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Back to Basics: Waiting For Someday/Maybe

Back to Basics: Waiting For Someday/Maybe

Someday...

    I mentioned before that I don’t use contexts as recommended by David Allen. However, there are two kinds of lists he recommends that I do use, and get a ton of use from. These are the “Someday/Maybe” list and the “Waiting For” list.

    Did you ever think that someday…?

    The Someday/Maybe list is a catch-all for all your crazy ideas and whacked-out plans that you just don’t have time to pursue today. Have an idea for a great novel, but need to learn how to write a novel first? Put it on the Someday/Maybe list. Notice that your kitchen is looking a little “retro”, and not in a good way? Add “remodel kitchen” to the Someday/Maybe list.

    Someday/Maybe acts as a record and as a set of triggers. As a record, it helps you hold onto ideas that are a little bit (or a lot!) outside the range of your normal day-to-day life. You aren’t going to go remodel your kitchen right this instant. You aren’t even going to start planning to remodel the kitchen right this instant. It’s just an idea, something you thought about that might be nice to do, someday. Maybe.

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    As a set of triggers, the Someday/Maybe list gives you something to think about when you have a few minutes free to consider your goals from a “wider picture” perspective. Maybe you’ve just finished a big project and are trying to think of what you might take on next. Or maybe you just came into some money – like a big tax return or a slot machine jackpot – and you’re trying to figure out how to spend it. You scan down your list and notice that, a few months ago while you were preparing the avocado dip for your Superbowl party, you thought about remodeling the kitchen. Now that you’ve got some extra cash in your pocket, you can start thinking about how you’d like your kitchen to look.

    Although this isn’t “orthodox” GTD, you can also work a little from your Someday/Maybe list. In theory, you’re supposed to move things from Someday/Maybe to your active projects list and start creating next actions when you “activate” a Someday/Maybe item, but as you scan your list, you might well start coming up with ideas – a plot point for your imagined novel, a color scheme for your future kitchen. Go ahead and write those ideas into your Someday/Maybe list with the original idea, or break the item out to its own page in your notebook (or the equivalent in whatever system you’re using to keep your lists) and start brainstorming.

    If you find yourself planning steps that are actually immediately doable, or that you’ve already done, then it’s time to move your ideas off the Someday/Maybe list and into your active projects. But if you’re still daydreaming about the future, keep them separated – psychologically, you’ll know these aren’t goals, these are just things to think about now nad again, and someday, maybe, they’ll be goals.

    Wait for it…!

    Waiting For is also a future-oriented list. It’s a place to record all the things you are, as the name suggests, waiting for. Anything you’re waiting for, especially things you need to move to the next step of a project, goes on the list – a book you ordered online, a report from a colleague that you need to finish your own report, anything that you’re expecting and need to keep track of.

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    The reason to list this stuff is that if you’re waiting for something, it shouldn’t be on your mind. There’s nothing you can do about it until it gets to you, right? And yet, they shouldn’t be totally forgotten, either. What if that book doesn’t arrive within 10 days? What if your co-worker goes on a three-day drinking binge instead of compiling the data you need for your end-of-quarter report?

    Having a separate list of this stuff can free you from keeping it on your mind while also giving you the opportunity to periodically scan through your list to see if there’s anything you should, in fact, be worried about. If it’s been 10 days and that book isn’t there yet, you need to check your order status – maybe it’s back-ordered. Or maybe it’s lost and you need to contact the bookseller.

    A good Waiting For entry has several elements:

    • The thing you’re waiting for,
    • The source of that thing,
    • The project you need it for,
    • The date that you put it on the list, and
    • The date that you expect it.

    So, for instance, you order a book for an essay you’re writing on August 12th; it ships in 2-3 days and you’ve requested 2-day delivery. So you can expect to receive it by the 19th (accounting for the weekend). You’re Waiting For entry might look like this:

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    • “Things You Need to Know About Salamanders” from Amazon for salamander essay. 8/12, due 8/19.

    That gives you enough information to know a) when to complain, b) when not to worry, c) what project you can’t work on until the book comes, and d) what to do with it when it arrives.

    What I do

    Because I don’t keep contextually-organized lists, I don’t actually keep separate lists for Someday/Maybe and Waiting For. Instead, I preface every Someday/Maybe item with “S/M” and every Waiting For item with “W/F”. In my online task manager, I can easily sort those items together by alphabetizing the list.

    S/M items aren’t dated, so they sort to the bottom of the list when I’m looking at my list by date. W/F items are given a due date matching the day I expect to get it, so they’ll come up with the rest of my actions on that day and I can follow up, if necessary.

    Although I add stuff to both lists as I think of things, I also pay special attention to them when I do my reviews. I strike off W/F items that I’m no longer waiting for, and add new ones I might have forgotten to add during the week. I also take a look at my Someday/Maybe items to see if there’s anything I’ve started paying a lot more attention to, or anything I’d like to start working on. And I think of new things to put on there – since Someday/Maybe is a “no-pressure” list, I feel comfortable putting things down that I very likely won’t do. Often the ideas feed into something down the road that I couldn’t have foreseen, even if the original idea never comes into fruition.

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    Don’t wait for someday!

    Start setting up a way to keep track of Someday/Maybe and Waiting For items now. Even if you’re not sold on the idea of task lists for everyday use, having a place to keep track of stuff you’re waiting on and another to keep track of your wildest thoughts can be a great help on their own.

    Maybe some of our readers have their own ways of keeping track of this stuff that they’d like to share? Drop us a note in the comments!

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    Last Updated on August 20, 2019

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard. Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

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    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

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    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

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    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

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    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

    More About Self-Learning

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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