How to Follow Through on Everything You’ve Said You’ll Do

0407_to-do-list_650x455Have you ever said “Yeah, I’ll do that” – and then completely failed to? I bet you have, and I’d also bet that you felt kinda bad about it. Whether it was doing the dishes or visiting a sick relative, getting back to someone by email or finishing that report by Friday, saying that you’ll do something and then not doing will knock your reputation in the eyes of those around you.

There are all sorts of reasons why we sometimes fail to do what we say we’ll do. Perhaps:

  • We overcommitted ourselves, and ran out of time and energy
  • We found that we really didn’t want to do it
  • We simply forgot all about it, until it was too late

So how can you make sure that you always follow through on what you’ve said you’ll do?

  1. Stop and Think Before Taking on a New Commitment
    First, don’t be too quick to say “yes”.
    Some of us (myself included!) find it hard to turn down a friend or colleague’s request. But in the long run, it’s much better to tell people that you don’t have the time or energy to commit to helping them rather than promising to do it, only to leave them in the lurch.

I often ask for some breathing space when I’m asked to take on something new. I explain that I’d like to take a day or two to think about it, to make sure I can be fully and wholeheartedly committed. I’ve never had anyone react badly to this – if anything, people are usually glad that I’m taking my commitment to them seriously.

Next time you’re about to blurt out “Yes, sure, I’ll do that,” stop. Do you really need to make a decision on the spot? Can you offer to get back to the person after the weekend?

Remember, it’s OK to say no!

  • Delegate and Ask for Help Where Possible
    When you do take on an extra task or piece of work, don’t get too hung up on the idea of doing it all yourself. In many cases, you don’t have to complete the whole thing alone – you’ve just promised to make sure that it gets done. 

If you’ve told your spouse that you’ll get the dishes done and the kitchen cleaned, why not rope in the kids to help? If you’ve offered to put together a presentation for next week’s meeting, can you get colleagues to provide you with some of the figures and diagrams that you’ll need?

Many of us aren’t very confident about delegating – but the truth is that it empowers both us and the people who we delegate to. Trust your children, or your junior employees, with progressively bigger tasks – and they’re likely to rise to your expectations. By learning to delegate, you’ll accomplish more, and you’ll be much more likely to see your commitments through.

  • Keep Good Notes and Records
    Finally, a big reason for failing to follow through is simple forgetfulness. It’s easy to say “Yep, I’ll take care of it” during a meeting or a chat or a phone call – only for the task to slip completely out of your mind. This is particularly the case on small, simple actions: perhaps sending an email, lending a friend a book, taking out the garbage, etc. and screwing up on these can be just as embarrassing and potentially damaging as messing up on bigger things. (After all, if you can’t be trusted to handle little jobs, people aren’t going to want you taking care of the bigger ones.) 

Some of the best advice I had on keeping track of commitments was from Dave Navarro’s program 30 Hours a Day. In one of the modules he talks about the concept of a “funnel” – somewhere for all your new commitments to pour into. This might be a notebook, your email account, your phone, anything which you can access pretty much anywhere, anytime. At the end of the day, you sit down with the “funnel” and make sure that all those commitments get transferred into your diary or whatever to-do list system you use.

  • If All Else Fails … Back Out With Grace
    Finally, sometimes you can’t keep all your commitments. You may come to the point where you realize something has to slide. Maybe you’ve got the option of battling through, working late, whatever – but you value your health and your sanity! 

There’s nothing wrong with admitting that you’ve over-committed yourself. It’s not something you should be doing on a regular basis (if it is, go back to step one) – but if it happens occasionally, people will respect you for standing up and saying that you need to drop something or that you need a bit more time.

If things do look rocky, try to give people as much warning as possible: don’t pull out at the last minute.

How do you make sure you follow through with everything you’ve committed to? Have you got any embarrassing stories to share of times when you screwed up (either through overcommitment or just forgetfulness)?

Written on 2/23/2010 by Ali Hale. Ali is a professional writer and blogger, and a part-time postgraduate student of creative writing. If you need a hand with any sort of written project, drop her a line (ali@aliventures.com) or check out her website at Aliventures. Photo Credit: Andrew Mason
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