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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 16, 2018

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system”.

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    The power of habit

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being six hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The wonderful thing about triggers (reminders)

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to make a reminder works for you

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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