How to track “Waiting For” responses in Gmail

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every email request you sent was efficiently carried out before the due date? In a perfect world you wouldn’t need to track these hand-offs. Sometimes life happens and tasks get overlooked. Unless you track these hand-offs, you can guarantee some of them will fall into an abyss. If you care about the outcome, tracking these “waiting fors” is a must. Even if you don’t use Gmail, these concepts translate to most email applications.

How to track "Waiting For" responses in Gmail

The Getting Things Done method advocates using a Waiting For list to track any responses or items you are waiting on others to deliver. This is often one of the longest lists in my system and includes things like:

  • purchases which are still to be delivered;
  • outcomes or projects I’ve delegated;
  • information I’ve requested; or
  • items I’m waiting for others to return.

Let’s take a look at how I manage messages in Gmail where I expect others to respond or take action.

1a. Create an @Waiting For label

First you’ll need to create a label for @Waiting For items. Think of labels like you would tags in other applications. The @Waiting For label serves as a way of collecting all the items you may need to follow up in a single place.

The @ symbol sorts this label to the top. It’s not necessary, but using it avoids scrolling if you use a lot of labels.

  1. From the Gmail Inbox view, click the gear (settings) icon and select Settings.
  2. Select the Labels tab at the top of the Settings screen.
  3. Click the Create new label button.
  4. Enter @Waiting For as the label name and click Create.
Creating the "@Waiting For" label in Gmail

Creating the “@Waiting For” label in Gmail

1b. (Optional) Change the label color

I’ve also changed my @Waiting For label color to orange. This isn’t essential but helps responses stand out more in your inbox.

  1. Click ▾ to the right of the @Waiting For label.
  2. Select Label Color and click the color you wish to use for this label.
Changing the label color

Changing the label color

2. Add @Waiting For to sent messages you want to track

Before I hit send, I usually know which messages might need follow-up. This is where the @Waiting For label comes into play.

To add the label

  1. At the bottom right corner of the New Message window click ▾, and select Label, @Waiting For. By prefixing the label with the @ symbol, you won’t need to scroll to the bottom of the list. There’s no visual cue for this, but the message now has the @Waiting For label applied.
  2. Click Send to send your message.
Add the @Waiting For label to you message before you hit Send

Add the @Waiting For label to you message before you hit Send

Premature sending

Sometimes I forget to add the @Waiting For label before sending, but this is easy enough to rectify.

  1. Select the Sent Mail label in the sidebar.
  2. Drag the @Waiting For label from the sidebar onto your email message, or drag the message onto the @Waiting For label.

What about time critical responses?

This tagging method works when the timing of the response isn’t critical. When timing is more important, using the tag as a trigger for follow-up may not be good enough. In such cases I’ll either:

  1. add the entry to my task manager where I can assign a date for follow-up; or
  2. add a reminder to my calendar.

Either approach works — it’s just a question of where you’re most likely to see the reminder and what feels more natural to you.

3. Review your @Waiting For list

The weekly review is essential to staying on top of things and this includes reviewing your Waiting For list. This is an opportunity to decide whether you need to chase people about progress.

During your review:
1. Select the @Waiting For label in the sidebar to display those messages and open the first message in the view.
2. Remove the @Waiting For tag from any complete entries by clicking x to the right of the tag while the conversation is open. If you prefer to use the keyboard use the following shortcuts: j to move to the next message, k to move to the previous message, or y to remove the label.
3. Follow-up as required. The 2-minute rule comes into play here. If the follow-up takes less than two minutes, do it immediately. Make a note about the more time-consuming follow-ups and chase these sometime after your weekly review.
4. Don’t forget to also review Waiting For entries you are tracking with your task manager.

Now you have one place to look to find all the email messages awaiting a response or action from others. Just remember to review it at least once per week to keep it current.

Question: Do you have a different approach for tracking Waiting For email messages that works for you? Share your method in the comments below.

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3 Responses

  1. Nancy Gottlieb says:

    Hello! I would love to use this technique however, when I am writing an email in Gmail, when I click on the small down arrow icon at the bottom, I don’t have an option for Labels, even though I have labels defined. My only options are Plain Text Mode / PRint / Check Spellng. Do you know how I can turn that feature on? Thanks

    • John Scullen says:

      Hi Nancy

      If those are the only three options you have I’m almost certain you’re replying to (or forwarding) a message. The method I’ve described only works when you’re composing a new message.

      If it’s not the first message in the conversation, drag the appropriate label from your list at the left and drop it on the message. Alternatively you can click the Labels tool at the top of your window and select the one you want.

      Good luck and let me know if I can help you with anything else.



      • Nancy Gottlieb says:

        Dear John, Thanks so much! All of those suggestions were helpful, and your analysis was correct. That really helps! Thanks again!

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