Paul Jarvis

Do what you say you’re going to do

Paul Jarvis

The dishwasher I bought that was supposed to be delivered last week isn’t here yet. I called the delivery company and they aren’t even sure where it is. The quote I requested from a fence company to fix my fence (a project worth a couple grand) still hasn’t come through. I was told I’d hear about that last week too. These people are the opposite of how to be impeccable with your word.

My point here isn’t to complain. I seriously didn’t expect either job to happen on time. Pretty much any date anyone gives me for something involving paying them or offering to pay them is late.

People often ask me for advice on freelancing and my answer is always the same. It may come across as stupid or reductive, but it’s what’s made me stand out a designer, and now as someone who sells products.

Do exactly what you say you’re going to do

Don’t waiver from this. Don’t do this some of the time. Don’t do this when it suits you. Always do this.

Almost every client I’ve ever had told me they liked working with me because when I said I’d get them something on a particular day, they’d get it. Other designers, they’d tell me, were late on most deliverables and once they were late, they’d start avoiding calls/emails.

I’m not the most talented designer, writer, programmer, anything. Hell, I’m even pretty damn lazy. But if I tell someone I’m going to do something, I do it. If I’m not sure I can get it done in the timeframe they want, I let them know (ahead of time) that it’s going to take longer.

Treat every agreement as a legally binding contract. Because on a societal level, that’s what it is. If you promise to give someone something, then do it. On time. Whether it’s a quote or a deliverable or anything else, it doesn’t matter. If you aren’t sure you can deliver, either say you can’t deliver or pitch a longer amount of time so you can be sure you will.

This forthright approach sets people apart. The fence company I contacted can’t even get me a quote, so how can I be confident they’ll do a good job on the work they supposedly specialize in? The dishwasher, which I sorely need because mine is leaking, gives me a mental note each time I clean up the pool of water it leaves on the floor to never buy an appliance from that appliance store again.

Any time you don’t keep your word, you’re not just letting that one person or business down. You’re losing the opportunity to work with every single contact that person or business has, because you can be sure as shit that they won’t ever send business your way. Or worse, they’ll tell everyone they know that you don’t keep your word. It balloons outwards, like our ever-expanding universe, where you haven’t just ruined your relationship with one potential client or contact, you’ve ruined the chance to work with everyone else they know and could refer you to.

Most of the time, missed deadlines aren’t a massive jerk move by the offending party. We all have good intentions with our time but most of us are absolutely shitty at managing it properly. Which is why it always makes sense to just double or triple the amount of time you think something will take. That way, even if life shits on your face or your dog pees on your laptop, you’ve still got time to deliver.

By doubling or tripling the timeframe, the worst case scenario is that you deliver on time. The best case scenario is that it takes you as long as you figured it would, without doubling or tripling it, and then you deliver early and look like a freaking superhero. Which is kind of the opposite of giving yourself just enough time to do your work, and delivering late because it took longer than you thought. In that case, you probably look like a supervillain (or at least a highly incompetent person).

I’m convinced that you can succeed in business by simply keeping your word and delivering on it. Just like how word travels fast if you miss deadlines, word will travel faster than deer jumping over my broken fence to eat my veggie garden if you always deliver on time. Everyone your satisfied client knows will likely hear about you. How awesome you are. How great it was to work with you. How everything you said you’d do was done, on time! Parades will be held in your honor, and televised so that even more people hear about you. (Ok, maybe not that last part, but you never know!)

It’s simple, really. What you actually do matters much more than what you say you’re going to do. Anyone can talk a big game or over-promise, but the actual follow-through is what creates lasting success.

For the last 15 years, part of my unique selling proposition is that I do what I say I’m going to do for the people who hire me. When I tell someone I’m going to do something, I do it (in the amount of time I say it’s going to take). Sometimes I do more, but never less.

Following through is much harder than it might seem, and that’s why people often fall short. Here’s how I make sure that I do what I say.

Never agree to or promise anything unless you are 100% sure you can do it

Saying “yes” is a contract. From telling someone you’ll call them for lunch next week to saying you’ll have a project finished in 3 days, anytime you agree to something, you’re asking someone to trust that you’ll do it.

Say “yes” only to things you are sure about — sure that you’ll make them happen and sure that it’s something you want to do. Half-assing something or not finishing a task is far worse than saying “no” upfront. Commit with complete conviction or don’t commit at all.

Say no

Telling someone upfront that you can’t or aren’t interested in doing something re-affirms your commitment to your current schedule and tasks. Saying “no” means you not only respect yourself; you respect the other person, because you can’t guarantee to finish or commit to what they want.

Have a schedule

Anytime you say “yes” to something, put it in your calendar and set a reminder (or several). These reminders could involve anything from completing part of a client project on a certain day, to making an agreement with yourself to work out twice a week. Own your tasks to ensure they get done.

And remember that most things will take longer than you expect, so account for setbacks, other commitments and the fact that sometimes life in general will throw you off-course.

Don’t make excuses

Sometimes things happen that are beyond your control. From car accidents to computer crashes to family issues, life is unexpected. You can’t account for everything when you make a commitment, so if something forces you to break your promise, own it—even if it’s not your fault.Don’t make excuses, just offer to make things right.

Be honest

The truth isn’t always the nicest answer. It might not be what someone wants to hear. But if you’re not rude about it, in the long run, everyone is better off. Telling the truth makes life easier and much more productive. This especially includes being honest with yourself.

Sometimes the most unreasonable expectations are ones we put on ourselves.

Being “impeccable with your word” (via Don Miguel Ruiz) means you are being honest with others, and more importantly, with yourself. This is truly the secret to success and the most important thing I’ve learned in my life. You instantly become “that guy/gal” who people want to work with or have on their team. It may require you to think more carefully about your commitments, but in the long run, being honest makes you a trustworthy person who is valuable in just about every situation.