How to Manage Overdue Tasks at Work

How to Manage Overdue Tasks at Work

Is there anything worse than logging in on Monday morning and seeing a long list of overdue tasks? The tasks you’re supposed to finish today, this week, and the spilled-over tasks from the last week.

How do you tackle them without spiraling into anxiety or stress, which could potentially slow you even further?

Are you looking for an answer to your misery?

Keep reading to learn how to manage overdue tasks without getting overwhelmed. 

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What Causes Overdue Tasks: Common Problems Faced at Work

1. Tunnel vision on specific tasks

When you have something exciting on your to-do list—for example, a website rebrand for a new client—it’s natural to want to dedicate all your attention to it.

However, you must also track regular tasks, such as creating and updating weekly marketing performance reports for your clients. 

When you repeatedly lag in one of the tasks, they’ll keep piling, eventually leading to a backlog that’s hard to clear later. 

2. Underestimating task completion time

“Oh, this task will only take a few minutes. I can finish it by tomorrow morning.”

We’ve all had moments like this when planning our day. 

We tend to imagine we can be hyper-productive with these ‘small’ tasks, especially if they involve a project we’re interested in or have just returned from a break and are extra motivated to work hard. Failure to complete them leads to an overloaded schedule and feeling overwhelmed when inevitable delays occur.

3. Workplace culture leading to inattention to deadlines

A workplace culture with flexible deadlines or lacking accountability can lead to delays. If deadlines are treated as suggestions and there’s no one holding you accountable, tasks are unlikely to be completed on time. 

4. Difficulties in scaling or adjusting timelines

If you work in an industry where client requirements or project scopes change frequently, such as agency project management or software development, you will likely have faced this problem.

As the work progresses, unexpected new requirements might emerge. For example, if the client requests your marketing agency for last-minute changes to the campaign visuals already approved by their team, accommodating these tasks will require extra resources and unaccounted work hours. 

Since every project comprises sequential tasks, each delay leads to a cascading lag time effect, eventually leading to unhappy clients.

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How Overdue Tasks Impact Workplace Productivity

Overdue tasks aren’t just personal annoyance; they can significantly hinder team dynamics and workplace productivity. As they add up, they slow things down for the whole team, causing stress and psychological discomfort. 

1. Loss of trust and accountability

When employees fail to see how late submissions affect the rest of the team and delay the project’s progress, they’ll continue to miss deadlines. 

Meanwhile, those further down the workflow must wait for the deliverables to reach them. This can create a perception that specific individuals or teams are unreliable, damaging professional relationships and lowering team morale.

2. Suboptimal resource allocation

When tasks get delayed, there’s often a prioritization shuffle. Teams may prioritize tasks based on their overdue status rather than their strategic importance or urgency. This misalignment can lead to suboptimal decisions about resource allocation, ultimately harming overall business goals.

3. A constant sense of overwhelm 

Have you heard of the Zeigarnil Effect, where incomplete tasks occupy your mind, affect your ability to complete other tasks, and cause constant stress, dread, and overwhelm? 

Zeigarnik Effect
via @100behaviors on X

This Zeigarnik Effect recalls unfinished tasks more than completed ones.

People often work under immense pressure to catch up on missed deadlines, leading to further stress and burnout.

Use deadline management to deal with the Zeigarnik Effect. The primary steps include: 

  • Set reasonable deadlines 
  • Prioritize tasks based on urgency and importance 
  • Build time buffers 
  • Re-evaluate and reprioritize tasks frequently 
  • Assign specific tasks to individual team members for added accountability 

4. Decreased collaboration

When employees are bogged down with catching up on overdue tasks, they may have less time and energy to collaborate effectively, leading to silos, reduced teamwork, and failure to focus on collective goals. 

5. Hampered innovation

When teams constantly firefight overdue tasks, creative thinking and innovation take a backseat. This prevents the team from developing new and better ways to achieve their goals, ultimately hindering progress and growth.

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How to Manage Overdue Tasks at Work

1. Prioritize your to-do list with the Eisenhower Matrix

Not all overdue tasks are important or urgent, even though they may appear so at first glance. So, how do you categorize your tasks effectively?

Use the Eisenhower Matrix.

Former President Dwight D. Eisenhower popularized the Eisenhower Matrix, a prioritization tool for identifying which tasks to tackle first and which ones can be delegated or eliminated. It helps you consider the long-term outcomes of your daily tasks and focuses on what will make you effective, not just productive.

ClickUp’s Eisenhower Matrix Template
Organize your ideas and create an action plan using ClickUp’s Eisenhower Matrix Template

The Eisenhower Time Matrix divides all activities and projects into four quadrants

The Eisenhower Matrix divides all activities and projects into four quadrants:

  • Urgent and important: These tasks demand immediate attention and will have significant consequences if not completed
  • Important but not urgent: These tasks contribute to long-term success but lack immediate deadlines 
  • Urgent but not important: They demand quick responses but have minimal impact on overall goals
  • Neither urgent nor important: They don’t contribute to immediate or long-term goals and can be eliminated

Implementing the Eisenhower Matrix with ClickUp’s pre-built templates 

Use ClickUp’s Priority Matrix Template to determine urgent and important tasks. When planning resource-intensive projects, this template lets your team select which overdue tasks to finish first, ensuring a more organized and productive workflow.

Use the ClickUp Priority Matrix Template to identify critical tasks plotted by urgency, impact, and importance

2. Break complex tasks into smaller steps

For example, imagine your HR team is overdue for completing annual employee performance reviews.

Here’s how you can tackle it by going as granular as possible:

  • Request and gather self-assessment forms from all employees
  • Arrange one-on-one meetings between employees and their managers
  • Have managers complete evaluation reports based on the meetings
  • Conduct a final review of all reports for consistency and accuracy
  • Distribute the final performance reviews to employees and provide feedback

In addition, set a timer for the tasks you’ve broken down.

For instance, getting employee self-assessment forms could take 2-3 weeks. Scheduling and conducting one-on-one meetings might require another 1-2 weeks. Allocate a week for managers to finalize evaluation reports, followed by a few days for the final review.

ClickUp’s Task Priorities feature allows you to plan all the steps of a big project on the platform and set them as Urgent, High, Normal, and Low priority.

You can sort your steps by priority and then by time estimate to create a workflow, combined with dependencies, listing tasks that are ‘waiting on’ or ‘blocking’ others.

ClickUp 3.0 Setting Task Priority
Quickly set Task Priority within a task to communicate what needs attention first

This logical sequence simplifies the work, helps allocate resources correctly, and provides quick wins that motivate the team to finish efficiently.  

We also recommend considering buffer time—delays happen, so you might as well prepare for them.

3. Mark clear due dates to enhance focus and results

Effective tips for meeting deadlines and to avoid overdue tasks include: 

  • Adjust deadlines as need be

If there’s a routine task you’re technically supposed to do on Monday—for example, preparing the weekly sales report—but you never actually do it until Wednesday, change the due date to Wednesday. This way, your deadline aligns with your actual workflow, helping you stay on track.

  • “Eat the frog”

And if you hate a task, such as editing your corporate newsletter, and it always gets delayed when it shouldn’t, do it first. This approach, often called “eating the frog,” helps you quickly eliminate the most dreaded task from your plate.

  • Use ClickUp Dates and Times

ClickUp Dates and Times feature covers Start Dates, Due Dates, and Exact Times. Set the due date and a specified time to get notified as soon as a start or due time is reached and take action.

ClickUp Dates & Times Feature
Simplify scheduling, set due dates and specific times for tasks, enabling precise deadline setting and time management with ClickUp Dates and Times  

Defining clear due dates and adjusting them to match your workflow optimization enhances focus and ensures tasks are completed on time.

4. Use the two-minute rule

If something takes two minutes or less, do it right now. This could be any of the following:

  • Confirming a meeting
  • Acknowledging an invoice
  • Sending a follow-up email
  • Requesting a file from a coworker
  • Making a small change to a document

This approach helps prevent minor tasks from accumulating and becoming overwhelming. It gives you a feeling of accomplishment, motivating you to tackle the bigger tasks.

5. Delegate or swap overdue tasks wherever possible

If you regularly struggle to complete specific tasks, consider delegating tasks to other team members with the skills and the time to complete them more efficiently. 

Use ClickUps’ Employee Workload Template to view each team member’s workload and assign new tasks accordingly. Allocate resources to those with the bandwidth to do more work, preventing burnout in employees whose schedules are packed.

Gauge the capacity of each employee and assign tasks using ClickUp’s Employee Workload Template

You can also consider a swapping system wherein you and a colleague exchange tasks at a frequency that works for you both. You might even discover a new skill in the process.

For instance, if you consistently find it challenging to finalize monthly financial reports, you could delegate this task to your business analyst, who excels in financial analysis and has a lighter workload.

6. Organize a daily stand-up meeting

One effective team strategy to manage overdue tasks is to hold a daily stand-up agile meeting to review the to-do list collectively and identify where the backlog lies.

A collective discussion enables each team member to share what they accomplished yesterday, what they plan to do today, and the obstacles they face—to keep everyone aligned and accountable. 

Use ClickUp Meetings to keep everything in one place, from the agenda, meeting notes, and action items.

ClickUp Meetings
Streamline virtual meetings with ClickUp

What you can do with ClickUp Meetings: 

  • Centralized workspace: Take notes, plan your meeting agenda, and create tasks for your team 
  • Rich editing: Collaborate on meeting notes and documents, change the fonts and colors, add multi-media elements 
  • Assign comments: Assign comments to your team members and get notified when they’re resolved 
  • Create checklists: Convert to-do’s into checklists and mark them done as and when they’re completed 
  • Set recurring tasks: Set up meeting agendas that you want to be included in every meeting without manually setting them up each time 

Additionally, ClickUp Brain, as your AI writing partner, automates redundant tasks, including writing project briefs and summarizing meeting notes and conversation threads. As your AI project manager, the in-built AI writing tool assigns tasks to team members, creates project reports, and generates reports for tasks, documents, and even team members.  

Thread Summarization GIF in ClickUp Brain
Instantly summarize lengthy comment threads with a click of a button using ClickUp Brain

7. Try the Pomodoro overdue technique 

You can dedicate each Pomodoro session exclusively to overdue tasks. Essentially, work on them at a stretch for intervals of 25 minutes (Pomodoros), followed by a 5-minute break. Every 4 Pomodoros, you get a longer break of 15-20 minutes.

This method of sprint planning helps make progress with sufficient breaks to prevent stress and overwhelm.

When you’ve created and assigned tasks and set due dates and priorities using ClickUp Tasks, apply the Pomodoro overdue technique through the ClickUp Pomodoro Work Interval Generator to break your work into smaller, manageable time chunks. 

Get insights into your productivity patterns and make adjustments to optimize your task management skills.

8. Implement a ‘Done Day’ to clear your slate

Implement ‘Done Day’ to clear overdue tasks and catch up on delayed tasks without distractions. 

For example, you could designate every second Thursday of the month to focus solely on completing jobs past their deadlines.

Here’s how to implement a ‘Done Day’ successfully:

  • Frequency: Decide how often a ‘Done Day’ will occur—weekly, monthly, or quarterly; the frequency can vary based on your needs, preferences, and specific goals
  • Task review: At the start of the ‘Done Day,’ review your task list and prioritize items that are overdue or nearing deadlines and batch similar tasks together to streamline your workflow
  • Time blocking: Allocate specific time blocks for different tasks to ensure steady progress
  • Distraction-free environment: Set up a distraction-free environment to maintain focus and productivity throughout the day; do not schedule meetings and catch-ups on the ‘Done Day’

Use the ClickUp Prioritization Matrix Template to view the tasks that require immediate attention. You can visualize them in Docs or Whiteboard format, add customizable subcategories, and plug and play the tasks from ClickUp to tackle the overdue and essential tasks. 

Drive team efficiency and manage your resources to better determine your ideas, concepts, and tasks that need the most attention with ClickUp’s Prioritization Matrix Template

9. Work on an overdue task asynchronously

When meeting deadlines get tough despite your best efforts, work asynchronously to preserve everyone’s time and reduce unnecessary meetings and catch-ups.

Asynchronous work aids in the prioritization and deprioritization of tasks to ensure critical deadlines are met without sacrificing quality.

Your team works independently, accommodating different time zones, personal productivity peaks, and varying work environments. The success relies on asynchronous communication tools to share updates, provide feedback, and track progress.

For example, you can instantly share screen recordings with ClickUp Clips to explain things without hopping on a call. Recording a video can eliminate endless comment threads and confusion and share your ideas or feedback loops.

Share screen recordings to convey your message precisely without the need for an email chain or in-person meeting with Clip by ClickUp
Share screen recordings to convey your message precisely without the need for an email chain or in-person meeting with Clip by ClickUp

Every ClickUp clip is automatically transcribed with AI so you can scan video highlights, click timestamps to navigate the video, copy snippets wherever you need them, and share them with your team members.

10. Take a step back and conduct a retrospective

When staring at a mountain of unfinished tasks, take a step back. Go for a walk, get a coffee, catch up with a friend. Come back and assess the situation objectively–with a fresh mind. More often than not, you’ll find that the list is a lot more manageable than you thought.

Also, set some time aside every Friday to evaluate how you managed your weekly tasks to reorganize your calendar and identify productivity killers.

  • How much of your work did you complete on time?
  • Where were the delays?
  • What were the reasons behind the delays?
  • How can you improve your project time management skills?
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Overcoming Challenges: Workplace Culture and Overdue Tasks

1. A fear of failure

In many workplaces, there’s a fear of looking bad when admitting to struggles. For instance, an employee in your team might be having trouble understanding a new design tool you’ve recently implemented.

However, they may feel nervous about saying so, causing them to continue fumbling and delaying their deliverables. Building a culture where failure is accepted openly as a part of learning is vital.

You can address this by inviting one-on-one meetings where team members can speak frankly about their problems, followed by training sessions.

2. Not using agile practices

When teams work too rigidly, they cannot adapt quickly to changes—such as last-minute client requests or supply chain hurdles, leading to significant delays.

Train your team in agile methodologies like Scrum or Kanban. Teach them how to make flexibility part of the everyday game and accommodate changes without slacking off.

3. A lack of focus on proactive behavior

Many traditional work cultures tend to reward the people who solve crises. This, however, can distract from those who anticipated the issues and prevented them from occurring in the first place, such as by readjusting timelines beforehand.

Encourage proactive behavior by noticing and rewarding it—to motivate your team and reduce delays and escalations. 

4. Poor interdepartmental communication

If your departments work in silos, information may not get delivered timely, even when the project requires interdepartmental workplace collaboration

For example, your sales team is working on a major, time-bound proposal. You also need the legal department to review and approve the contract terms before you can share the proposal with the client.

However, if the legal team takes too long to respond, you could miss the deadline, jeopardizing your chance to secure a valuable client.

Such bottlenecks can be quashed by hosting regular cross-departmental meetings and encouraging the use of task management software where everyone involved in a project posts updates. Meetings also help to break the ice among teams and improve overall project collaboration.

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Cultivate the Habit of Meeting Deadlines to Avoid Overdue Tasks 

Any individual overdue task may not matter much. But when tasks pile up, they can negatively impact the business, the team, and yourself. 

Using the project management strategies and prioritization templates, we’ve outlined here, you can have a firm grip on your schedule and ensure that everyone on the team is equally equipped to handle their assigned tasks.

Switching to a project management tool like ClickUp can give you a clear overview of your tasks and what team members are supposed to do at any given moment. Make overdue tasks and deadlines a thing of the past with features like ClickUp Tasks, task priorities, setting up start dates, due dates, exact dates, and pre-built templates. 

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