Make Room for Follow-through

One-Sentence SummaryFollow-through on a task is more likely to happen if you make following through a part of the intent and visualization/planning of the task.

Summary-by-Wordplay/Metaphor: A golf player includes the effort and intent of following through as part of their initial swing.

The Rest of This Is Mere Commentary:

Follow-through — the discipline of verifying that something (especially, a promised thing) is done satisfactorily, to full completion — is one of those attributes that are critical to establishing and maintaining trust… and also, a key element for peace of mind.

Depending on the person and the context, there are varying levels of tolerance for a lack of follow-through, in oneself and in others.

For all its importance, following through can be a big challenge in today’s world of non-stop activity, ever-shifting demands and constant interruptions and distractions. The deluge of emails many people face will make it even worse:  More emails in your inbox means a growing list of things to follow-up on, even as the window for what is considered a “timely reply” to an email keeps shrinking.  If you are a Spartan Communicator and feel like you can generate thoughtful, well-considered quick & short responses (as opposed to A.S.O.L.E.-style responses… Ambiguous Subjectless One-Line Emails —  HT to DSilverman), you may be spared… for a while at least.

For some people, follow-through is the “entry fee” for any sort of business relationship, a key signal, or proxy, of reliability.  I know a contractor whose entire business — even the business name — is centered around the idea of just showing up. Woody Allen supposedly said that 90% of life is showing up (citation needed!). Whether that quote (or that percentage) is factually correct, it’s clear that today’s business world makes heroes out of those people who do what they say they’re going to do.

As a proxy of reliability — especially in the early stages a relationship — following-through does not mean you are entirely trustworthy, just as brushing your teeth or polishing your shoes for that first interview (or first date) doesn’t mean you aren’t in actuality a slob.  In the early-stage relationship context, it’s about showing that you care.

Yet follow-through is so much more than a cosmetic signal. We can profoundly disappoint ourselves when we falter on our follow-through… and falter we do.

Typical advice around follow-through goes like this:

1) Be Careful About What You Commit To 

2) Set Aside Time To Do It

3) Ask For Help 

4) Manage Expectations (ie, Admit Early if You Won’t Be Able to Deliver as Promised and/or Requested)

There is a set of skills embedded within each of the above items.  For example, for #1, Be Careful About What You Commit To, it’s about the art of asking questions, learning to say ‘No,; prioritization and planning kills.  For item #3, Ask For Help, it includes things like delegation, collaboration skills, resourcefulness (not reinventing the wheel) and so on.

Item #2, Setting Aside Time to Do It, involves basic calendaring discipline as well as having calibrating your time estimation skills.  I’d like to briefly focus on a lessen-known aspect of item #2,  which is this:

Don’t Just Set Aside Time to Do the Task…

Set Aside Time to Follow-Through On The Task

Every commitment comes with its pre- and post- components.  Make it a habit to visualize the pre- and post- components as blocks of time in advance.   That means literally putting time on your calendar not just for the meeting, but for the meeting preparation and follow-up.

Why? Isn’t this just added administrative work?

Well, if you simply block out time to do something on your calendar (which, for some people, is already an improvement), it will look like this:

The problem with that is that your calendar for that day will ultimately look like this:

In that context, you risk becoming a non-hero… a mere mortal who comes in unprepared to do things and flakes out on the follow-up.

Given that there is often a time difference between all the pre- and post- components and given that there are sometimes multiple components, the power of visualization is keyWhen you say “yes” to doing something, you must really imagine the task as a set of “objects” that are linked.  So instead of thinking of that meeting as this…’re imagining that it looks like this:

Can you do this?  Yes, you can.

As for me, I will recite my Consultant’s Prayer now…

There’s more to it than just the moment of contact…


About danspira

My blog is at: My face in real life appears at a higher resolution, although I do feel pixelated sometimes.

Posted on September 10, 2011, in Productivity, Project Management and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. The first time I read T = R + D I read it as as TIRED!

    In any case, this a very nice post for project managers, and I would like to republish it on PM Hut.

    Please either email me or contact me through the “Contact Us” form on PM Hut in case you agree…

  2. Thank you for the reminder to follow up. This comment is me following up with you. Thank you!

  1. Pingback: Month in Review: Stack Overflow | Dan Spira

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