[01.31.11]
39 great comments!

Why Is It Getting So Hard To Follow Up?

successful people, why is, hard questions, twitter, getting, hard, offers, art, effective, commit, owe, people, request, help othersIs anyone else feeling this way? Stressed about follow up?  I hope I’m not alone.

But of course I know that I’m not.  Because of one fact:

The list of people I owe something to is as long as another list I could make.  The list of people who owe something to me.

And both lists are frustrating.  As I hate having things that are “undone” around me.  But what can you do to improve the follow up around you?

Don’t we all want to improve our lives and the lives of our friends?

Well, I guess you could dramatically slow the incoming traffic of requests.  By saying no to everything until you catch up.

Turns out a lot of very successful people have done that recently.  Is it better to say “no” if you likely can’t?

But what about all the need there is in the world?  What is the negative effect of a “no” to someone?  Will they just find someone else to help or will they do without?

Not your problem, right?

Well obviously it is not that simple.  Plus, if you believe in helping others as a life strategy. Or as a moral duty.  Saying no really isn’t a great answer.

And then there’s the problem of going back to that same person weeks or months later with a need of your own.  Or maybe you don’t go back.  Since the memory of your “no” makes it a hard question to ask.

So you have to find a separate group of people to ask for support.  Assuming they have the time, inclination and organizational ability to follow up.

(deep breath)

So here’s the problem.  We are quickly becoming a world that isn’t doing what it says it will do.

  • We are over-committed
  • IOU’s are piling up
  • Opportunities are being missed

And what is the likely impact on friendships, family relationships, and business success?  We are headed for continuing disappointment, I fear.  A diminishing follow up ratio.

Or maybe there is something more primitive happening.  Something that always happens.  A natural selection of sorts that allows for the completion of certain favors over others.  With what criteria, though?

I’ve tried so many systems to stay organized.  I’m now using Evernote to organize it all (which I really like).  But the problem remains unsolved.  So bad now that my email in box has become my to do list.  Requests stay in there until I do them.  And the # of emails in there keeps growing.

Here are a few ideas to help us all follow-up with more success (some ways I’m now trying to work a little smarter):

  • Stop using email where possible. Instead, make requests via Twitter.  And start training people to make requests of you there as well.  Could be a DM or @message.  Requests are short and simple by definition. Need help getting started on Twitter?
  • Pick up the phone. You have someone’s attention and perhaps can ask and get follow-up before the phone is hung up.
  • Don’t ask more than you should. If a request from you asks more than the relationship can handle, ask something simpler first.  Make it easy (time + ability) and you are more likely to get it done.
  • Use an online calendar. One like Tungle to schedule a coffee or quick 15 minute chat. Tungle is a huge time saver for meeting scheduling. Simply identify days and times that you like to have meetings, sync with your regular calendar, and now others can book time with you on their own.  No more back and forth on available times.

Or maybe we need a site like Klout.  But instead of measuring influence, we measure follow up.  It measures transactions.  Quantity and success.  All requests go through this site.  And your ability to help others (your follow up ratio) becomes public knowledge.

And maybe if you have a bad score, people will stop asking for your help.  🙂

How are you doing with follow-up these days?  Are you out of balance?

Photo Credit


Written by: Tim Tyrell-Smith
Tags: | |
Categories: Work and Life
  • Fully agree about people not keeping their word. What has worked for me is using my smartphone to set reminders of appointments. This way I don’t have to think about it and now you can Google Sync it to pretty much anything. In the days of social media “connects” people, it’s still about the face to face that builds trust. If you say you’re going to do something, do it. Our word says more about our reputation than anything else.

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  • Hey Scott – yes, reminders can help. Assuming you don’t have 25 reminders – that’s a lot of set-up and execution! Harder as you get busier as you have to decide who to help. If it’s everyone, you have to find new ways to become efficient.

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  • Susan Ireland

    Tim, thank you for this very important post. I suffer greatly from this problem. My email inbox has become my ever-growing to-do list. I WANT to do all the things I promise. I WANT to capture all the oppotunities I see. I WANT to help people in need. But I just can’t do it all.

    Here are a few things that help me:
    – I don’t have a computer in my home — only in my office, which is a small building in my backyard. I do everything I can to divide my work and personal time / space.
    – I try not to use my personal phone for business. My office phone is a land line in my office out back.
    – I try to walk my dog every day, and I don’t take my cell phone with me.
    – And I try to forgive myself for not doing some of the things on my to-do list, and hope others will also forgive me if they’re the ones that get dropped.

  • Hi Susan – You are welcome! It has been dragging on me too. Like you, I want to help as many people as I can. And I think the busier you become, there are bound to be people who are disappointed in your ability to help. That’s one of the reasons I created all of my templates and tools. And my FAQ. To help people even when I am busy doing something else!

  • Thought provoking post. Re the Twitter/DM idea – I’d be concerned about creating another ‘collection’ bucket (i.e. one more place one has to look for tasks/to dos) unless the DM’s end up in your email inbox (in which case the benefit is the 140 character limitation). Having thought a lot about productivity and prioritization over the years, I’m not sure there are any clear answers on this topic. Though I am a huge believer in technology, I do think that looking for better systems often serves as a way to procrastinate the much harder work of setting clear goals and priorities.

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  • Yes, more messages more places does not solve many problems. Agree! But if you also started to emphasize one platform over another, you can at least begin to focus your incoming communications. And if you start a conversation on Twitter, it will likely finish there. Or it could expand into a phone call or e-mail – but only after the topic is vetted. 🙂

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