I spend a ton of time day to day writing and reading emails, setting up and participating in meetings of all types, and collaborating with a large group of people (both internal and external). The number of connections I face in a day can be staggering; just looking at my schedule for tomorrow (a light day) and I’ll cross paths with at least 30 different people for various reasons.
I’m sharing this because each interaction tends to produce some kind of thing that must happen after the interaction. Whether that thing needs to come from me or from someone else is irrelevant; I still need to create a follow up task and, ya know, actually do it.
Now, no one is perfect. People forget or get busy. Things fall through the cracks. Shit happens. Working around that reality is part of the game. However, setting follow up tasks is absolutely critical.
I’m always striving to improve, as we all should, but a clear way to improve quickly is by setting follow up tasks, spaced appropriately, quickly after you realize you need one.
Example: you get an email from a client who will be on vacation for 2 weeks but wants to chat when they get back. In this case I’d set a follow up task for when the client gets back, succinctly describe (1 sentence or so) what the follow up is about in a note to myself, and make sure there is some kind of nag to grab my attention.
Sounds straightforward, but imagine if every interaction you had day to day ended in setting clear follow ups. Very quickly you’d seem like you have a ninja memory and you’d never miss the “soft” deadlines created by smaller daily interactions.
Last thing: being better at follow ups is something everyone faces, every single day. People with decades of experience struggle or fall behind, just like greenhorns. It’s a very long term goal and something we can constantly challenge ourselves with.