Tools for Thought

Thinking beyond productivity

Tracking External Dependencies with the Waiting For List

by Andre · 3 Comments

Waiting ForYesterday I talked about the importance of closing open loops. For the greatest peace of mind, it’s important to track all incomplete cycles of action, not just your own. Regardless of how much of your project you delegate, you’re the one who has to live with the results, so if someone else drops the ball, you’re ultimately the one who’s responsible.

Depending on others can be nerve racking without a reliable system for tracking. Fortunately, it’s a simple as creating a list that runs parallel to your To Do or Next Actions list: the Waiting For list.

A placeholder for all dependencies

It’s not just the actions of other people that need to be tracked. We also need to a way to identify conditions that are beyond our immediate control, especially if their state determines our ability to move forward on a project or action.

For instance, as I write this, I need to complete an affiliate program that requires me to email certain information from an affiliate network that I just joined. I don’t have the information yet, but should receive it shortly. Typically on a to do list, I would write down something like, “Email registration info to affiliate.” But that’s not a next action; it’s a multiaction task.

Instead, I want to dumb things down so that I’m not looking at a task I can’t do yet. I only want to see either the specific actions that I can do, or the inputs required for further action. A Next Action list holds my outputs. The Waiting For list holds my inputs. So in this case, I would put “Acme Affiliate Network 9/10: registration info” on my Waiting For list. If the next action to be taken after the Waiting For item is checked off isn’t self-evident, I can append the action to my listing, as in: “Acme Affiliate Network 9/10: registration info for emailing to affiliate.”

The general format for a Waiting For is [name of person/institution] [date]: [deliverable] [(optionally) for/to subsequent action]. In a rare case, the Waiting For will be a situation rather than an individual or organization, like a weather condition.

The Waiting For habit

The Waiting For list is only as effective as your habit of reviewing it regularly. Waiting For entries aren’t like calendar items that you can set to remind you with an alarm. The status of each item needs to be monitored at least daily, otherwise your ability to act on any resolved dependencies will be that much less responsive.

If you’re already a GTD user, I’m preaching to the choir, but if you normally use nothing more than a to do list, you’ll be surprised at how many leaks you can plug in group projects by just adding this one list to your task management.

Make it a habit to write down your Waiting For items the moment you delegate a task to someone. When I still had a job, I always made a point of showing my Waiting For list to coworkers. Once your associates are aware that you keep a Waiting For list, they know that you’re actively tracking the tasks you give them, and they often follow through on them more reliably without further prodding. If they don’t, at least you have a list of who to prod and when.

(Photo credit: -=A=-)

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Tags: GTD · Productivity


  • Six Time Management Tools from Julie Morgenstern | Tools for Thought // Feb 26, 2009 at 10:21 pm

    [...] Delegate. Enlist the help of others: employees, family members or friends. Many hands make light work. Sometimes resistance to delegation stems from an underdeveloped or overdeveloped ego, but often it’s simply the lack of a trusted technique of tracking external dependencies with a Waiting For list. [...]

  • Telemarketing ListNo Gravatar // Sep 30, 2010 at 7:29 am

    This is one of the things that worries me most when I think about having someone work for me. I am a bit of a control freak and I don’t know if I can trust someone else to do the job as well as I can do it. I’d end up worried about being left incomplete.

  • AndreNo Gravatar // Sep 30, 2010 at 7:36 am

    That’s what’s great about the Waiting For list: you don’t have to leave matters to trust. If you’re waiting for something, you document it and review it as needed, and then it’s off you mind.