Blew a deadline? Here's how to recover

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(MoneyWatch) When you miss a deadline at work, you not only make yourself look incompetent but also disrupt the flow of business and inconvenience other people. Rebuilding your reputation after missing an important deadline involves rebuilding people's confidence in you as well as making amends. Here's how.

Apologize early. Apologize as soon as you realize you're not going to make your mark. "Apologies that are given quite some time after the violation -- in this case, missing the deadline -- are often perceived as insincere and reflecting a strategic attitude," says David De Cremer, author of "The Proactive Leader: How to Overcome Procrastination and Be A Bold Decision-Maker."  But avoid excuses, which only look like you're trying to explain away your fault in the matter.

Acknowledge the impact. You should communicate not only why you missed the deadline, which is different than a flimsy excuse, but make clear that you realize that your misstep affected others. "This way others will know that you know how to remedy your past behavior, are serious about taking action in the future, and... are clearly concerned about the inconveniences caused," says De Cremer, who adds that you should make sure to finish the job as quickly as you can to minimize further disruption.

Offer to make it up -- in person. If people were relying on you and your failing to deliver put them in a bad position, apologize face to face. "Offer to make it up to the person in time" or to take a different piece of work off their plate, suggests Julie Morgenstern, author of "Time Management From The Inside Out." She also says you can send them a token of appreciation, like a gift certificate for dinner out or a box of cookies, depending on how big the deadline was that you missed, your relationship with that person and your office culture.

Deliver early next time. This is the best way to boost confidence in your punctuality with projects. "Nothing says 'sorry for making your work difficult last time' better than making the person's life easier next time, by getting the info they need with a bit of time to spare," says Morgenstern. "It will also replace their last memory of you to a much more trust-building one." To avoid missing a deadline in the future, Morgenstern suggests three tips: First, putting a "do" date on your calendar in addition to a "due" date. Second, breaking your project into manageable steps. And third, building a cushion into those do dates so you never miss a deadline again.

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