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"Waiting for" list vs. Tickler

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  • "Waiting for" list vs. Tickler

    I've been incrementally implementing more GTD bits into my workflow at work. Some of these bits are the "Waiting for" list and the Tickler system.

    For one example, with the e-mails I send, if I will need to "keep an eye" on them for later follow-up (if I don't hear back) I will BCC myself on them, and an Outlook rule puts them into my "Waiting" mail folder. I can then review this folder periodically to see whether I need to ping anyone on any of those topics.

    This works fine except I end up with a long list of Waiting mails that I have to look through every time I scan the folder. This is exactly the kind of repetitive work that I believe the GTD system should be helping us avoid.

    Is there any reason not to stick "Waiting for" items into the Tickler, for example: suppose I need to hear back from Joe by Friday. I could BCC myself on that, and stick my copy into a Tickler mail folder for Friday's date. When that day comes, I empty the folder out and "ah! I need to ping Joe for a response." Just like a physical Tickler system.

    I guess my question is, why have these two separate systems -- Waiting For and Tickler -- to begin with, instead of just using the Tickler?

    I think there is a small philosophical difference between the two, where the Tickler is technically for things that don't require action now, but might (or will) require action later -- meanwhile the Waiting For list is when you have no action to take other than reaching back out for a response. But is this small difference worth keeping two separate systems? Or am I missing a subtle yet important detail?

    Thanks!

  • #2
    How about a hack?

    Why don't you add the due date to the subject field in a specific format and then when reviewing your waiting for folder, search with the logic 'x date or earlier' and then review the list that way. that way anything that is not yet due you don't have to look at.

    and in lotus notes, there is a message thread view ... I seem to remember something similar in outlook. so when you get a message back with the due item, you can flip to the message view, locate the waiting for bcc item, and archive the bcc when processing the new email.

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    • #3
      I hope someone can help you sort out the philosophy on this one, but I like to use this service with emails that I need to take later action on. I consider if my tickler file: http://www.followupthen.com/ Basically you bcc the site with a specific date and they resend the email to you on that date.

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      • #4
        Originally posted by GMX View Post
        I guess my question is, why have these two separate systems -- Waiting For and Tickler -- to begin with, instead of just using the Tickler?
        I like having a distinct list of things that I'm waiting for other people to do for me. That way I can review a complete inventory of those things and think about them in a similar way.

        The tickler file can be used to hold reminders about following up on these items but I see the tickler system as something different. For example, if I see something that I might want to buy in a catalog I tear it out and slip it into the tickler file two weeks ahead so that I can let the glow of a potential impulse purchase wear off. After the two weeks 8 times out of 10 I toss the item, 1 time out of 10 I forward it two more weeks out because I'm still not sure, and the other 1 time I buy it.

        The tickler is also great for storing those concert tickets that you got in the mail but the event's still four weeks away. You'll never have to worry about losing the ticket again; it magically shows up in your inbox a day before (provided you work the system like you're supposed to do so).

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        • #5
          For my part - I don't rely on any aspect of my email system for lists, I find the mixing of tools to be a downhill slope too quickly. That said - if you use Outlook, you could use the flag feature, which allows you to set a specific date flag. That way each day when you check this list you only check the items that are flagged for that day, and once followed up, you reset the flag (or the follow up replaces the original email, with its own flag). I assume many other email programs have similar functionality.

          For my part - I clear out my sent items just as frequently as my inbox, filing and deleting where appropriate, and where there is any action stemming from a sent item - either a commitment from me to do something, or a follow up required because I have asked someone to do something for me/give me a response, I add that onto my "Waiting For" list. It gets an original entry date stamp so I know when I put it on there, and then I track the most recent follow up date in the description (eg "Follow up Fred re: feedback on proposal (last on 23/8 )").

          Hope that helps...

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          • #6
            I view the ticker and the Waiting For as two very different aspects. For me, the Waiting For is generally for actions on a project or for things I have to track. I manage a team of 10 and need to keep tabs on all the activity in addition to my work and tasks. My Waiting For is fairly extensive. For one of my Areas of Focus, I have "Things to do" and "Things to Manage". The second is where most of my Waiting Fors reside. I also have a context of "Projects-Delegated" that is another form of Waiting for. This allows me to track where people are on specific tasks and provides me a list of projects to review with the team members. When I send an email, I BCC myself to an email to my List Manager (MyLifeOrganized) and promptly label it "Waiting For" and click the start date. This allows me to know when it was assigned and how long it has been outstanding.

            The tickler is used as a reminder for something I want to do, get, review etc. I use a combination of a Google calendar with comments for the day and a couple of folders that go into my bag. This setup works well for me.

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            • #7
              I attach my first outgoing message to an Outlook task, set a reasonable review-again date in the @Waiting For folder, and wait. When the time's up, I forward my original message to the original recipient with a "Do you have any information for me on the attached?" note. That way, he sees the date/time-stamped version of my original request. Repeat as necessary. (My record was 9 layers of messages. In that particular case, I just gave up, as it was clear that he was not going to respond.)

              Joe

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              • #8
                My system is designed so that Waiting For should never need to be checked. When a project reaches a point where it's waiting for something, I add a "WAITING FOR: (Whatever)" Next Action to the top of the project, put that project aside into a Pending bucket, and I don't go back to it until whatever I'm waiting for comes back.

                How do I make whatever I'm waiting for come back? There are categories:

                - Things that are somebody else's problem to trigger. Let's say that Joe needs to document System X, and he asks me to document Subsystem X.14a. I write the rough draft and ship it to Joe along with a list of questions. I have a next action (maybe "review questions and document Joe's answers"), but it's Joe's problem to decide when, or whether, that activity ever resumes. So I leave that project in Pending, precede its existing Next Action with a Next Action of "WAITING FOR: Joe" and I never look at it again until Joe gets back to me. (OK, eighteen months later I may ask Joe if that project has died, so I can delete the project, but that's decluttering rather than workflow.)

                - Things that are my problem to trigger, but the date when action will take place is uncertain. In this case, the project remains in Pending and its Next Action keeps a context of WAITING FOR. Separately, I'll add a trigger, something like "Follow up with Fred about Task B", perhaps with a context of Email or Followup or Phone or Agenda-Fred. Sometimes those triggers will repeat - daily, weekly, monthly, whatever's appropriate. All of those triggers live in their own list, separate from their associated projects.

                - Things that are my problem to trigger, but the date when action will take place is known. This is really no different from the above, except that the trigger is phrased differently ("Activate 2013 Taxes project") and it's not likely to be repeating. When the trigger comes up I drag the project out of Pending and make sure it has a Next Action. (Or I re-delay it and write another trigger.)

                As a separate issue, I think that using emails as triggers or actions adds extra work - a single email may include more than one action, a single action may be described in more than one email, the Subject lines may or may not make the actions clear; in general, dredging out the action requires a lot of reading of emails, and in a long list, you're reading them over and over.

                I treat emails as reference material, and my actions live in OmniFocus (for my personal system) or the To Do part of Outlook (for my work system.) If an action is tightly tied to an email, I'll mention the email in the action. ("Gather details on bug report; see 7/13 email from Jane Smith.") Even if the action is as simple as "Read Joe's email from 8/12, subject 'Problem'" I'll put that action in the To Dos, because I want all of my actions in one place.

                The only time when I can imagine using emails as part of my workflow would be if I got a lot of emails that produced near-identical rote tasks. Even then, I would tuck the emails into a folder and add a task to my To Dos phrased something like "Go through Received Resumes email folder and file resumes."

                I should add: I don't usually have "read email from..." actions - normally I leave my emails showing as "unread" until I've read them and extracted any actions into my system. Then I stuff them into an archive for the year, un-sorted, because the associated actions will tell me how to find them by sender and date.

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                • #9
                  When I have a "waiting for", I decide when I'll next need to take action on it (e.g. when I'll need to remind someone), and put a note in my Tickle file. I don't have a separate "Waiting for" list.

                  Reasons to have a separate list could include:

                  -- The "waiting for's" may be reminders, not actions. That is, you may want to stay aware
                  of them so that, for example, if the person hands you the results you don't stare
                  at them blankly and say "What? Oh, yeah, that." It works better to look at a
                  lot of reminders one after another than to mix reminders with things requiring
                  immediate action, because the frame of mind you need to be in is different.

                  -- Looking at the "waiting for's" regularly may help you avoid piling too much
                  work onto one person

                  -- When you receive the result, if you want to remove the item from your system
                  it may be easier to find in a "waiting for" file than in some unknown date in
                  your Tickle file. (I just leave it in the Tickle file and remove it when I come
                  to it; I rely on myself to remember that the thing is already done.)

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by cwoodgold View Post
                    Looking at the "waiting for's" regularly may help you avoid piling too much work onto one person
                    Yes! Thank you for including this! When I reviewed my waiting for list earlier in the summer, I had a whole page of things that I was waiting for from my husband. I re-evaluated which things he REALLY needed to do (replace air filter - yep, I hate the attic) and which I could put back on my plate (finding errant receipts, for example).

                    So, noticing that helped me to not pile on too much. Good observation!

                    Dena

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