The life-changing magic of a “waiting-for” list

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Do you want more brain space and less stress in your life? Do you want less things to fall through the cracks? I found a sim­ple solu­tion. It’s called a “wait­ing for” list.

I believe a wait­ing-for list can change your life. Before using this, my HEAD was jam packed with stuff to remem­ber. Con­se­quent­ly, a lot fell through the cracks.

Do you have lots of plates spinning?

If you’re any­thing like me, you have lots of plates spinning—non-stop. It can be hard to keep it all togeth­er.

So maybe you’ve start­ed to write things down and get them out of your head. This is a GREAT first step. Now you should con­sid­er keep­ing a wait­ing-for list.

[guestpost]This post was inspired by David Allen’s book Get­ting Things Done. If you have not read this, I high­ly rec­om­mend pick­ing up a copy and check­ing it out. This is just one con­cept from the text that has helped me tremen­dous­ly. There are many oth­ers that I KNOW will help you, too.[/guestpost]

What’s a waiting-for list?

We’ve all heard of to-do lists, but there’s an “extra” list you may con­sid­er keep­ing. It’s called a wait­ing-for list—and it’s where you keep a run­ning log of peo­ple and things you’re wait­ing on before you can do the next step.

Too often when we are doing stuff, we reach a point where DOING is out of our hands. I used to be unaware when some­thing was out of my hands, and I’d be lying awake at night with all kinds of “stress.” Did Mark ever send me that doc­u­ment I need for Tues­day? Isn’t Hope sup­posed to tell me days we can go away to Flori­da?

Why you need this…


A wait­ing for list allows your brain to get CLEAR. Cog­ni­tive sci­ence shows (source) that once we iden­ti­fy some­thing and write it down, our brain is “freed” to be more cre­ative, more ener­gized, and more avail­able to do…LIFE.

Have you ever tried to be cre­ative but COULDN’T because you had too much on your mind? Chances are, you had a few “wait­ing-fors” float­ing in your sub­con­scious that robbed you of your avail­abil­i­ty.

Want more men­tal space when you’re with your spouse or kids? Do you want to be more avail­able when you’re hav­ing lunch with a client? Do you want the abil­i­ty to be cre­ative more often?

A wait­ing-for list can seri­ous­ly help you.

Here’s how it works

Keep a sep­a­rate list of peo­ple and THINGS you’re wait­ing on. You can do this in your Notes app, or on paper, or wher­ev­er. (I use Nozbe and LOVE it.)

  • Wait­ing-for my wife to let me know about vaca­tion dates
  • Wait­ing-for the doc­tor to send lab results (Expect­ed by next Fri­day)
  • Wait­ing-on client to send me pho­tos for cam­paign
  • Wait­ing-for Dave to pro­vide me feed­back on let­ter

Notice the for­mu­la:

[callout]Waiting-for . . . spe­cif­ic per­son . . . to do . . . action­able item (VERB) . . . (+ esti­mat­ed deliv­ery date)[/callout]

This may seem sim­ple at first, but review­ing this list once a week will help your brain (and san­i­ty) stay clear. When you’re no longer wait­ing for some­thing, you cross it off and move on. If you are still wait­ing on some­thing, you have iden­ti­fied it, which will keep your head clear, or you can fol­low up to get a sta­tus update.

Ever lie awake remembering things to do?

Before I used a wait­ing-for list, I would fol­low up with peo­ple when I ran­dom­ly remem­bered. So yes, some­times this meant send­ing email and texts at 3:00am, when I should have been sleep­ing, or at 6:30pm, when I should have been with my wife eat­ing!

With a wait­ing-for list, you can fol­low up with peo­ple more con­sis­tent­ly and clear­ly. If it’s been a week since you’ve been “wait­ing-for Jamie to send pro­pos­al draft,” she may have either for­got­ten, or maybe there was an error on her com­put­er, etc.

Send­ing a quick fol­low up dur­ing your week­ly review (sched­uled time to review your list) will help:

Hey Jamie, I’m review­ing what’s on my plate and noticed I’m expect­ing to receive the pro­pos­al draft some­time soon. Just want­ed to be sure I’m cor­rect in think­ing that you don’t need any­thing else from me. Thanks! Josh

Josh, Thanks for fol­low­ing up! I’m actu­al­ly wait­ing on you to send me the cam­paign results first. Best, Jamie

You can ASSUME items on your wait­ing-for list are com­plete­ly off your plate, but in this sce­nario, it turns out that Jamie need­ed some­thing from me in order to cre­ate what I need­ed from her! This is an added ben­e­fit of the wait­ing-for list. Things you may be “wait­ing on” may have got­ten tan­gled up some­where in the process.

This helps you clarify!

A wait­ing-for list ensures that you—and the oth­er party—agree on the respon­si­bil­i­ty of the action. If it’s fog­gy, you’ll be faced with resis­tance, stress, and non-action.

I often use this kind of lan­guage when I put some­thing on my wait­ing-for list:

  • I’ll make a note that you’ll send me that by the end of the week.” (Then I imme­di­ate­ly make a note on my wait­ing-for list)
  • Client: “I’ll send you this pho­to this week.” Me: Great! I’ll make a note I’m wait­ing-on you for that.
  • Just want­ed to con­firm I’m wait­ing on you to send me copy for the new arti­cle.”

What’s next: WAIT


As some­one who enjoys get­ting things done and DOING, it can be a lit­tle frus­trat­ing when all I can real­ly DO is…wait.

But both you and I have to face this. When we do work, there will always be sit­u­a­tions where the ONLY thing we can do is wait for some­one else to do some­thing. In oth­er words, you can’t do your work, until they do their work!

To give your­self brain space, keep­ing a log of who and what you’re wait­ing for will help you a TON.

A few caveats

Wait­ing on doc­u­ments and files: Some­times it’s bet­ter to imme­di­ate­ly send an email to the oth­er per­son request­ing what you need.

If you need a doc­u­ment from some­one, and they agree to send it to you, send­ing a quick “reminder” gives the oth­er par­ty a trig­ger to send the item. It makes their life eas­i­er because they don’t need to cre­ate a NEW mes­sage and type a sub­ject line, and etc. They can sim­ple attach what you need and SEND.

If you’re deal­ing with some­one who is for­get­ful, it might be a good idea to make a note on your wait­ing-for list that they need to actu­al­ly REPLY, plus send them the trig­ger mes­sage. This will keep your head clear because you know the respon­si­bil­i­ty is out of your hands until they do their part.

Wait­ing on a sim­ple email reply. Some­times you need sim­ple infor­ma­tion like a meet­ing date or an “approval.” For this, I usu­al­ly do not make an addi­tion­al wait­ing-for note. I’ll send my mes­sage or reply, then archive the thread, trust­ing that the oth­er par­ty will respond. (In my expe­ri­ence, if your email has a clear, action item or ques­tion, peo­ple respond.)

How­ev­er, if the per­son is for­get­ful or if I’m send­ing the email on a Fri­day after­noon or dur­ing a busy time of the year (back-to-school, hol­i­days, vaca­tion time)—I will reply to their mes­sage AND make a note that I’m wait­ing on their response.

5 benefits of a waiting-for list

  1. Allows your brain to be clear. Rather than try­ing to keep every­thing in your head, you can sleep more deeply know­ing that every­one you’re wait­ing on is writ­ten down in a trust­ed place.
  2. You have a rou­tine to fall back on. If you con­sis­tent­ly make a note when­ev­er you’re wait­ing on some­one, you only have to remem­ber ONE thing rather than TEN. Yes this is a new habit, but real­ize that if you’re keep­ing every­thing in your head, you’re cur­rent­ly remem­ber­ing LOTS of stuff. With this new rou­tine, all you have to remem­ber is get it on your list!

  3. You always know who you’re wait­ing for. In order to reap this ben­e­fit, you must trust and USE your wait­ing-for sys­tem. You must revis­it the list con­sis­tent­ly and remind your­self that you’re wait­ing on those peo­ple. If you don’t, you’ll even­tu­al­ly for­get who you’re wait­ing-for and you’re back to where you start­ed.

  4. You can occa­sion­al­ly check in with the oth­er per­son if you DON’T hear back from them. Rather than guess­ing who was sup­posed to do what, you have a doc­u­ment­ed log that Greg was sup­posed to do that—not you!

  5. Clear exchange of respon­si­bil­i­ty. It is SO much eas­i­er to get through life when you know exact­ly what you’re sup­posed to do. (Some­times we don’t get this lux­u­ry…) By using a wait­ing-for list, both you and the oth­er per­son KNOW what their respon­si­bil­i­ty is. You accept your respon­si­bil­i­ty to WAIT—and they accept their respon­si­bil­i­ty to ACT. Since you’ve doc­u­ment­ed this, you can hold the oth­er per­son account­able for their com­mit­ment (i.e. Send them a friend­ly reminder).

[share­able cite=“Josh Mitchell”]Accept your respon­si­bil­i­ty to wait and write it down![/shareable]

[reminder]How do you stay orga­nized when you’re wait­ing on some­one for something?[/reminder]

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