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43Folders.com is Merlin Mann’s website about finding the time and attention to do your best creative work.

What are _you_ 'waiting on?'

A confession. I’ve been reloading this page every 3 minutes for the last week. I’m totally fixated on obtaining a copy of TextMate and have already mentally ascribed it powers that include many of the miracles described by Saints Matthew and Mark. Setting my saliva and expectations aside for just a moment, this has me thinking a bit about my “waiting on” list and just how effectively (or not) I’m using it to get things done.

My “waiting on” list

First, some quick anatomy. I suspect that I have a lot of the same sorts of things on my “waiting on” list that you have on yours. I’ve broken mine into three sections that are meaningful to me and that roughly represent ascending levels of check-in frequency:

  1. Now - Things I need from someone to accomplish current, due tasks. These are serious barriers that are potentially stopping deadlines from being met. Gratefully I seldom have more than an item or two here. This would be something like a new logo I need for a site that launches this week; something I need to bang on daily to make sure progress continues without interruption.
  2. Follow-up - These items cover middle-term events and deliverables that I just need “soon.” These might include things I know will arrive soon or eventually like incoming essays for The Long Winters’ site (that’s a passive-aggressive ping, Mr. Roderick) or a form I need to fill out for a client’s records in order to get paid.
  3. Occasional check-in - These are things that I hope happen soon but have no way to anticipate or predict. Still, I’d like to know about when it does happen so I check in every week or two. For me this includes stuff like a new software release or support for a feature I’d like in an app I’m thinking of using.

The thread that runs through all of these is that the onus is on me to a) make sure these items represent part of a commitment I’ve made, and b) make sure they actually get done (even if it’s not my direct responsibility); otherwise, they should get moved onto my “Maybe/Later” list, right? So the questions on my mind are:

  • How do I make sure I’m checking in often enough?
  • How do I ensure I’m prepared to execute when the items are available?

Staying on top of things

The simple answer for getting these items done is to convert them into next actions. If I have a “waiting on” item that says “Receive new logo from Jim” for more than a day or two, it might benefit me to generate “Call Jim to nail down delivery date and dependencies for new logo” as a next action. Now I’m in the driver’s seat, ensuring that bad communication or just old-school slack don’t prevent my client’s cool new site from launching on time.

Another idea is to use a future note to yourself. Maybe I drop a message in my tickle file for a week from today reminding me to check on something. If it’s a web site I’m interested in tracking, I can get a service like Watch that page pointed at it (note that there’s a handy “Track” tab in the URLInfo bookmarklet to help you with this using a variety of services.)

The bottom line is that I don’t want to allow my “waiting on” list to enable sloth or accidentally create unrealistic expectations on my part. I really don’t want it to degrade into a de facto parking lot for stuff I never intended to follow-up on in the first place. That’s when things start to crumble.

Staying ready for delivery

Try this exercise. Run through all the items in your “waiting on” list and mentally generate the next action that would need to follow from immediate delivery of each item. Does it change anything about how you want to handle things now--while it's still ductile? Does it, in fact, actually generate a few new next actions?

While GTD turns on not over-anticipating the next-next-action, I think it can be very valuable to turn the compost of your “waiting on” list if it starts to seem a little janky. Make sure that every item in there is truly something you can’t or shouldn’t act on right now. Could a single less-than-two-minute action do anything to move one of these items forward? You might be surprised at what you can move off your plate when you think about it.

Sigh. Well, it’s been 23 minutes since I started writing this and TextMate is still not up. In that time though, I’ve made these mental notes on what I’ll do when it is:

  • backup GTD lists and migrate to TM
  • test macro functionality
  • find any HTML and CSS modules
  • pay the shareware

Ah, impatience, you magnificent bastard. The best things in life truly seem to come while “killing time.”

More on Getting Things Done

About Merlin

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Merlin Mann is an independent writer, speaker, and broadcaster. He’s best known for being the guy who created the website you’re reading right now. He lives in San Francisco, does lots of public speaking, and helps make cool things like You Look Nice Today, Back to Work, and Kung Fu Grippe. Also? He’s writing this book, he lives with this face, he suffers from this hair, he answers these questions, and he’s had this life. So far.

Merlin’s favorite thing he’s written in the past few years is an essay entitled, “Cranking.”




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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