer than expected. However, it’s done now. 

I’ve attached the finished work to this email. 

Please have a look and let me know what you think.

Sorry, it was a little late!


[First name]

Example #2: Delay explainer email template

Although the task you’re working on isn’t completed yet and is overdue, it’s still important to communicate with your client. This simple email template will let your client know that you're running late and you need to update them with a new completion date.

Subject: Progress update and revised delivery date.

Hi [First name],

I’m writing to let you know the work on the SEO audit is taking longer than we planned. The original due date was last Monday, but now it looks like I should finish the job by Friday.

The delay has been caused by a few things:

  • Receiving answers from the dev team slowed by scheduling difficulties
  • Unusual configurations have taken longer to decipher

I apologize for the wait. I should get this to you by the new delivery date.

Please get in touch if you have any questions.

Many thanks,

[First name]

Example #3: Reminder email template

Missed deadlines don’t always come from the freelancer’s side. Have you ever waited on an important task or paperwork from a client? Here’s a polite reminder email template (kindly) asking the recipient to get moving with the task.

Subject: Did you forget? Let me know…

Hi [First name],

I was expecting your project requirements by last Tuesday. I’m sure you’re on top of it, but I can’t seem to find the project list.

Can you give me a quick update, please?

Thank you so much!

[First name]

Example #4: Really late stuff email template

Waiting for something that’s really late? This email template will help you communicate to your client how serious the delay is affecting your project.

Subject: UNLOCK PROGRESS by delivering the design approval

Hello [First name],

I’m writing again because the design approval is still outstanding. The original due date was June 5th, and I sent a reminder to you on June 12th.

Now, the project is waiting for your help to keep moving. If we can’t resolve this delay soon, then a few things could happen:

  • The overall project timeline will be delayed significantly.
  • Extra delays could result in an increase in the budget by as much as 10%.

I’d really like to keep making great progress on the work with you. Can you let me know when you can take care of this, please?

Thank you,

[First name]

Example #5: Late payment deadline reminder email template

Nothing messes up your business finances and cash flow more than late payments. When your client misses your payments, send them this deadline reminder email to jog their memory. Remember to input your amount due before attaching your invoice.

Subject: Please arrange payment ASAP for the overdue invoice

Hello [First name],

Thank you for our work together. Recently, I sent an invoice to you. I can’t seem to find payment for this invoice yet, though. The due date was September 7th. The amount outstanding is $1255.00.

I’ve attached the invoice in case it was lost in the shuffle somewhere. Please arrange payment as soon as possible.


[First name]

If you want to get things moving again, especially when something is overdue, or you've missed a deadline, Indy’s message templates can help you get things sorted out fast.


We all miss deadlines. However, as a freelancer, you may get into panic mode or even find it difficult to find the right words after failing to meet an important deadline. To communicate the situation to your client in a clear manner, get straight to the point. Remember to explain the situation clearly without blaming anyone or anything. Then offer reassurances not to repeat the same mistake in the future.

You can put these tips into action using Indy's tool suite, which not only has tools to help you foster better client relationships, but also project management tools that make it easier to manage projects so that you won't miss deadlines. Check out how Indy can help you, and get started today!

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