Oh, hello

I’m not sure why I’ve never thought of this before, and I’m sure there must be a flaw with it, but I’ve just been struck by what I hope could be a much more elegant approach to tracking things you’re Waiting On.

A separate ‘Waiting On’ status requires effort

In our support account, we have three statuses: L1 and L2, and Waiting On. And of course there are deadlines. (You know you can make custom statuses right? Just add a new label to Gmail starting with !, e.g. !L1).

If something is critical, we’ll put it in L1. When Lisa or I then reply to it, and we need a response, we move it from L1 to Waiting On.

Have you spotted the problem yet? Sure you have, you’re a smart cookie 🙂 When someone replies, we have to move it back to a status for us to do. Not only is this a tedious step in itself, we have to remember which status it used to belong to… Was it L1? Or L2?

It’s simple, we kill the ‘Waiting On’

So, here’s my proposal…

We dispose of the ‘Waiting On’ status altogether, and we use the last person to reply to decide whether it’s To Do or Waiting On.

E.g. you add something to ‘Action’, or a deadline… and the Active Results splits into 2 sections: ‘To Do’ and ‘Waiting On’.
If you replied last, ActiveInbox automatically puts it in the ‘Waiting On’ section; or if they replied to you, it puts it into your ‘To Do’ section.

Potential Problems

  1. Is there a situation where an email you replied to is still an action for you?
    E.g. if someone emails support, and I fire a response to say “I’ll get back to this in a few days”, AIB would now assume it’s Waiting On the contact (because I was the last to reply), when in fact it’s still for me to do.
  2. How would the Review Bar decide what the ‘to do’ count is for a status like ‘Action’? Is it all active items? Or is it all items for me To Do? I think this is easy, it’s all active items (To Do + Waiting On).

Another way: Waiting On augments other statuses

I think problem #1 might be a deal breaker.

Another idea is to make ‘Waiting On’ a status that doesn’t cause other statuses to be removed.

So, you’d add an email to L1. And if you send a reply that needs a response, you add Waiting On, and the email would be ‘L1 + Waiting On’ (rather than removing L1, as it does now). Basically similar to above, but Waiting On is still a manual choice.

And to save you time, there could be an option that when/if they reply, Waiting On is automatically removed.

Over to you…

Does this problem resonate with anyone else? Where’s the pain for you?

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This post was written by andymitchell9496

40 Comments

  • Dave Baxter says:

    #1 is a deal breaker for me. I like your L1 + Waiting On idea.

    • I’m concerned it doesn’t work when you’ve just got the two defaults… ‘Action’ and ‘Waiting On’.

      It seems strange to have an email that’s both ‘Action’ and ‘Waiting On’.

      I’m trying to figure out at what point this becomes useful, perhaps when you have custom statuses?

  • Kevin K says:

    #1 definitely would be a problem for me – there are plenty of situations I can think of where I might still be ‘Waiting On’ someone even if they were the last to respond.

    Having ‘Waiting On’ as a non-exclusive status might be okay for me, it depends on how the Active Results works. When I put stuff into ‘Waiting On’ I generally don’t want to see it until there’s a response, so if it shows up in my Active Results that’s bad. In other words my ‘Action’ list should only be stuff I need to act on…makes sense, right? 🙂

    I’m ambivalent about auto-removing ‘Waiting On’. It might mess things up in group conversations. But I think it would probably be convenient more often than not. As long as it can be switched off, I say go for it 🙂

  • thenuttman says:

    Ideally a person would mark things “Waiting On”, when truly “Waiting” on someone else before moving forward…kinda like a roadblock. So I think your L1+W idea would work just fine in theory. (especially with the auto-remove when they reply)

    But what if their reply isn’t enough…or what if their reply is just “I’ll get back to you”…same struggle. So, why not do something like this (I know custom statuses are possible but let’s set that aside for a second because it gets too complicated to think it all through with the myriad options that exist out here :-))

    I am almost inevitably missing something here or not thinking about one aspect of this or another, but here’s my thoughts on this that I feel (for me) are broad enough in scope to cover most things that I deal with on a daily basis:

    1. Action – something I gotta do, literally my to-do list (which is almost every individual email in some way…I gotta “delete” junk mail just as much as I “gotta update that website”…guess I’m kinda saying this might be redundant if you are that type of person)

    2. Waiting On Reply – if they reply, it removes this tag…email is in my Inbox to deal with

    3. Waiting On Date – it’ll hang out or be “hidden” until that date..this may be redundant because of the date feature that already exists, but this might allow you to auto-remove the Waiting On tag when that date arrives?

    4. Waiting On… – You’re still waiting, but maybe for a phone call, or meeting or something; either way, it won’t be impacted if the person replies.

    5. Later/Someday/Tickler/Snooze – I need to do something with this, but not sure yet…hide it and bring it back at a later time…maybe this is customizable…3 hours…3 days…something.

    But again, that’s just me…

    And obviously off of your main topic, but my item #5 above is a very important “speed” thing for me. I like being able to reply or respond appropriately to everything, even emails from mom with links to silly videos she found…but sometimes they aren’t something I can watch “right now”…so the functional Later status would be a nice thing to allow me to “snooze” that email for a while. (I get that I can pick a date in AI, but a snooze helps me avoid “thinking” about how long to delay…and just delays it for a set period so I can quickly process)

    • thenuttman says:

      Oh, and one other thing…”Waiting on” in general is a neat idea. But what happens if you email someone, mark it as waiting and THEY NEVER RESPOND EVER. Maybe your email got lost. Maybe they are rude. Either way, as a business person, my instinct would be to follow-up with them again after a short period of time without a response…say a week, for example.

      So, an interesting add-on idea would be an option for AI would “remind” me somehow that I’ve had an email marked as “Waiting on Reply” for 2 weeks…so that I can either, follow-up again with that person.

      • JAz says:

        This is an interesting point and useful but perhaps easily solved without [complicating] automation and still yield an elegant solution:

        First, if AI doesn’t already, it’d need to timestamp when the Waiting For status is set (and a way to keep this from ‘accidentally’ being altered/unset).

        Then, simply, I’d propose to have the ‘Waiting For’ button on the AI toolbar add a dropdown arrow and add, e.g., ‘Waiting For, Older than 1 Week’, ‘Waiting For, Older than 2 Weeks’, etc. in that dropdown. You could quickly and easily see how many old/stagnant waiting fors there are and clicking one would bring up the ‘waitin for’ tagged emails, appropriately filtered for the appropriate timestamps.

      • I think, that AI reminds you would be overkill, that’s what you got the “deadline” labels for! (At least that is how I use them.) The problem for me is more in the general back and forth and that I have to actively label all e-mails (unless I create a GMail filter rule _outside of_ the AI4 system). Other than the reminder, I find your points to be important to consider.

    • nickden01 says:

      I like the “Waiting On Reply” status. If it was not too much trouble, then the ideal would be to have the ability to put in the particular email addresses for which we are awaiting a reply (or perhaps have a “waiting on reply all” and a “waiting on reply”).

  • Kevin K says:

    Andy, curious why you use custom statuses instead of custom label types for your L1/L2? Seems like a custom label type “Level” with categories “L1” and “L2” would solve your problem of not knowing which level to put a case back to when it goes active again…

    • I… I… Oh. Hmm. Ha. Err.

      I’m not sure I like being outwitted in my own product. Actually, that’s a lie. I DO like being outwitted 🙂

      That’s just made me reconsider.

      It would require other label types to a) have their own buttons on the HAB, and b) be included in the ‘To Do’ list. Which might be reasonable.

      It’s perhaps just Statuses, but instead the preference is how things are grouped/multi-selected.

      So [Waiting On, Action] [L1, L2] [Deadline] [Project]

      • Actually, in our support case, that would be

        [Waiting On] [L1, L2] [Deadline] [Project].

        (To keep it really simple. Otherwise you’d need to click Action + L1, which is wasteful in the extreme).

      • It still doesn’t necessarily help in Active Results, as you’d have L1+Waiting On, but under L1, you’d still see all items.

        The key thing to see is L1 that ISN’T Waiting On (i.e. things I have to do). Hmm, I guess that’s why keeping [Action, Waiting On], but having different Priorities [L1, L2] that you could filter on made such a difference. Perhaps it should be an option to have a Label Type appear as buttons on the HAB (in this case, Priorities – L1 & L2).

        I guess another way around this – yet another solution – would be to not use Waiting On, just use L1 + L2. But Active Results would not be split into 2 groups (To Do and Waiting On). Instead, you’d look under L1, and each EMAIL would have a better visualisation as to whether you were the last person to respond or not. That’s not as draconian as two groups (which caused problem #1), it’s more subtle, so it’s more generally helpful without being problematic.

      • Coen Zwarts says:

        Andy,

        I think you are running around in circles…

        The point is that [Action, WaitingOn] says something about Who has the ball. You or somebody else.
        And [L1,L2] gives you the information how Critical it is.

        That are two different attributes. Keep them separate; mixing them up will only cause trouble. 😉
        So in your own words:
        [Waiting On, Action] [L1, L2] [Deadline] [Project]

        BTW, about who’s having the ball:
        Never you AND somebody else; so never Action AND WaitingOn at the same time, please.

        Keep up the good work, I think AI is amazing!

    • Kurt says:

      Actually, I do something along those lines The old school basic programmer from my childhood uses levels of importance in levels of 100 so I can always add 10’s etc between them and have them sort. So it would be [L100, L200, L300, L350, L400] etc. Your idea is exactly what sort of thing I am referring to in my post of a few minutes ago. The system gets a bit much eventually. The purpose of a GTD system is supposed to be brain-dead task management you can do instantly as the workflow comes by you…

      • Kurt says:

        I went to take this screen shot of just what “too many buttons look like”, and one refresh after taking this screen shot, my Gmail _completely_ transformed into this self sorting tabbed thing! I used to use priority inbox and sometimes the multiple inboxes feature to sort mail into “inboxes” based on their activeinbox status. I wonder if AI even works now?

        Anyway, here is the picture, hosted on my server: http://www.monkeykeyboard.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/too-complex.png

  • JochenSchuetze says:

    Hi Andy,

    please don’t disrupt our workflows too much…

    And, as you’ve already pointed out yourself, just deciding by the sender of the last message in the conversation is too dangerous. The majority of my Next and Action items would fool me badly this way.

    Allowing “Waiting On” in addition to Next or Action (or whatever) sounds very good to me. Isn’t there an option in AIB already to allow multiple statuses? That should cover this part.

    In addition, there could be a configuration option that will remove the “Waiting On” label when a new message comes into the conversation (not from myself, of course). This should probably work only if there is some other status attached to the same conversation.

    Finally, in the Top Review Bar, I personally would not want any “Waiting On” item in the other Statuses. Next, Action, etc. are for things on my ToDo-List. “Waiting On” isn’t anything I can work on. But this could probably be made a confirurable option, right?

    Best regards,
    Jochen

  • Stelvio Gori says:

    Hi,
    thanks for the effort to improve the product further.
    About your ideas:
    – I would not like the first idea definitely, very often I reply and then I have to act again not in the “email world” but in the real one.
    – what you would achieve with the second is already possible with AIB, IMO, using the option “allow multiple statuses” (by the way, I use a separate label “Importance” [High, Low] to further classify my to-dos), why risk to mess current workflows?

    All the best,
    S

    • Marcus Badach says:

      Agreed! I also use “allow multiple statuses” I used to use Boomerang A LOT more than I currently do. (email me if no reply – similar concept) The idea of auto removing the status “waiting on” is in theory OK but I have found in practice people mail back asking clarifying questions or commenting as opposed to resolving, majority of the time I leave “waiting on” while the backwards and forwards takes place.

  • Jen says:

    Automatically removing waiting on would mess me up. I often have dual statuses because I have actionable information info already but need more.

  • Daniel M says:

    This has probably already been said, but it seems like L1 is a user…. Either X or Y person has to respond to it. On the other hand L2 A or B person would respond to it. This would fit under a user to me. You would then put it as active, urgent, or waiting on like normal but then you would know who has to respond to it.

    Anyways, I do like the second solution in which you would have ‘Waiting On’ as a non-contending status and when there is a reply it is automatically removed (even if they say they will get to it you still need to do something — read it) then if you deem necessary you just reinstate the ‘Waiting On’ status. What do you think?

  • Alex says:

    I like the idea that “Waiting On” is automatically removed when someone replies to me since most of the times it contains some information related to my original email (seldom is the case that “I’ll get back to you tomorrow) and so I’ll have to act on it.

    On a related note, Andy, would you add the option to automatically mark any *new email* sent out with “Waiting On”? When we write a new email (not a reply to an existing conversation), most of the cases (I’d say 90%+) we’re expecting a reply unless it’s a pure “FYI” email.

  • Susan Penter says:

    My problem with this scenario is I may have a message in my waiting on label but then the reply doesn’t come as a reply but as a new message (not all the people I email with use Gmail.) At this point I end up loosing track of the abandoned waiting on message unless I am totally on top of doing regular checks.Whenever a reply comes as a reply I have no problems either changing it to an action status or archiving it as complete.

  • jpnelson40 says:

    Your L1 and L2 seem to be either
    “urgency” levels, or “priority” levels, and overlap in
    meaning with the current GTD action items “Next Action”,
    “Action”, “Some Day”, but not “Never” or “Delete”
    or “Archive”. Other To-Do list programs use concepts of Urgency
    and Priority or both, though I have difficulty deciding which to use
    myself. Your use is complicated by multiuser considerations, so you also might need “assigned to” or other flags.

    I have taken to replacing “Waiting On” with “deadline” dates whenever possible, because I find that I rarely look at the full “Waiting On” list: it is too long,
    not prioritized, not clear if the waiting is blocking some other
    action or not, etc. Also, many of my correspondents always get back
    to me timely so there is no reason to set the flag, as remembering to
    unset it is one more thing to do. When people do respond, it is up to me to cancel the deadline, of course, or reset it to a new date if appropriate. But I see making such decisions as part of my “value added” service.

    • ChristineB says:

      I know I’m late to this party, but just a couple of comments:

      I sometimes use Action and Waiting On at the same time, but that’s just because I’m too lazy to create a separate Action item for myself (for the part of the “project” that I could/should do right away) while waiting on other information I need to complete another related task. Someone else posted above that the two statuses are mutually exclusive, which I completely agree with, but in the real world (OK, in *my* world) I’m just not going to devote extra energy to creating separate tasks when one item will suffice.

      And like jpnelson, I use deadlines as a psuedo-tickler file to remind me of upcoming tasks (which could have any of the status codes except Finished) because I am not always doing a proper Weekly Review to see what is on my Waiting On and Some Day lists. I might end up scrambling to get something done, but at least it keeps me from completely dropping the ball.

  • Andreas Neustifter says:

    I’m sorry if I repeat what others have said but I have no time to read everything. But I will make it quick:

    PLEASE do not remove WaitingOn and please do not include automatisms, they usually mess up. (I call the pseudo-intelligent for this reason.)

    I like the idea of WaitingOn being not a Status but a separete thing though.

  • Just Me says:

    It appears to me that the majority of commentators are in favor of not changing anything – and I agree. Automatic change of statuses would mess up my way of working; also I feel there is a difference between the status and the criticality/urgency of a todo. Maybe your thoughts offer new perspectives – and yet: Being the creature of habit that I am, I particulary enjoy the simplicity of AIB … 😉

    Keep up the good work!!

  • David Billson says:

    I think when you have ActiveInbox Plus this is a non-issue. If something is “Waiting on” but I want to monitor it, either because I want to make sure I get a response or because I said “I’ll get back to you in 3 days”, I tag it with a follow on date.

    As a course of action, I never have a “Waiting on” without a follow on date.

    So the solution is everyone upgrade to Plus 😉

    • Jan G says:

      Hehe – good marketing David!
      I have noticed (post Plus-trial) that assigned deadlines are no longer conveniently available in the free version, so it is indeed easier to keep track of tasks (e.g. ‘waiting on’ ones) with a due date.

  • Ronen Teva says:

    Yes, there are plenty of situations where an email I replied to is still an action for me.

  • Thomas Parikka says:

    What you’re proposing would completely wreck my workflow. Making it an option would work, but at least in my case having AIB automatically change flags would be disastrous.

  • Tommy says:

    #1 is a deal breaker; By the way I also handle/manage non-email actions like phone calls in the tool.

  • Lionel Davoust says:

    Not concerned at all by the problem you describe. I think you’re losing sight of the GTD methodolody here. “Waiting On” means “Delegated”. I pass the problem on to someone else and just want to track it’s being taken care of. You can’t have both “Action” and “Waiting On” because that’s having both “Do” and “Delegate” which are mututally exclusive.

    When I’m waiting on an email, I just shoot “Waiting On”, and associate a deadline when I think I should have had an answer, then archive the thing and forhet about it. That’s enough, I believe. If you kill the “Waiting On” status, I’m pretty sure the first thing I’ll do will be to ressurect it through a custom status and keep using it this way.

    What is much more needed, I think, is a “Tickler” status.

  • Tim Jasper says:

    Two words. Weekly review!

  • DanaSTL says:

    I think solution #1 would work in most cases, except when an email thread has gone “stale” and would need another response from me. So maybe using the per-thread deadline as a guide, you could remove the Waiting On until that date (or until someone else replies), at which point it would get the Waiting On status again?

  • Jan G says:

    Not much to add beyond the comments already made by people, but I do agree that while it would be nice to have an automatic way of switching between !Action on my side and !WaitingOn someone else, scenario #1 perhaps prevents that from being possible.

    Brainstorming with your users is a great idea and something I’m sure benefits everyone. One thought I’ve had is that it’s perhaps necessary to sit down, think and establish how exactly AIB’s functionality maps to the GTD methodology. So what’s a ‘label’, as opposed to an ‘action’, etc. This is a suggestion following Coen Zwarts’s comment.

    PS: I just discovered custom statuses/statii 😉 … now I just need to come up with some ways of using them!

  • petridis sergios says:

    I would suggest a further button to click when you send an e-mail (similar to Send and Archive)

    Send and Wait Reply (or something similar)

    This would send the e-mail, archive it and label it as “waiting on”, removing the “action” label, if present.

  • Eric says:

    Second option seems better. I’ve wished for a long time there was a way for Waiting On’s to come back to Action when a response has been received.

  • renegadesk says:

    When I mark things as ‘Waiting On’ I also assign a date so that if I don’t hear back from them by that date the conversation is moved to my today list and it’s time to follow up.

  • Kurt F says:

    I’d be super happy to see waiting on become a modifier for the “prioritizing” statuses. You’ll notice that it is the only status with no inertia. Tasks can literally fall into it forever, particularly if you do (and I think we all do somewhat) use it as sort of a combined “waiting on me” and “waiting on a dependency” bucket.

    I’d like to see the waiting on be attached to the task, and then I’d like to see a “waiting until/no later than” mechanism added replacing the existing category – to help handle actual timing. The proposed use case would be to be able to take a Next, put a +Waiting On flag on it, then move it to a holding status that keeps both the priority of the task and the status of having a dependency and preserves them until say Friday when they reappear in your Next list and you check to see if the dependency is completed. For things you wish to put off yourself, you can move the from whatever priority bucket they are in into the “waiting until” “timed penalty box” without creating a false dependency on yourself to bring up the issue. After all, sometimes it is hard enough to get through all of the Next and Active tasks 🙂

    That is my 2 cents on the subject. I use “Boomarang” to actually forward me e-mail at the moment using set delays. It kind of muddies up the workflow, but it is something.

    Actually, I liked the old multiple status way well enough. I’ve added some other label categories so that something can be sorted by weight for time and importance, but it’s not very effective.

    Kurt