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When dealing with emails, there are many that I have sent (and so the "action item" is done), but I am waiting for a reply (and want to follow-up if I don't get a reply in a reasonable amount of time). What are ways to deal with that "waiting for response" category of emails?

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11 Answers 11

up vote 9 down vote accepted
  1. Create a folder for them, e.g. @pend.
  2. cc: yourself with ones you need to follow up on. with the text @pend in it.
  3. Create a rule to put them into that folder (from you, text includes @pend).
  4. Review weekly. I have a repeating task to do remind me of that.

Outlook 2000 directions from DavidCo.

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Outlook 2010 Tip: Create a Quick Step and use that to remove the CC & Rule need. :) – Tom Wijsman Jul 1 '11 at 2:50
(Or BCC yourself) Great advice! – jrdioko Jul 18 '11 at 16:28
Cool tip Brian! – alds Jun 8 '13 at 4:44

Most email systems include a feature with this specific goal in mind.

In Microsoft Outlook, "Flag for Follow Up" is the best way to achieve this goal. You can even mark a date when you are following up.

In GMail, consider using the "starred mail" feature for areas that require a response.

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Create folders based on when you need to hear back. I have folders for each month of the year and "current week." I go through "current week" twice a week and reply to anything that need be. The months are because there are things I need to follow up on farther in the future. In practice, I only use a few at a time but it is easier having them all.

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If you use Gmail, there is an excellent extension for Chrome and Firefox called "ActiveInbox." It basically inserts buttons for "Action", "Waiting On", and "Some Day" labels. You can then automatically sort those labeled emails to show up at the top of your inbox if you wish. It basically does what some of the other people in this thread are suggesting, but it's integrated right into Gmail so you don't have to do anything yourself.

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It really depends on what you want, you can choose being constantly reminded (by seeing the emails) or just a warning after a specified amount of time to follow-up that day with the people involved.

I use both depending on the urgency - if it's something I need a quick answer I'll keep it visible, but if it's something that'll wait a week or more I'll set up a reminder.

So, on to the how:

Constant Reminder

I use Google Mail as my main (web)mail interface. There's a very useful feature on the Labs called Multiple Inboxes - it allows you to have several inboxes, each defined by a search.

That way you can have:

  • "normal" inbox
  • "pending" items - labeled with pending or similar; for me, this means stuff I need to act upon
  • "waiting on someone" items - labeled with waiting or similar.

So if I want to keep a "waiting on someone" email visible, I just label it accordingly (i.e. waiting and work labels) and it'll sit in my inbox all the time.

I've been using this for more than a year, I think. Works great for me.

Follow-Up reminders

Sometimes you have something that you're waiting on that has a lower urgency. I don't like to have those emails together with the more urgent ones (focus on the important), so I setup a reminder for a couple days before the deadline to follow-up.

There are multiple tools out there, my personal choice is You just bcc: an email to a predefined address (e.g. for 1 week from now) and archive the email. After the time has expired you'll get an email reminder to follow-up with that email.

The difference between cc'ing or bcc'ing to is that if you cc: the system reminds all the recipients. Can be useful if you just need to remind the other parties and not directly follow-up with them.

If you have any questions about this just comment and I'll try to clarify. :)

Hope this helps.

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I tend to just tag them with "@Waiting On" in gmail, and then make checking it part of my weekly review. If I need to check in before that, I still throw them in "@Waiting On," but I make note on my calendar.

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'Flagging' those emails, as many answers recommend it's a great way to deal with those emails, althought, it all depends on the amount of those 'balls in the air' you have at the same time.

If you have too many, i bet you'll find yourself at some point filled with an unmanageable list of awaiting issues,

So, in those situations i recommend to use another tool connected with the email, there are many of them out there, i will just drop here a couple i have been working with on a Mac, both of them are excelent tools (very affordable), and oriented to follow a GTD methodology,

To enter a new task related to that email 'waiting for reply' you just need to drag and drop the email to the application, add the extra notes you want to have (if theres any..) and set up a deadline for it.

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I addressed this in my answer about how to deal with email

Delegate. When I delegate by forwarding an e-mail (and then deleting the original), I bcc myself and use a rule to automatically forward the bcc to a "waiting" folder. Periodically, I check to see if I need to light a fire under someone and to delete what's been closed.

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I basically make a "@Waiting for" Task for such e-mails. Like that I only work with/follow-up Tasks and just file the e-mail.

I use the GTD Outlook Add-in for this and add the context "@W4 - xxx" with xxx a person, department or company abbreviation so i can sort on all "waiting for's" for that particular person, dep't or company.

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If you use Gmail then I can suggest using Boomerang plug-in (Firefox/Chrome). It allows you to "boomerang" your sent messages back to your Inbox in a given period of time or notify you if you don't hear back from someone in a given time. You can then set up a workflow for handling these "boomerangs".

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Nobody mentioned actually walking up to the recipient and reminding them verbally that you're waiting for an answer. Sometimes (when it's possible), it can be the best solution

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