Making Notes

Why You Need to Maintain a Waiting-for List

The more projects you do, the more likely you are to have to wait for something to finish a project.1 The likelihood of needing to wait especially increases as you collaborate on projects with others. And as the number and importance of things you’re waiting for grows, you increasingly need to maintain a waiting-for list.2

Elements of a Waiting-for List

A waiting-for list has four key elements. These elements include

What You’re Waiting For

Most fundamentally, your waiting-for list needs to have on it items that you’re currently awaiting. Items in this category could be things like

  • a pay stub so that you can update your tax withholdings,
  • an interlibrary loan so that you can finish a section of a research project,
  • a response on a proposal that you’ve submitted, or
  • any action someone else needs to take to remove a roadblock from a project you’re trying to move forward.

As you add items to your waiting-for list, just be sure to describe them clearly. That way, your future self won’t have to wonder what you were meaning by what you wrote.

A Means of Grouping

A waiting-for list also needs means of providing a coherent account of all the items you’re waiting for. This mechanism might be

  • an @Waiting_For label in an application like Todoist,
  • a text document, or
  • a notebook page.

Whatever method you choose, your list needs to be coherent. You need to be able to easily see anything you’re waiting for. Your list needs to be simple enough so you don’t have to remember where to find its pieces. In addition, your list also needs to be connected closely enough to the thing that you’re waiting for.

To illustrate, pretty well since I started maintaining a waiting-for list, I kept everything in an @Waiting_For label in Todoist. I found, though, that that approach introduced unnecessary friction for interlibrary loans. So, I’ve now added Waiting For tag in Zotero. With this tag, I can see, at a glance, any outstanding or unreviewed interlibrary loan requests. For me, this distinction helps me see better what I’m waiting for in the places where I need to see that information.

What You Need to Do Next

Your waiting-for list should also indicate what you need to do when you’re no longer waiting.

You can often work on other parts of a project while you’re waiting for a piece you need for another part. But when you receive that piece, you don’t want to spin your wheels trying to remember why and where you needed that piece.

Instead, be kind to your future self. When you put an item into your waiting-for list, include with it however much commentary you think you’ll need so that you can know exactly what to do with it when you get it.

A Review Trigger

Finally, your waiting-for list needs some trigger for bringing your attention back to each waiting-for item as often as necessary.3 Two types of triggers are particularly helpful: date-based and routine-based.

If you’re on a clear deadline or you’ve been given some indication of when to expect the thing you’re waiting for, you might set up a date-based trigger to bring you back to the item you’re waiting for. Then, when that day comes, you either have what you’ve been waiting for, or you follow up about it.

Or if you do need the item you’re waiting for but there’s no special urgency to it, you might simply create a habit of reviewing all your waiting-for items every so often (e.g., in a weekly review). During that process, then, you’ll see anything that you might need to be reminded about, follow up on because you haven’t received it, or take action on because you have.

3 Reasons to Maintain a Waiting-for List

Maintaining a waiting-for list with the characteristics noted above yields at least 3 main benefits. It helps you to

Prevent things from falling through the cracks.

When busy on one front, it can be incredibly easy for other commitments on the proverbial “back burner” to fade from view.

That fading is perfectly natural. It’s also perfectly okay if and only if you don’t need a corresponding commitment to be on someone else’s front burner.

If you do, then your responsibility to fulfill your commitment implies another responsibility—namely, not letting things you need to fulfill that commitment fall through the cracks. A waiting-for list gives you a tool precisely for this task.

Avoid anxiety.

As discussed above, a key element of a waiting-for list is some trigger that brings you back to a given item when or as often as needed. Doing so helps you reinforce to yourself that you’re not going to forget about a piece you need to meet a commitment you have.

When longer-term follow up and waiting are necessary, you can even add to notes to a given item about major steps in the process of securing it. Being able to see that information easily can prove helpful as you decide what kind of further follow up to engage in and, potentially, what other partners to enlist to aid in that process.

Focus on completing projects.

In itself, maintaining a waiting-for list doesn’t finish writing that next chapter or researching that next paper. Instead, the practice focuses on helping you remove mental clutter so that you can focus on what you’re actually intending to produce.

By maintaining a clear account of what you’re waiting for, you provide yourself a structured way to cycle back to those items, follow up, and see to completion the projects that depend on them. And in so doing, you avoid the tyranny of the urgent and frantically trying to secure whatever you forgot you needed when you had more time.


In sum, life in biblical studies has a way of tending toward greater complexity over time. You can diminish that added complexity by carefully selecting what you agree to and declining things that pull you away from what’s actually important.

Even when you do so, however, you’re still going to be working with and needing things from other people. Where you do, a waiting-for list can be a powerful tool to help you see what you need from others to meet the commitments you have, ensure you’re securing those items, and focus your attention where it truly counts.

  1. Header image provided by Glenn Carstens-Peters. ↩︎
  2. For advocating the utility of such a list, I’m grateful to David Allen, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (affiliate disclosure; New York: Penguin, 2003). ↩︎
  3. Image provided by STIL. ↩︎

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