“Getting Things Done”: The Calendar and the “Waiting For” List

It’s been a few weeks!  Last post we talked about how projects break down into next actions, and how Next Actions should be classified by the Context in which you can do them, so you’re not always looking at every single thing you want to do when you’re not in a situation where you even could do them.

Now we talk about the “Waiting For” list and how to use your Calendar.

The “Waiting For” List

Recall: This list is where you write down anything you’re waiting for from other people.  I recommend you include the date you put it on the list, and maybe how you contacted them: “Emailed John about the budget on January 5th.”

Work may bounce back and forth between this and your Next Actions a lot.  Once John replies about the budget, then you have to update a report with new projections (Next Action), then you send it to your boss for review before sending it to the big boss (back to “Waiting For”).

You probably have deadlines, or expectations, about things you’re waiting for.  In other words, if John doesn’t get back to you in a week, maybe you’re going to have to poke him again.  You could write the deadline on the Waiting For list item itself, and during the Review process, you’ll see it and do the right thing.  Or you could just put the Waiting For item on your Calendar (see below).  If John gets back to you before the deadline you picked, you’ll proceed with the work; if not, on that day, your Calendar will poke you to poke him.

Calendar

Hopefully you will understand the value of a calendar to the system.  Some things have due dates (has to be done by …) and some have defer dates (cannot/should not be started until …) and some have both.

Deferred Items

Whenever you need to defer an action until later, do not put it on a Next Actions list.  Put it on your calendar instead, at the day and/or time when you can start it.  (For your own convenience, you might note on the calendar which context it will go in: for example, “Tickets go on sale for the Yes concert! @phone”.)

Why not put it on a Next Items list?  Because it will clog the list up.  Think of a defer date like a Context.  Just like you cannot clean your office unless your location in space is the office, you cannot do the deferred thing until your location in time is the time in question.  So when you are at work reviewing your “Next Items” list for the next thing to do, why bother looking at something you can’t even start yet?

When the Calendar tells you that the deferred-until time has come, you either do the item then and there, or then you can move it to a Next Actions list for the appropriate context.

Due Dates

Maybe something could be started at any time, but has a specific due date.  Well, you know what to do.  Put it on your calendar!

But the calendar can be more helpful than that.  If that thing is going to take longer than a short period of time (“short” being up to you here), you could put a reminder on your calendar in advance of the due date as well.  “Budget proposal due in two weeks!”  That may spur you to get moving before it’s really a crisis.

Remember, the whole point of this system is not actually to accomplish work; it’s to reduce your anxiety about the work you have to do.  If when you put the deadline on your calendar, you fret “But what if I forget until the day it’s due and then I half-ass it?!”, then you should put a reminder on your calendar before the deadline, giving yourself enough time.  If you’re not going to stress about it, and you’re sure that when that day comes you’ll be able to finish it without losing your composure, then you don’t need that reminder.  It’s as simple as that.

How to implement a calendar? If you have an electronic system, you probably have a calendar app (or several to choose from) that works for you.  If you really want to stick with paper, you could use a traditional planner, or draw your own, or use a technique David Allen refers to as the “43 folders” system.  I’ll explain that in detail in a later post.

Next post …

In the next post, we’ll talk about the Weekly Review, which in many ways is the key to making sure the system accomplishes its real goal: not getting things done, but keeping you feeling better about getting things done.