There are times in your life when your ‘to do’ list is scuppered by someone or something else. You want to finish that work project, but you’re waiting on someone else to complete their share. You want to make an appointment at your favourite salon but they’re closed for refurbishments. You’re waiting for your new passport to arrive before you book flights. You want to start designing your future-build dream house but you’re waiting for your husband to get his arse in gear. (Ahem.)
Or how many times have you waited for a confirmation email, or a callback, and been stuck in limbo in the meantime? Or, worse, completely forgotten about it. Or something you’ve ordered hasn’t arrived yet and you can’t remember when you placed the order and how long delivery was supposed to take so you don’t know if a snotty email would be premature.
If you knew when these things were happening, you’d rarely have a problem — you’d just add the ‘to do’ to the specific day (like sending a ‘thank you’ note, or a reminder to chase something up because it’s now overdue). But a problem arises when you don’t know when something is due, so you don’t know what to do about it. (’Tis an oft-repeated mantra of mine that “I don’t deal in indefiniteness.”)
You could add it to the day you think you’ll be able to do it but then, if it happens later, you’ll have to keep bumping it forward. Slightly irritating and, if the job is a reasonably big one, you may be unnecessarily trying to plan things around it. For example, you may think you’ll be able to get that big house renovation done this weekend because you assume delivery of all the necessary bits and bobs will be by Friday, so you go about cancelling all your plans and sanding down your sideboards. And then the delivery is a no-show and you’re left standing there in your overalls having to re-arrange plans for the following weekend too.
Do nothing ’til you know something.
If you don’t write it down, you run the risk of forgetting about it altogether and then realising that not only was something supposed to happen, but it’s now too late to do anything about it.
The best way I’ve found to solve this problem and to keep track of things is a “Waiting for” list (taken from David Allen’s GTD method, which I’d highly recommend and will be covering in a lot more detail in future posts). I write down the thing I’m waiting for and, if applicable, when I ordered/requested it, when it was shipped, when it’s due/when the deadline is, etc. Basically, all the information is right there, without needlessly clogging up my ‘to do’ list.
I also prioritise the list in the order that I think things will be done. It’s often a guessing game but, when the list is long, it saves me having to scroll through the whole thing. I mean, there’s no point putting something at the top of the list if I’ve only ordered it in the last hour.
I review the list every few days, and delete anything that’s no longer relevant, adding any required action to my regular ‘to do’ list. If something is overdue, I follow up, using the information in the list to reference the relevant dates and information (and then add that follow-up to the ‘Waiting for’ list too).
So what are the benefits?
- It saves me adding things to my ‘to do’ list unnecessarily, so I can focus on the things I know I can get done, rather than things I think I might be able to work on that day.
- It ensures I never forget anything that doesn’t have a definite date attached to it, which could otherwise easily slip off the radar.
- It saves me a lot of time because I can instantly see when something is late, and can then call or email to find out what’s going on. And it doubly saves time because all the information I need (date of order, date it was due, dates of previous calls and emails and person I spoke to, reference numbers, etc.) is all there in one place.
Long story short, I’d definitely recommend it, particularly if you order a lot of things online [this doesn’t describe me at all… *cough*], or if you work on a lot of team projects [I’m far too much of a control freak for this].
Do you think this is something that would work for you? Why/why not? Let me know in the comments!