Why do other people keep dropping the ball? What can you do about it?

Do these situations sound familiar?

  • You leave a message for someone to call you, but they don’t.
  • You send an important email, but you get no response.
  • You’re in the Zoom room, but the other person isn’t. Something fell through the cracks.
  • She borrowed a few books from you but it’s been months. Will you ever see them again?
  • He promised to get that report to you, but it hasn’t happened.

It’s enough to drive you bananas.

The problem is clearly them. Most people don’t have systems that match the level of complexity in their lives. People drop the ball all the time. For some, it’s intentional. They figure if the obligation is important, other people will stay on them.

But for most people, it’s not intentional. Nobody has shown them a simple way to stay on top of their commitments to themselves and others.

So what do you do when they drop the ball?

The question to ask yourself is whether you even know when others drop the ball. If you were asked for a list of everything others owe you, how long would it take you to produce it? If the answer is more than “a few seconds,” your own system needs something.

In a way, that’s a good thing. When your own system lacks something, you can do something about it.

So what does “doing something about it” look like?

Glad you asked.

When someone borrows your belongings…

Immediately put it in your task manager. I use the tag “ETR.” ETR stands for “expect to receive.” Forty years ago, I would have pulled a memo pad out of my pocket, jotted a note with the name of the person and what they borrowed, and added the letter “ETR.” It’s the same thing, just different tools.

Next is to ask yourself the question, “When do I want to see this again”? When do you want to be reminded this person borrowed your stuff? The answer to that question becomes the due date.

Forty years ago, I would tear that little slip out of the memo pad and drop it in the Tickler File for that day. My system reminded me at the right time.

Today, I add a due date to the task. The tools have changes. The technique is the same.

Either way, on a certain future date, a date of my choosing, I am reminded about the thing I loaned today. If the person already returned the items, check it off the list. Forty years ago, it would have been crumpling the little piece of paper and throwing it away.

When you have delegated a task or project…

Perhaps the person comes through in fine fashion. On the other hand, the project may be approaching overdue and the whole thing has slipped through the cracks.

What safeguards have you built into your own system so you will be checking in with the person at just the right time?

When you delegate, create a task in your task manager on the front end. Add the name of the person, what has been delegated, a due date, and the tag “ETR.” If your task manager does not support tags, just put the letters “ETR” somewhere in the name of the task.

On the appropriate future date, you see the task. Now you have your reminder to check in with the other person. Remember, some poeple operate from the standpoint of ignoring unpleasant commitments unless someone specifically says something. There is some merit to that approach. Some managers just go crazy with thinking up projects for others with no thought to how valuable those things are and what team members already have on their plates. Two days later, the boss has already forgotten about it. The cost of ignoring the task is zero. You battle that technique by being the person who understands follow-up. Others quickly learn that when you assign a task, the follow-up will happen. While they may ignore tasks delegated by some people, they won’t ignore yours.

But then, you have people who don’t ignore assignments on purpose. They lack a system, and that is a challenge in a world that moves quickly. Your follow-up system keeps things from falling through the cracks. Another thing for your list is to plan professional development to help people structure systems.

Delegating by email

When the delegation happens face-to-face, create the task in your task manager as soon as the other person has rounded the corner and is out of sight.

When delegation happens over the phone, if you’re at your desk, create the “ETR” in your task manager. Do it on your computer in the moment.

If you’re out and about and you are on your mobile phone and that’s also where your task manager lives, as soon as you get off the phone, enter this “ETR” into your task manager. That’s one reason I still carry a pocket notepad. It holds my driver’s license, insurance cards, a few credit cards, a few of my business cards, and includes a notepad. I can jot notes during the call. When I get off the phone, I can read it into my digital task list.

But what about when you delegate by email? This one’s great, because the email contains all the information baked right into the body of the email. Before you hit “send,” add to the bcc line the email address for your digital task manager. Now, in the inbox of your digital task manager is the task. When you review the inbox, reword the task as needed. Be sure to add the person’s name to the task, add a date, and add the “ETR” tag.

What do you mean by “email address for your digital task manager?”

Good digital task managers supply you with a special email address. Any email sent to that address automatically goes on your digital task list. The subject of the email becomes the name of the task. The body of the email winds up in the note section of that task.

In your digital task manager, find that special email address and add it to your contacts.

Who owes me what?

How quickly could you put your hands on a list of everything everyone owes you?

This one is easy. If you have an “ETR” tag, click the name of the tag. Now you’re looking at every task delegated to someone else. If you don’t use tags, search for “ETR” and that search will return every task that has “ETR” somewhere in the task.

Personally, I find it helpful to see just the “ETR” items coming due within the next week. I don’t need to see items that aren’t due for weeks or months.

Creating a Smart List in Remember The Milk

In Remember The Milk, I can click a button and see all tasks that are “ETR” and are all due within the next week. Let me show you how.  

I create what’s called a “Smart List.” If you’re listening on the podcast, you will want to come over to the YouTube channel or the blog post.

In the left sidebar, look for “Smart Lists” and click the little plus side beside it.

In the box that appears, look for “Looking for even more power? Switch to the query editor.” Click the link.

I am giving you a screenshot of exactly what to type in that box. In the body of the blog post, you’ll be able to copy the query and paste it in the box, because the query is a little long and must be exact.

When you’ve entered the information, click the “Add” button and your creation appears in the “Smart Lists” menu. One click shows you all “ETR” items upcoming for the next week.

What have I ordered?

One of the biggest “ETR” areas for any of us consists of things we order online. Just before Christmas, I was seeing the following post on Facebook:

“At this point, I’ve ordered so much stuff that I don’t even know what’s happening anymore. If Amazon shows up with a goat tomorrow, it is what it is.”

You could handle this type of “ETR” using what we’ve talked about already. I developed a very quick way using the Evernote Web Clipper. When you finish that Amazon order, you find yourself looking at that final screen, one that tells everything you ordered, gives the confirmation number, and even tells you when it will arrive. Wouldn’t that be great information to save? I use the Evernote Web Clipper. The Web Clipper creates a new note and pastes all of that information. I save the note in a notebook called…you guessed it…”ETR.”

If you are an Evernote user and are familiar with Evernote and the widgets you can have, I have a filtered note widget called “ETR.” Right from Evernote Home, I see little pictures of the “ETR” notes in my system. When an order arrives and everything is in good order, I delete the note.

Let’s face it, we live in a world where too few people have good systems. But how much control over them do you have? Where you and I have control is over ourselves. And what you and I control is our ability to structure a system that allows for forgetfulness, poor systems, and even intentional neglect on their part.

And something else we can do is serve as models. When we’re organized and we make it look easy, other people ask the question, “How do you do that?” And when those around you become better organized, it makes life easier for you.

You’ve now learned how to follow up and follow through when it’s them. Next week, we’ll look at how to follow up and follow through when it’s you.

So here’s your action item for this week. What are you waiting on from other people? Take a few minutes to identify them. Put them on your list. Assign due dates to prompt you to follow up. Tag it “ETR.” Now relax and work the system. It’s too simple not to do.

Life is too short and time too precious to waste one more day. I am accepting a few coaching clients and am accepting speaking engagements. Schedule a free call with me to discuss how we can work together. Every good thing you do happens through the dimension of time. I can help you make the most of your time by helping you set up simple systems.

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