Waiting for other people to Get Things Done

Earlier this week I noticed my to-do list in Asana was getting out of hand. The ‘Today’ section had about twenty things on it, most of which were carry-overs from the day before. And I didn’t seem to be able to progress any of them.

Something was clearly going wrong as this is not how a well-organised to do list should be!

So I stopped freaking out about the size of the list and started looking at each individual task. And that’s when the penny dropped.

A to-do list full of other people’s tasks

Lots of the things on my list were things I needed other people to do. I make a note of these kinds of actions in Asana to remind me what I'm waiting for, and to make sure I chase people for what I need.

Getting Things Done suggest you use a dedicated "waiting for” list for this kind of action. David Allen argues that, while these things need to be stored somewhere so you don’t forget about them, they shouldn't be in your personal to-do list. If you leave them mixed up with your own actions, they tend to obscure the work that you need to do yourself. You end up feeling overwhelmed by other people's work.

Where to put things you’re waiting for

I had forgotten all about the "waiting for" list when I set up Asana. It’s more geared towards lists for projects, rather than lists for different types of action.

You also can’t assign tasks to other people unless they are in your Asana team. As a result, I’d got into the bad habit of assigning tasks to myself when there was chasing needed. Otherwise I would forget to do the chasing.

I didn’t want to move the things I was waiting for to a special list because that would take them out of their project context. So I needed a different solution.

Tracking actions with tags

This is how I fixed the problem:

  • Firstly, I created a "Waiting for" tag, and applied it to all the things I needed other people to do. (Here’s how to use tags in Asana.)
  • Then I created a saved search, to pull up all the things I was waiting for across all the projects in Asana. That meant I could find all the things I needed to chase. (Learn about searching in Asana.)
  • Finally, I added a new task to my daily review checklist, to remind me to check the "Waiting for" items and do any chasing that was needed.

Result: a much shorter to do list

Instantly, my 'Today' list shrank to five or six things. I also find I’m chasing "Waiting for" things regularly, rather than blanking them out because they are stressing me out.

I often find that when things get into a mess, a quick scan of Getting Things Done has the answer. I’m glad I bought the Kindle version - the search makes my revision a lot easier!

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