How to create a checklist and make routine tasks thoroughly

For routine but infrequent tasks there’s no way of remembering all the important steps. Human brain is great, but it can easily forget one little step in a consequence of dozen of others. Checklists are powerful tools that we all need to use. They are not a panacea, but if you use them, your productivity will boost.

Checklists proved to reliably improve the quality of work. My view on checklists is influenced by Atul Gawande‘s book “The Checklist Manifesto.” Gawande comes to the checklist from the world of surgery where mistakes cause lawsuits, injuries and death.

How checklists can help

According to Gawande, there are two categories of problems we face in getting work done.

  1. Ignorance – we simply do not know what to do.
  2. Ineptitude – “making sure we apply the knowledge we have consistently and correctly”.

We all make mistakes and forget steps even in tasks we’ve been doing for years. Checklists are great reminders of what tasks we need to do, in what order, plus they free our mind from having storing all these steps.

The checklist is a simple, numbered list. Printable or nor depends on what you prefer. I don’t use printable materials, thus organize my checklists in Evernote. For any routine tasks you can write the name, the date/time you usually do it, and a list of the items.

checklists organized in evernote

My checklists organized in Evernote.

How to make a perfect checklist

To make a checklist you’d naturally have a checklist:

  1. Step 1: Identify “stupid mistakes” that cause failure.
  2. Step 2: Seek additional input from others.
  3. Step 3: Create simple “do” steps.
    1. Try to be as specific as possible, even if a step seems mundane or “obvious”.
    2. It’s the obvious things that often get overlooked.
    3. Record what you do, not what you think you should do.
  4. Step 4: Create simple “talk” steps.
  5. Step 5: Test the checklist.
  6. Step 6: Refine the checklist.

Initial steps taken from the Projectmanagementhacks website.

To evaluate your checklist answer these questions:

  1. Is this step necessary? Why is this step included?
  2. Is this step in the right place? Should it come sooner or later in the list?
  3. Are the steps clear enough that I could give this checklist to another person without explanation?
  4. Is each step a concrete action that can be completed and checked off?

A good checklist is precise, efficient, and easy to use even in the most difficult situations.

You may have trouble believing that something as simple as writing down the steps of the routine tasks you do every day, evaluating them, and then codifying them into a readable checklist could be that revolutionary and productive. Hopefully, there is only one way to prove it for you: get started and see for yourself.

What tasks need their checklists?

I try to make checklists for every task which happens often and includes more than 10 steps and for every task which happens so rare, that I would surely forget to do all right. Here are some my checklists that you might apply:

  • Networking: follow up with new people you meet, adding them to your contacts list, following them on social networks, and more.
  • Stress relief: when stress comes, I can’t control all the steps to do to bring me back. This checklist is saving haven.
  • Admin: completing reports, backing up important files, and other tedious tasks not part of your daily job.
  • Financial: tasks like reporting tax, scanning receipts, and reviewing spending
  • Security: a list of accounts to change passwords regularly, and backups to check on (when you need a backup is not the time you want to realize it stopped running).
  • Social media: a checklist of steps to make a post on Facebook as checking link, proofreading, looking for image credit.
  • Death checklist: it should be called “funeral checklist”, but I included steps on financial, utilities, and household tasks, which made the list into the full actionable model in those hard days.

To find inspiration and checklists made by others, visit the Checklist website. Some items are great, but I mostly used this for looking for ideas. The content of checklists there doesn’t fit me.


Resources and other materials to read on checklists:

The power of checklists — The art of manliness

How to use simple checklists to boost efficiency and reduce mistakes — Zapier blog

How to start using procedure checklists for flawless task execution — Lifehacker

Join My Private Email List

Every once in a while I send out a list of things I think are worth sharing straight to your inbox. Want to join? Subscribe here.