The Magic of Follow-Through

By Richard G. Ensman

You have the most ambitious goals of anyone you know, be the greatest manager, salesperson or finance expert around, or brim over with outstanding ideas, but you must develop the ability to follow through on details to become truly successful.

     The ability to manage and master the myriad of tasks that accompany most responsibilities and projects has always been one of the hallmarks of high achievers. Here's a summary of 20 of the world's time-tested follow-through techniques. Use them to keep abreast of details, remind yourself of impending deadlines, and prompt yourself toward action...
  1. Keep a schedule.
    And on that schedule, note every detail you've got to follow up, however minor.

  2. Set deadlines.
    Every task, large and small, should have a date assigned to it.

  3. Outline.
    When you take on a new task, organize it on paper. List and classify the steps you must take to complete it.

  4. Write yourself notes.
    Keep them in a planning notebook on a prominent bulletin board, in a file, or wherever they will provide you with timely information and reminders.

  5. Keep a tickler file.
    A tickler file is simply a time-dated file into which you can place reminders of upcoming tasks, arranged by date.

  6. Create master schedules.
    If you face many project management tasks, plot your schedules on a large master calendar. The result: you'll build a superb planning tool and you'll be able to spot places in the schedule when new initiatives can be most efficiently launched.

  7. Cross reference your tickler file.
    No, this suggestion is not as elaborate as it sounds. If you place material in a file, for instance, just note the name of the file on your tickler reminder. Or, if you've got to talk to somebody about an upcoming task, place the individual's name and background information in your card file and note the name of the person on your reminder.

  8. Use checklists.
    If you're starting a new task, make a checklist of everything that needs to be done. Keep it is a working file or prominent location and refer to it regularly.

  9. Get the most out of your day planner.
    A day planner, remember, is not just for scheduling appointments. It's also useful for keeping track of names, telephone numbers, to-do lists, and other important details. If you plan carefully, you can literally work out of your planner each day.

  10. Follow through on details first thing in the day.
    Make follow-through a priority and get those urgent details out of the way before you begin other tasks.

  11. Block out quiet time.
    "Quiet time" is a great opportunity to work through assignments. Interruptions, whether it be telephone calls or a co-worker or employee dropping in can be a greater distraction than you may think.

  12. Review minutes and meeting notes.
    These documents will remind you of tasks that need completion before your next meeting.

  13. Use follow-up forms.
    Many professional offices use two-part follow-up forms to track details. One copy of the form goes in the master tickler file and the other copy goes in a permanent project file. If billing is involved, a third copy goes in a billing file.

  14. Maintain a perpetual to-do list.
    Most people start new to-do lists daily or weekly. But with a perpetual to-do list, maintained in a notebook or on computer, you need never to re-copy your lists -- and you'll have a complete record of upcoming tasks, projects and opportunities.

  15. Make appointments with yourself.
    When you're facing a big task that involves numerous details, schedule an uninterrupted block of time with yourself -- enough for you to make headway toward your objectives.

  16. Use your secretary.
    Many secretaries and administrative assistants have excellent follow-through skills and can easily manage details and schedules for you.

  17. Put technology to work for you.
    Develop a simple computer program to keep tabs on details. A number of computer programs on the market now are very useful for scheduling appointments and day-to-day activities, and some can help make both simple and complex decisions. These project management and calendar software can be relatively inexpensive. If your tasks involve other people, you might purchase management software.

  18. Stay in touch when things don't work out.
    Can't meet a deadline? Can not complete a landscape by the desired completion date? It happens. Let people affected by the problem know what is going on. Mutually agree on a new deadline and add it to your schedule.

  19. Get someone to cover for you.
    What happens when you are travelling or unexpectedly ill? Teach a colleague the basics of your follow-through system so that someone can always handle essential tasks in your stead.

  20. Just get it done.
    Follow-through techniques are valuable. But don't become obsessed over project management systems and lists of things to do. Just do them -- the quicker the better! The more details you can master, the faster you can master them, and the more satisfied you will become with your daily accomplishments.