The Art of Follow Up

A formidable challenge for anyone managing workflow is finding time to do our own work while making sure everyone else is doing theirs. Managing takes time, and time is our most precious resource.

One way to make sure work moves along in a timely manner is to follow-up with those doing work for us. Following up is more of an art form than it may first appear.

Keeping Tabs on Progress

Following up with others is the most delicate aspect of workflow management. Failure to do so puts the team’s objectives—quality work product and client responsiveness—at risk. Frequent follow-ups edge dangerously close to micromanagement, which results in frustration and stress for all concerned. This is true for direct reports and clients alike.

Ensuring the timely delivery of materials is the objective of follow-up. So, the most obvious starting point for discussing follow-up is the deadline. Deciding when to follow up with someone presupposes that there’s a deadline for the materials about which the follow-up concerns. No deadline means no need to follow up.

We don’t always control setting the deadline. Often, we receive work from others that includes no deadline, or lacks a clear deadline, such as “ASAP” or “Urgent” or something similar. Our first priority here is to ascertain if there is a clearer deadline. This can be done diplomatically with superiors and clients alike via messages/e-mails such as:

  • This looks interesting, and I understand there’s time sensitivity. Can I get you something by Thursday end-of-day?
  • Great project. Is this more important than the Smith deliverable you asked for earlier? I just want to organize my day to meet your needs.

Backing into the follow-up schedule begins once a clear deadline is secured. The follow-up needs to be frequent enough to ensure responsiveness, but spaced out enough to allow progress to be made during the interim periods. For example, if a project is due in a week, then two follow-ups are reasonable: the third day and fifth day out. Shorter projects only need one follow-up, while longer projects can space the follow-ups out a bit more. It’s not an exact science, but once the time line is clear, the follow-up schedule should fit into place easily.

Maintain a positive perspective when following up. The point is to get needed information on the task’s progress, as well as to offer any assistance necessary. Short communications are best for following up:

  • I’m checking in with you regarding the Smith matter. Is there anything I can do to facilitate your efforts?
  • As you’re aware, we have a Thursday deadline for the Smith matter. Let me know if we’re still on track to make that date.

These are diplomatic but clear communications intended to check in with others, while managing workflow from day to day.

Good Follow-Up Ensure Good Results

Keeping the work moving forward is in everyone’s interest. Doing it regularly and politely fosters a productive team culture.

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