Regardless of how the job market is going, there’s one constant that sets the best apart from the rest: folks who follow through. You know…grade school stuff: You do what you say you’re going to do when you said you’d do it. No excuses. No hey, it’s 90% of the way done. No one likes tracking down your last 10%. When you’re at your best, you do your 100% early often enough that you give your internal and external stakeholders that occasional delight of more than expected earlier than expected.
It gets harder the busier you get and the higher you go in a company. Doing a single project requires you to coordinate the work of many teammates or departments. Now you’re selling a vision and gaining buy in. But you’ve still got to deliver it on time. The ability to follow through is a unique differentiator, but consistency is the magic you have to work. People only remember the last time you told them you’d get them that thing they’re now missing and hunting down at 5:00 when you’re trying to leave for the night.
The four tips below are ones I’ve learned both hard and easy ways, sometimes over and over again.
Determine your Relationship to Promises
Some of us are motivated by committing to just that little bit more than we can comfortably take on–because we work best under pressure and enjoy the thrill of meeting the challenge that’s slightly beyond our grasp. Others of us are scared by the bare minimum needed and signing our names next to a date to deliver. Still others shrug off any expectations; they feel more like guidelines than deadlines. Which are you?
You can’t make follow through a priority until you take an inventory of how you’re doing. In the past 90 days, how many times have you met your obligations? How many times have you exceeded them? How many times in the past have you struggled to fulfill a commitment? In areas where you fell short, is there a pattern to the assignment type or the timeline? Look for trends. Ask a few coworkers or a boss how you’re doing with follow through for greater clarity. Is this an area of improvement, or are you already excelling here?
Stop Accepting your Own Excuses
Make your professional life a no excuses zone where you hold yourself accountable every day to what you promise. We all have reasons we can allow to stop the follow through, but the difference is whether we let those become our scapegoats or our proving ground. Stop doing the dance of “Hey, my boss probably won’t notice I said I’d do this a month ago and still haven’t started.” He notices. He’s curious to see how long you’re letting it go, and you’ll get a question about it soon.
If you procrastinate or struggle to focus, build in buffer time for yourself that no one else needs to know about and set small rewards as you complete a big deadline in chunks. If you tend to bite off a mess of work you’re going to have to prove yourself to complete, set clear expectations about resources and support you’ll need. Then get cozy with your calendar and micro-deadlines to stay on track while you’re stretching out of your comfort zone.
Start Connecting with Peers who Get it Done
If upping your follow through is a priority, your new friends are the folks who run circles around you. The ones who make you look lazy, unmotivated, apathetic, even though we both know you’re none of these things. These folks. Borrow their drive, their scheduling and project management tactics, and their encouragement as you work on your own.
Understand that Consistently is the Only Way Follow Through is Served
Being great last quarter or next month, when things are calmer, is the permission you grant yourself to get soft. And this isn’t what you’re going for. It’s easy to dash off an email promising support and then play the sound of crickets when it’s time to put your investment or resources where it counts. Build in reasons to be accountable every day, such as promising that report the VP didn’t need until next week tomorrow, the early deadline you gave yourself.
Making and keeping commitments tells people that their expectations matter, and in the process, it also sets an internal expectation that your time and your energy are the most important commodities you deal in.