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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 April 8, 2019

    22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

    22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

    Unless you’re infinitely rich or prepared to rack up major debt, you need to budget your income. Setting limits on how much you are willing to spend helps control expenses. But what about your time? Do you budget your time or spend it carelessly?

    Deadlines are the chronological equivalent of a budget. By setting aside a portion of time to complete a task, goal or project in advance you avoid over-spending. Deadlines can be helpful but they can also be a source of frustration if set improperly. Here are some tips for making deadlines work:

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    1. Use Parkinson’s Law – Parkinson’s Law states that tasks expand to fill the time given to them. By setting a strict deadline in advance you can cut off this expansion and focus on what is most important.
    2. Timebox – Set small deadlines of 60-90 minutes to work on a specific task. After the time is up you finish. This cuts procrastinating and forces you to use your time wisely.
    3. 80/20 – The Pareto Principle suggests that 80% of the value is contained in 20% of the input. Apply this rule to projects to focus on that critical 20% first and fill out the other 80% if you still have time.
    4. Project VS Deadline – The more flexible your project, the stricter your deadline. If a task has relatively little flexibility in completion a softer deadline will keep you sane. If the task can grow easily, keep a tight deadline to prevent waste.
    5. Break it Down – Any deadline over one day should be broken down into smaller units. Long deadlines fail to motivate if they aren’t applied to manageable units.
    6. Hofstadter’s Law – Basically this law states that it always takes longer than you think. A rule I’ve heard in software development is to double the time you think you need. Then add six months. Be patient and give yourself ample time for complex projects.
    7. Backwards Planning – Set the deadline first and then decide how you will achieve it. This approach is great when choices are abundant and projects could go on indefinitely.
    8. Prototype – If you are attempting something new, test out smaller versions of a project to help you decide on a final deadline. Write a 10 page e-book before your 300 page novel or try to increase your income by 10% before aiming to double it.
    9. Find the Weak Link – Figure out what could ruin your plans and accomplish it first. Knowing the unknown can help you format your deadlines.
    10. No Robot Deadlines – Robots can work without sleep, relaxation or distractions. You aren’t a robot. Don’t schedule your deadline with the expectation you can work sixteen hour days to complete it. Deathmarches aren’t healthy.
    11. Get Feedback – Get a realistic picture from people working with you. Giving impossible deadlines to contractors or employees will only build resentment.
    12. Continuous Planning – If you use a backwards planning model, you need to constantly be updating plans to fit your deadline. This means making cuts, additions or refinements so the project will fit into the expected timeframe.
    13. Mark Excess Baggage – Identify areas of a task or project that will be ignored if time grows short. What e-mails will you have to delete if it takes too long to empty your inbox? What features will your product lack if you need a rapid finish?
    14. Review – For deadlines over a month long take a weekly review to track your progress. This will help you identify methods you can use to speed up work and help you plan more efficiently for the future.
    15. Find Shortcuts – Almost any task or project has shortcuts you can use to save time. Is there a premade library you can use instead of building your own functions? An autoresponder to answer similar e-mails? An expert you can call to help solve a problem?
    16. Churn then Polish – Set a strict deadline for basic completion and then set a more comfortable deadline to enhance and polish afterwards. Often churning out the basics of a task quickly will require no more polishing afterwards than doing it slowly.
    17. Reminders – Post reminders of your deadlines everywhere. Creating a sense of urgency with your deadlines is necessary to keep them from getting pushed aside by distractions.
    18. Forward Planning – Not mutually exclusive with backwards planning, this involves planning the details of a project out before setting a deadline. Great for achieving clarity about what you are trying to accomplish before making arbitrary time limits.
    19. Set a Timer – Get one that beeps. Somehow the countdown of a timer appears more realistic for a ninety minute timebox than just glancing at your clock.
    20. Write them Down – Any deadline over a few hours needs to be written down. Otherwise it is an inclination not a goal. Having written deadlines makes them more tangible than internal decisions alone.
    21. Cheap/Fast/Good – Ben Casnocha in My Start Up Life mentions that you can have only have two of the three. Pick two of the cheap/fast/good dimensions before starting a project to help you prioritize.
    22. Be Patient – Using a deadline may seem to be the complete opposite of patience. But being patient with inflexible tasks is necessary to focus on their completion. The paradox is that the more patient you are, the more you can focus. The more you can focus the quicker the results will come!

    Featured photo credit: Estée Janssens via unsplash.com

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