The Work To-Do List Item We Should All Add

Following-up has always been a part of business and life. But it has never been like this.

We’re chasing, reminding, nudging or just plain being annoying more than ever just get basic things done. Think about it. How much of your day do you spend hounding people just to get back to you?

Chances are it’s more than ever as it takes longer to get meetings scheduled and re-scheduled, even or, for some reason, especially when it’s someone else’s idea. It takes multiple requests to get pieces of information that were promised to you. Getting approval for something like a press release takes days upon days. Once upon a time, clients that didn’t pay their bills were deadbeats that needed a court summons to pay up. Now they’re fine clients that need a reminder just to get a neglected invoice processed.

The emails go unanswered. The calls go unreturned. And there’s no sign that the trend of recent years will be reversed.

“I’m sorry, I’ve just been so busy” is normally the answer, if you get one. But if that’s code for something, how about just saying it? “I’m sorry but it’s caught up in bureaucracy.” “I’m frustrated too, but I just don’t have an answer yet.” “This is a priority to me too and I’m doing what I can to get back to you with something you can use.” Or, and I realize I’m probably stretching reality here, “Wow. I’m sorry. I should have gotten back to you a lot sooner. I dropped the ball.”

If it’s because you’ve been out of the office, then you don’t have to address that after the fact. Here’s how to update your Outlook to manage expectations about when you’ll get back to them. Do that and they won’t have to hound you.

For decades, I have made a list of “loose ends” I’ve had to work on every day. It’s just a part of the deal. But there’s another list we all should be keeping – one that includes every answer, every piece of information we owe someone who would otherwise be left hanging. How about taking just a few minutes every day or beginning every day by going through your texts, emails and voicemails and getting back to anyone waiting on you? I’m not talking about cold sales emails, I’m talking about those with whom you do business and/or promised you would get back to them. If the answer is “I don’t know yet,” then that’s OK. It counts as an answer.

Common courtesy, like common sense, just shouldn’t be this uncommon.