The Simple Trick to Keep Track of What People Owe You

Great things require, well, multiple people. Delegating to others requires a good follow-up system. Fortunately, it’s just a tiny grid away.

Stever Robbins
5-minute read
Episode #460

Listener Noam writes in: 

Many of my job tasks depend on other people to complete (my boss, colleague, partners, vendors, etc.). I get stuck and sometimes I forget to follow up on them and I don’t complete them. Do you have any tips for tackling tasks when I’m dependent on other people in order to complete them?

Noam, you’ve put your finger on the problem with productivity: it’s other people. Whenever they get involved, we are inconvenienced. Cable TV is full of shows like the Dog Whisperer and Cat Wrangler; what we need is a people whisperer. Someone to make all those pesky people do what is sensible thing. Do what is right. … do what we want them to do. 

I’ve taken steps in the past to fill this role. In A Fail Proof Way to get co-workers to keep their promises, I give a fail-proof way to get co-workers to keep their promises. You can find the episode at getitdoneguy.com/coworkers. It’s all based on mind control, leverage, and leather whips tipped with red silk tassles. 

But in this case, your question isn’t how to brainwash them into mindless, happy compliance with your wishes. You want to know something much deeper: how do you keep track of everything, so nothing falls on the floor. Because sometimes, what falls on the floor is full of nitroglycerine, and it gets a little awkward.

Delegation isn’t just for managers any more

You’re wrestling with a problem that all new managers wrestle with: how to track and manage delegation. “But I’m not a manager, you cry!” 

SURPRISE! In 2017, many workers have no work ethic, feel no obligation to keep commitments, and need to be managed, even if they’re your bosses or co-workers. And the best news of all, you get to do the job of manager without formal authority, and certainly without any pay increase. Woo hoo!! It’s progress! (It could be worse, you could be an Uber driver.)

In order for your life to be better, you’re going to have to start tracking everyone around you. It doesn’t have to be comprehensive tracking, like the NSA, where you record their GPS location and listen to their conversations through their cell phone. These are your co-workers we’re talking about. They do nothing worth eavesdropping on.

Track deliverables and timetables

When you’re in the middle of a maelstrom of work that depends on other people, use a paper grid or a spreadsheet to create a delegation tracking matrix. You can download one from getitdoneguy.com/coworkers.

Across the top, create six columns. Label them item#, who, assigned, what, due, and status. When you are expecting something from someone, fill in a line on the spreadsheet recording what you’re waiting for. Here’s what each column means.

Item# is just a sequence number. Each time you enter a delegation, use the next highest number. This gives you a quick way to refer to the delegation. When your boss says, “where’s that report?” You can say, “I’m still waiting on deliverable #3 in order to produce it.” “Deliverable #3? What’s that?” You pull out your table and consult it with a furrowed brow. “It’s the raw market data which was due from … you, three weeks ago. What’s the status of that?”

Who is the initials of the Awesome Coworker who has promised you some work. When you enter a row into the delegation matrix, make sure the person in the Who column actually knows that you’re expecting something from them.

Assigned is the date that your Awesome Coworker made the promise. You can think of that as the date they began their fall from grace. 

What is a brief description of the deliverable that they are supposed to deliver. And whose failure to deliver will be the embodiment of their fall from grace.

Due is the date they promised to deliver their deliverable. It marks the end of their fall from grace, and the beginning of their life as a known failure, a parasitic despot whose primary function is to feed off your achievement instead of pulling their own weight.

Status is either OPEN, CLOSED, OR LATE. OPEN means that you’re still waiting for the deliverable. CLOSED means that it’s arrived and it’s wonderful and they are once again elevated to the status of Awesome Co-worker. And LATE, well, I don’t have to tell you what that means. 


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.