How to Use a Checklist

Do you feel like you could do more if you only had the right tools?
You’re not alone. According to a recent study, the average person spends about two hours each day on tasks that could be automated with a checklist. That means there are 40 hours every month where we’re all wasting time and energy doing things that don’t need to be done!

Good checklists can help us get more done in less time by focusing our attention on tasks that move our projects forward. However, before you start adding checkboxes to all your lists, there are a few things to consider. Read on!

What is a Checklist – The Big Picture

When starting a project, many people fall into the trap of thinking, “I have a list and it is my plan.” A checklist is just a piece of a plan — a way of organizing the tasks needed to achieve your goals.

When and Why Use Checklists?

There are many reasons you might want to use a checklist, but if used correctly, they can boost your productivity, both at work and around the home.

I use checklists for many things — long-term and short-term. They are a fun way to keep yourself on track and tend to be treated more formally than a to-do list. (Even though they are essentially the same thing.)

Maybe, like me, you already use checklists around your house. Think about your grocery shopping list, or how about your to-do list for a project you are working on, like cleaning the house or preparing your holiday meal (especially when cooking and baking so that you don’t forget any ingredients)!

Checklists for business and creative projects work the same way. They are a way to stay on track with your goals and tasks.

How to Use Checklist to Boost Productivity at Work

Know the Steps
Create a list of tasks that move your project forward. Don’t keep it in your head. Write it down. Review the checklist at the start of your day.

Stick with the Steps
Review your checklist at least once per day. (I like to review my list mid-day and then again in the late afternoon when I feel my energy starting to wain). This list review is key to keeping on top of important tasks. When we get busy, it’s easy to get distracted. By reviewing it every so often during the day, you’ll stay focused and productive.

Pay Attention
A solid list helps you with time management, especially if you have a lot of little jobs to do. While it’s tempting to multitask, it’s a productivity killer. Multitasking stifles your focus, and it doesn’t always focus on what you wanted to achieve in the first place.

Power Tip: Add breaks and meal times to your daily list. While it may seem counterintuitive, breaks help improve your productivity. They give us time to rest and recover, but so much more. According to Dr. Robert Pozen, senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management, short breaks help us focus on goals, stimulate creativity, reduce decision fatigue, and increase worker engagement. (Listen to more of what Dr. Pozen has to say at The Science of Work podcast).

Rinse and Repeat
Always look for opportunities to repeat a process. (Think: How to change the ink in the printer or the process for logging in and updating your website). Create checklists that you can use to refresh your memory about what works or to hand off to an assistant. And, speaking of assistants, once you have repeatable processes that others can do …

Scale Your Work
Once you know you can repeat something, it’s time to scale! You can use the same checklists that you built for yourself and delegate tasks to others. You might even find a way to provide them on demand – or create an automated system so they happen without any effort from you.

Get to the Point (What was I saying?)
One of my favorite lists for work is a talking point list. Talking points are simply an outline of what you want to say during a meeting or to a specific person. Listing out the points ahead of time means that you don’t have to waste valuable brainpower on them while in the middle of the discussion. Plus, you will be able to present more confidently than if it’s all coming from memory.

Beware the Checklist Myth

Checklists break tasks down into a list of essential steps ensuring each potential situation will follow the same procedures. But before we get into creating your list – a word of warning. It’s easy to become overwhelmed when you subscribe to the misconceptions, “If I write it down, I will get it all done.”

Starting with the belief that you can get 87 things done in a day sets you up to feel bad when you can’t finish your list. An effective list is never complete. Always add new items and evaluated your list against your goals and plan.

Find Out What’s Important

When I work with clients, I notice that most have multiple lists, all in different places. I recommend creating your own book of lists out of all your other scattered lists. It will be a safe place to keep all your ideas in one spot. This book will become your master list.

When you use one spot for lists, your list will become self-correcting. Items that you are not interested in will expire or become apparent. Things essential to your plan will bubble to the top. In addition, there will be fewer scraps of paper cluttering up your space.

Your book can be subdivided into categories if you like. These sections will help when working on similar tasks at the same time. Also, develop routines for the ongoing stuff. This frees up time to complete the important stuff, and you will increase your productivity.

Work smarter, not harder – use simple checklists to save you more than just time!