Focus On This Podcast

80. Master the Art of Follow-Up



In the middle of meetings, details fly back and forth at rapid speed. You agree to take ownership of several next steps. But you’ve already forgotten one before you walk out the door, or it falls through the cracks of your overwhelming to-do list. How do you keep track of what you need to do and actually follow through?

In this episode, Verbs and Blake interview Aleshia, Michael Hyatt & Company’s execution extraordinaire, to learn her tips, tools, and hacks for mastering the art of follow-up. They’ll show you how to develop a system for capturing tasks and following through so that you can become the high-achieving colleague others can count on.

In this episode, you’ll discover—

  • How to turn your actions into pro-actions
  • The value of creating space to think and plan
  • Why scheduling meetings with yourself keeps your mental to-do list clear
  • The power of forethought to anticipate needs during meetings
  • The top five tools and apps to follow up like a pro

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Episode Transcript

Verbs: Welcome to another episode of Focus on This, the most productive podcast on the Internet, so you can banish distractions, get the right stuff done, and finally start loving Mondays. I’m Verbs, here with Blake Stratton and Aleshia Curry. Aleshia, welcome back to the show. Good to have you back.

Aleshia: Hey, happy to be here. What’s up, y’all?

Verbs: It has been a while, but I believe last time you were here on the show you were in the role of executive assistant and project coordinator for our product team here at Michael Hyatt & Company, and since then, because of your project managing skills and all of who you are, you have received a promotion and an upgrade. What are you doing now with the company?

Aleshia: I have the fortune of having been promoted to client care manager. So, I’m super excited, and thank you for that congratulations.

Blake: Verbs, are you happy that I’m back? I mean…

Verbs: Oh! And then we have Blake Stratton. Welcome back, Blake. Glad you are here.

Blake: I’ve received zero promotions since we last spoke, Verbs, but thanks for asking. I’m excited to have Aleshia on here because… She has her radio voice going right now, but here’s the deal with Aleshia, everybody: she gets stuff done. That’s just the deal. What we’re talking about today, I think, Aleshia, you are great at. I’ve experienced it firsthand from you to me on multiple occasions. It is essentially the art of following up. Let me cue this up for everybody.

Verbs: Please do.

Blake: Maybe you’ve been here. Verbs probably hasn’t been here, because he’s a much nicer and more conscientious person than me, but the rest of you listening maybe have been there.

Verbs: I just forgive quickly.

Blake: That’s what it is. Sometimes I’ll do this, where you see someone. You know, you’re grocery shopping maybe, and you bump into someone. You’re like, “Oh my gosh! Oh yeah. Let’s hang out. We should totally do coffee. Let’s connect.” Then, by the time you are rounding the dairy aisle, it has already slipped through the cracks and out of your mind, and it just never happens.

Which is fine, except when you go grocery shopping the next week or two weeks later and you bump into the same person. You’re like, “Oh, right. Remember how I was supposed to text you for coffee and we were supposed to hang out or connect and then I never did?” There are only so many “Oh, I’m sorry; I’ve got to run” excuses before I start feeling like, “Man, I’m letting too many things fall through the cracks.”

I’m sharing that as in a social setting, but we probably all have experienced it in the workplace, in home relationships, and elsewhere, where you talk about an action, a meeting, something in Slack maybe, if you use that app, but then it falls through the cracks. It doesn’t actually ever occur, and then it comes back at you later on and you have to scramble. Then if that happens more and more, then, all of a sudden, you’re putting out fires. Anyway, Verbs, have you ever been there? Be honest.

Verbs: Yeah. First of all, I just want to say, I do forgive you for all of those ghostings on the coffee invites when we met at the grocery story.

Blake: Okay. Thank you. I thought on a public podcast would be the time to broach that with you, so thank you for forgiving me.

Verbs: It’s no problem. I forgive quickly. But yeah, it’s bound to happen, especially when you have a growing team. Tasks are kind of going all over the place, and you’re working cross-collaboratively, and it’s one of those things where there’s an important task that definitely falls through the cracks. The reason we have Aleshia here is she’s… We won’t reveal her actual nickname quite yet, but she is very fantastic at catching these things, even when you don’t know she’s catching them. So, we’re going to have her address some of these questions to help us close the gaps, eliminate the cracks. We’re excited to get into it.

We’ve already been talking about this whole idea of spring cleaning. Oftentimes, when we get to this time of the year, there’s a list of things we want to do. Most of the time, all of those things don’t get done, but when they come back up, it’s always that thing we wish we would have gotten to to kind of create space, not only in our homes but also on our calendar. So, today, we’re going to be focusing in on the art of follow-up.

Blake: In my example of seeing Verbs at the grocery store, saying, “Hey, yeah, we’ve got to hang out…” When we do that a lot, it ends up being a lifestyle of reaction, a lifestyle of just reacting haphazardly to things. We want to talk about following up with Aleshia because she’s so great at the opposite of that. Aleshia, maybe you can speak to this, but we want to cue people up so they’re actually ahead of things.

It’s kind of like when your house is finally clean and you feel in control again. Once you maybe create some peace, how you can keep from all the stuff falling through the cracks is through the art of follow-up. Aleshia, what does follow-up…? Maybe you could start just kind of defining the terms here, and then why is it valuable, I guess, to spend time thinking about how we do that?

Aleshia: You brought up an interesting point, which is that when you continually have those good intentions to do good things or to be the person who can get things done, you end up overcommitting, saying yes to things without the intention or plan of actually being able to complete those tasks. That is when you end up in that state of reaction all the time. What I have cultivated or just focused on a lot in my career is flipping that and turning those actions into “proaction.” Is that a word? Being proactive consistently.

Verbs: It is now.

Aleshia: Right. That’s a term we’re going to define today.

Verbs: Just so you people know everything she’s saying is accurate and true, she has actually earned the name within Michael Hyatt & Company and the streets of Slack as Aleshia “#Alreadydone” Curry, because by the time we get around to thinking about it and posting about it, she has already tackled the task and is on to the next thing. So, true story.

Aleshia: Totally. That’s where that proaction term comes into play. I’m constantly thinking of “How do I create space to make sure that what we are promising in this meeting gets done?” and creating realistic expectations on when things can get done is also what I’m always on the swivel looking for. So, yeah, I appreciate that. I love my nickname. I take pride in it for sure.

Blake: All right. Can we ask you some questions, then, as the pro, as #Alreadydone, about following up and hopefully give our listeners some tips to step up their game this quarter?

Aleshia: Yes, definitely.

Blake: All right. My first question is, I think, a huge one. When a task comes up or a request comes up or a message comes through or a conversation happens in the grocery store, how do you capture stuff? Before follow-up even kicks in, how do you know…? Capturing is what happens before you can follow up. Right? To know what even there is to follow up on. So, I guess, what kinds of stuff should we be capturing so we can follow up, and then how do you do that?

Aleshia: This is probably going to be my favorite tip of the day. Rather than… You know you’re going to say yes. You want to be the well-intentioned person. You want to be there for people. Instead of just saying, “Yes, I can get that to you” or “Yes, we’ll meet up soon,” trigger an action for yourself. That’s where my tip for this comes in. Rather than trying to schedule the thing, I schedule a reminder for myself to actually think through the thing.

A lot of times, what happens is you’re in a meeting, you’re in a discussion, you catch somebody at the grocery store, and you think of an idea of how you can move that project forward, or whatever may be the case. You aren’t necessarily in the head space of planning how that’s going to happen. That’s where the crack starts to be formed. You are thinking of how great the end goal is without saying, “Okay. I know I’m going to need X amount of time to think this through so I can actually execute on it.”

The hack of all hacks for that is rather than trying to get the thing done while we’re in the meeting, I will literally put a calendar item on my calendar that says, “Reach out to this person about this.” So, I know what it’s about. I know who I need to talk to or how many people are involved. Especially if it’s a follow-up meeting with seven people. I will schedule on my calendar a 30-minute time slot that says what I need to do, and that way it’s handled. I know it’s going to come up in the future when I have time. (That’ll be my second tip in just a second.) I schedule that at a time when I know I will actually be in the head space of planning.

Then the second tip is to identify blocks of time when you know you’ll have the space to plan. You don’t want to do the planning when you’re in the meeting or when you’re having the conversation with the person. You want to set time aside, like, time blocks per week aside that you know, “Okay. I’m going to sit down and reach out to all of the people I need to reach out to to schedule all of the things or to decide who’s going to create this agenda,” or whatever the next right thing is.

But don’t try to decide the next right thing when you’re in the conversation with the person. You just set time aside for yourself. For me, usually that block is Thursday and Friday mornings. I know during those times I’m going to be knocking out all the stuff we talked about in the meetings on Monday and Tuesday.

Blake: Not to get too granular with the capturing thing, but do you always capture through the same channels? For instance, we talk about the Full Focus Planner a lot because it’s what we sell to help support people get the right stuff done. Are you capturing everything in your planner? Do you capture stuff on your phone or through other means? And is part of Thursday and Friday triaging all of the inboxes, I guess you could say?

Aleshia: That’s a complicated question.

Blake: I only ask really in-depth, insightful questions, Aleshia.

Aleshia: Very deep. Again, my role on the product team is to make sure we’re able to juggle all of the balls and keep everything moving, and that goes from granular to big picture. What I capture in my planner are the big-picture things that I know we need to be focusing on for the week. That way, those are my directives for “Okay. I need to be checking on things pertaining to this project on Wednesday, because I know people are waiting on answers from Joel on Wednesday.”

Then, as far as actual tasks, for me, I capture those in my calendar. Again, that’s just my mind trick to make sure I’m actually doing them, that I’m not scheduling things or keeping a never-ending to-do list. For me, the way I get those things done is on my calendar. A lot of other EAs and people on our team will use apps like Todoist. There’s a ton of different ways you can capture those things.

Even reminders. If you have an iPhone, using a reminder so you have that mental check-off is also a great way to do that. But for me, personally, my calendar and my planner are the two things I’m using, where I’m constantly back and forth making sure things get moved if I’m not able to get to them today, checked off, of course, in my planner, and then when they come up in the schedule… Things that get scheduled get done. I live by that.

Verbs: What are some of your strategies that you implement when you need the coordination of maybe several people on the team in order to make something within that project happen?

Aleshia: For me, that’s a pretty natural thing at this point, but to kind of break it down, if you think of… When you put water into a jar, it’s going to go to the point of least resistance. I kind of flip that metaphor around, and I say, “Okay. Who is the hardest person to get scheduled in this group of people who need to meet?” and then I work my way down from there.

So, it is pinging the appropriate people. If they have EAs, of course, reaching out to them and checking their schedules to see when they’re available. Some of that is also knowing whether or not suggesting time blocks is preferable for some people. Once you start to learn people’s preferences, you learn to give…

One person, for instance, it might be better if you give them, “Hey, can you let me know what three days next week you’re available?” But another person, it’s easier to get them to say yes to a scheduled time if you say, “Can you meet at this time or that time?” So, learning those nuances within your team is really important. But definitely the point of most resistance is where I start. So, who’s the hardest to get scheduled?

I’ll confirm a couple of times that they’re available and then start to weed that out with everyone else, knowing that their schedules aren’t as rigid as the person with the most slammed schedule. So, that’s how I typically will go about that. Then the same thing goes with any outside contacts, if we need to meet with vendors and things like that. I’ll usually go with whoever our busiest person is and the outside people and then go from there.

Blake: One thing we talk about, Aleshia, is the importance of understanding what your highest-leverage tasks are every day. We call that the Daily Big 3. A lot of listeners, if they use the Full Focus Planner… There’s that big “1, 2, 3” in there. Other people are just putting it on a sticky note. They’re identifying “What is that main thing I have to get done?” The interesting thing about this episode is that I think following up…

One of the reasons I maybe will resist creating that task in the moment is the sense that I’m already so busy. I already have so much going on, and I don’t want to add another thing. Of course, then stuff ends up falling through the cracks, and then I end up not being able to make that choice later. I understand all that, but for you, in a proactive way, how does the Daily Big 3 work when you have a lot of loose ends to tie up?

Aleshia: That kind of goes back to my calendar hack a little bit. One of the things is being aware of how much time things take. It’s very easy to overcommit or say, “Of course I can get that done for you” if someone just drops something on your plate that you weren’t expecting or planning for for the week. You look at your calendar. You say, “Sure. I’ve got time this afternoon to get that done,” but you don’t necessarily recognize it’s not going to be able to be finished in an afternoon, so then that’s going to carry on and stay on your checklist forever.

You bring up a good point about not wanting to write things down because it’s going to add to your never-ending to-do list. That’s what the calendar hack does for me. It allows me to keep that mental list clear, the same way the planner does when you have your Big 3 and you’re able to focus on what you need to get done for the day. When you use that as a never-ending list, then it becomes cluttered. It’s hard to know which things to focus on and which things can be done later.

So, I’ll use the calendar, booking appointments with myself, which is a very big piece of the follow-up that people don’t necessarily think of. When you think of follow-up or the art of the follow-up, you’re thinking about following up with other people, but following up with yourself is equally as important. It’s holding yourself accountable to the things you say you’re going to do. My calendar hack is how I make sure I follow through on things. So, follow up and follow through.

Following through on those tasks and then being able to make the plans to get them done is where the rubber meets the road, so to speak, as far as the Daily Big 3. Then, since I am kind of, as I like to call myself, the glue for our department, making sure we know where we are, where we need to go, and what is kind of getting left behind if something is falling behind, just kind of keeping tracks on the timelines for different projects…

That’s where the Daily Big 3 comes in for me, knowing, “Okay. This week, this is our Weekly Big 3. These are the objectives we have to get done this week in order for this not to become a fire.” And being able to prioritize things is also very important. Knowing when things can get pushed and when they can’t is another really big thing that helps me.

Blake: It sounds like the secret sauce, if we were going to say, “Here’s a tool or a tip,” is that you’ve used one of the strategies we talk about, which is batching on your calendar time to process. For instance, you said, oh, you have to know what could be pushed and what can’t. It’s hard to really know that if you’re always hustling and reacting, so you use batching. What I’ve heard you say a couple of times now is you have a couple of days where there’s extended time.

Do you use… I guess this is another form of batching, but we also talk about rituals. Is there anything on a daily basis, if it’s a workday startup or shutdown, that’s kind of a canvassing of things you’ve captured? What if something needs to be followed up on Tuesday and it happened on Saturday? Maybe your batch hasn’t happened yet. I’m just sort of thinking through that. What do your rituals look like? How do those serve in the follow-up process for you?

Aleshia: The rituals come in for me… Definitely the workday startup and shutdown is where I’m able to get the lay of the land. Joel and I… I’m the executive assistant for Joel Miller, our chief product officer. We do a daily check-in. That’s the time I use to go through those items we haven’t gotten to. We will literally discuss whether or not I’m going to be able to get to following up with this vendor or that vendor, or this person requested a meeting. Just checking on where that priority should lie within this week or if that should be pushed, things like that.

So, definitely part of my workday startup and shutdown rituals is that check-in, and then doing an email sweep. Holding to not checking email all day every day is also a really big thing. So, email at the start of the day, once at lunch, once in the afternoon. Otherwise, you get stuck staring and waiting for people to respond to things when… And often it’s waiting for responses on things that don’t even require an immediate response.

We have a pretty good communication hierarchy here at Michael Hyatt & Company, so you know if something is an emergency, someone will text you or call you. Outside of that, you can focus on the things you need to get done. I do have days where I will have a lot of meetings so I’m not able to process.

That’s where that Thursday/Friday comes in for me, because most of the other days are either meetings or I’m focused on some sort of research or things like that. So, Thursday and Friday is when I will go through the tasks that are on hold, and then I’m either doing what I can do during those time blocks… But, yeah, definitely batching is the most important skill from Full Focus that I use on a daily basis.

Verbs: I’m actually curious to know, kind of going back to your nickname #Alreadydone… I’ve been in meetings before where the group is discussing something that is just now being discussed, and then your response is… We’re talking about a task, but your response is “It’s already done.”

So, what kind of forethought goes into even before getting to a meeting? You know there are some action steps that are going to be generated out of that meeting, but you’re already anticipating what those are to kind of lighten that whole follow-up task, it seems like. I’m not sure how your brain works in that way, but can you help walk us through what you are considering before you even get into a meeting?

Aleshia: A lot of that comes, for me, at this point in my career at Michael Hyatt & Company, from practice and having been in a lot of these meetings. It’s very easy for me to see the path a meeting is taking. So, if it’s going to be a brainstorming meeting, those typically have certain action items come out of them. If it’s a meeting with a vendor, depending on where we are in the process, the action items that follow… It’s usually only a few different things.

It’s like, “Okay. Who do we need the answer from, and who needs to be working on this part of the task?” and trying to figure out where the friction points are and whether this meeting is going to solve that friction point or if it’s going to lead to another meeting to further discuss the friction point we’re talking about now. Some of that also comes from… Attending meetings is different for different people. For me, attending meetings to take notes… Those are the things I’m always looking for.

I’m listening to how the conversation is flowing, what is going to lead to this, and also where we are in the project. If we’re working on a new book and I know the book deadline is in April, then I know that at this point we should already have cover design. We should already have typeset examples and things like that set, so I know the types of meetings that are necessary to get those things reviewed. You know, so on and so forth.

So, some of that anticipation is just from practice of having been in a lot of the same kinds of meetings, and then the other part is just reading the room, if you will. If you pay attention long enough, you’re able to tell, like, “Okay. This person is probably going to ask me if they can meet with Joel later.” I’ll already have all of the calendars up that I need to be viewing, so I’ll either already have the answer or we’ll have reached out to this person.

If I’m the only EA on the call, then I know in order for them to actually get the action item that just flew in the air done, the EAs need to be involved in making sure that meeting happens. Especially for Joel. If he’s looking at his calendar trying to schedule things, it’s not a good thing. That’s another part of that: self-preservation, trying to keep my own sanity and make sure things run smoothly as we’re moving a project along.

Blake: Okay, Aleshia. Before I let you go, we like our lists over here in Focus on This land. So, if you can give me a top five follow-up pro tool list…an app, technology, a planner maybe…whatever you deem. You’re Aleshia “#Alreadydone” Curry. What’s in the top five for you?

Aleshia: You definitely need an app for project management. For me, that is Asana…me and our company. You definitely need a calendaring system for yourself. You need to have a way to keep yourself on track and in meetings on time and out of meetings on time and to school pickup on time.

For me, that’s Google Calendar. I know some people like iCal or Outlook. I’m a Google Calendar girl all day. I like the color coding. Anyone who has walked past my laptop when I have all of my calendars up, it drives them nuts, but it’s the only way I stay sane. That might be app numbers four, three, and two, but those two for sure.

Then for communication, you also need an app for that. For email we use Spark, and then for internal quick communication, so you don’t have insanely long threads of emails, we use Slack. Those two things, I would say, are three and two, and then, of course, number one has to be the Full Focus Planner. That’s going to be your boots on the ground.

That’s what keeps you grounded and sane as you’re going through your day, in and out of meetings, being able to keep track of the little things as you’re going through or just thoughts you have about a brainstorm or ideas that come up that you aren’t able to necessarily have a meeting about, per se, but you still want to capture those to enable you to move forward.

Then I’ll plug my hack again, which is to follow up with yourself. Schedule an actual appointment with yourself for 15 minutes that tells you what to do, when to do it, so you don’t have insanely long lists of to-dos. But the planner to help you to keep track of what is important this week is definitely my number one go-to.

Blake: What a wonderful, unbiased opinion. The planner is number one. You heard it here first.

Aleshia: Totally unbiased.

Blake: Ladies and gentlemen…

Verbs: Number one.

Blake: I think that’s great. I don’t know your story. I loved the planner years before I worked here. It became that tool to help me with the follow-up. So, whether you use the planner or not, hopefully you make use of that tool set, these tips from Aleshia. Thank you so much for sharing your genius with us today on the art of the follow-up.

Aleshia: Fun fact: I have been here since the planner was born. I was here in the meeting when the planner was being sketched out.

Verbs: What was your number one tool before the planner was born?

Aleshia: Sticky notes, and it was horrible. It was a horrible life. I’m actually not sure how I was a successful executive assistant before then, but sticky notes and the calendar were my go-to beforehand. I was a planner geek in school, so I liked the moose planner we had in elementary school. But, yeah, as an adult it was sticky notes, and it was not pretty. Thank goodness I was there for the birth of the planner and all of the different iterations since then.

Verbs: The good news is you don’t have to let tasks fall between the cracks. By developing a system for capturing and executing your tasks, you can master the art of following up and following through. Aleshia, before we let you go, do you have any final thoughts for our Focus on This listeners?

Aleshia: No final thoughts. Just keep the importance of follow-up with yourself right up there with following up with other people, because it is equally as important.

Blake: That’s a good final thought right there. Short and sweet. Let’s get out of here. We have some following up to do, Verbs. Let’s wrap it up.

Verbs: Thanks for joining us on Focus on This. This is the most productive podcast on the Internet, so please share it with your friends. Remember to use #focusonthispodcast. We’ll be here next week with another great episode. Until then…

All: Stay focused!