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

April 25, 2017

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.

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.

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 have used Things, Todoist, OmniFocus, and Nozbe.)

  • 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:

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

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).

Accept your responsibility to wait and write it down!

Question: How do you stay organized when you’re waiting on someone for something?

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