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the death of my "waiting for" list

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  • the death of my "waiting for" list

    Hi all -

    I work for a family business and am in the process of trying to handle more and more of it on my own as my parents ease into retirement. GTD has been instrumental in helping me maximize my effectiveness and take control of my time.

    As we primarily deal with colleagues, suppliers, and customers overseas, much of our business is conducted via email. I receive and send hundreds of emails a day. As it is extremely important for me to make sure that I follow up on every detail (because without fail, the minor detail I fail to follow up on turns into a crisis), I used to funnel copies of all my sent mail into my "waiting for" folder.

    The problem is, my waiting for folder was huge, and it was difficult to distinguish which items needed to be followed up more urgently than others. It was difficult to sift through my entire waiting for folder every day to make sure that there was not something urgent that I was neglecting to follow up on in time.

    Recently, I've been bypassing the "waiting for" folder entirely and using my calendar (I use iCal on my Mac) to set follow up reminders for a few days ahead, depending on the urgency of the issue. Essentially, my calender becomes my tickler as well, and using an electronic calendar makes it easy for me to move my items between days, and having a long list of items does not bother me. Furthermore, reminders for less urgent issues are put further ahead, so they do not occupy my pysche unneccessarily.

    Essentially, my routine has become as follows:

    1.) I BCC myself on every sent email, and my sent emails for that day are all kept in a mail folder.
    2.) The next day, I move all of these sent emails into my inbox, and use the "view as threads" feature so that emails that were received overnight are linked and grouped with the emails that I sent the previous day.
    3.) I process emails as normal, and sent emails where the response or issue has already been received do not go into my calendar. Emails that I sent that are still open are entered into my calendar depending on their urgency and need for follow up. This helps prevent unnecessary data entry for issues that will most likely be resolved in 24 hours.

    Let me tell you, this has done so much for me in terms of giving me full trust in my system and has taken me one step closer to "mind like water." I have full confidence that I will review an issue when it needs to be, and if at that time I choose to delay a follow-up further, I can do so without stress or worry.

    But taking this further, unless you have issues with using electronic calendars (I know some people prefer paper, and I understand and respect that), I'm starting to think that the ease of creating entries in a calendar on your computer or handheld, and the ability to move them around easily, I feel like this approach is much better than using a "waiting for" list. It really forces me to close my open loops and conclude my projects faster, while previously I would let things stagnate in my "waiting for" folder because they weren't really urgent. By forcing me to decide upfront what is the acceptable amount of time I'm willing to wait for someone to get back to me, this system helps me relax and trust it so much more.

    In my opinion, this electronic tickler approach for any "waiting for" issue, whether it's a business issue, or whether you are waiting for someone to return something to you, etc. creates much more trust in the system and helps move things forward much more quickly.

    I'm starting to think that I may eliminate my "waiting for" list entirely (I still use a waiting for list for personal matters) in favor of moving completely to this electronic tickler approach.

    I would be interested in hearing people's thoughts on this.


  • #2
    I use a paper system, but I still take much the same approach that you do. When I send an email (or make a phone call), I immediately make a followup note for my tickler. No Waiting For list needed.

    I approach these items the same way I would any other project: what's the Next Action? Rather than passively waiting for something, what do I need to actually do?



    • #3
      I think you use the calendar/tickler and the waiting for list exactly like it's meant to be used. Consider: if the item is due at a specific time/day, it belongs into the calendar. Even if "the item" is unvisible like "see if I got a response to such and such a message". The waiting for list is for items where there is no specific time that "burns" the issue. Like in "I don't car if Sally returns the book this week or the next". So what is the takeaway? First, I can relate to your story because the day when I incorporated the emails I ought to write into my action lists (as opposed to just have the email folders as lists) was a glorious one. So I see this repeated here. Second, the beauty of GTD: when you look into your calendar you see the real picture of your daily work: lot's of emails to do. I would say you earned the next belt here


      • #4
        I had the same problem, an endless w/f list that was hard to manage. I moved my w/f for client/partner projects into a tickler file, which I now review and act upon daily. I've only been doing it a short time and it has already made such a difference. I still use my regular w/f list for regular non-client related projects, such as "John: recommendation for the size of the postcard for next mailing".

        So far, I have been using mainly a paper-based system. However, I'm considering a tech-based system, so that I can coordinate and cross-reference items. I'm wary though, since everything is working rather well now.


        • #5
          I work with an electronic setup.
          My waiting for list is sorted by dates and reviewed regularly. In the result I assume that is nearly the same way as you do. The tickler is used more for upcoming actions like "begin to prepare the annual report".



          • #6
            Originally posted by sdann View Post
            So far, I have been using mainly a paper-based system. However, I'm considering a tech-based system, so that I can coordinate and cross-reference items. I'm wary though, since everything is working rather well now.
            If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Seriously, if it's working, stick with it: it's easy enough to add cross-reference tags to items, using just a word to connect the NA with the project, for example. A paper system is the simplest, fastest, and most customisable there is, and any tech system will have a learning curve and an administrative overhead.

            Stick with paper. I do.


            • #7
              [w] = I'm Waiting For You

              And for those who still want an easy way to add emails to one big Waiting For list, you may want to consider using a [w] in your emails. See

              Kind regards,
              Taco Oosterkamp


              • #8
                Originally posted by TacoOosterkamp View Post
                And for those who still want an easy way to add emails to one big Waiting For list, you may want to consider using a [w] in your emails. See

                Kind regards,
                Taco Oosterkamp
                That has just made my e-mails so much easier - thank you!



                • #9
                  That is a super idea. Just yesterday late afternoon, I was looking for an email I had sent and for which I needed an answer. "I know I had sent it to you... let me see when...argh I can't find it."


                  • #10
                    thank you for sharing this, Taco. I've just created the rule and it works.



                    • #11
                      Outlook rule for e-mails to "@Waiting for" list...

                      Taco, I had a somewhat similar idea, but my "@Waiting for" list is still alive and I just wanted e-mail addressed to my self to be moved to Tasks and given the "@Waiting for" category.

                      My Outlook rule works, but the e-mail is still an e-mail now in the Tasks folder - not a task. And this is an issue as I can not synchronize it with my Palm. The manual version of this (dragging an e-mail to the Tasks icon) works perfectly and converts the e-mail to a task. Any ideas on how to convert the e-mails to tasks in Outlook (2003)?