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Boost Your Productivity With Checklists

December 8th, 2006 by Steve Pavlina

A checklist is a documented system, process, or procedure for completing a particular task. If you've ever followed a recipe to prepare a meal, you've used a checklist. Here are some of the benefits of using checklists to enhance your personal productivity:

  • Save time - By creating a checklist, you'll save time whenever you execute the same task. It's usually easier to complete a complex task by following step-by-step instructions instead of trying to recall everything from scratch, especially if the task is performed very infrequently.
  • Reduce mistakes - Checklists help you avoid mistakes, especially errors of omission, because you can check off each step as you complete it.
  • Improve consistency - By executing the same steps in the same order every time, you'll achieve more consistent results.
  • Optimize processes - When you document a process in writing, it's easier to recognize opportunities for improvement. Individual steps can be rearranged for more intelligent grouping.
  • Delegate tasks - As easily as you can share a recipe, you can hand a checklist to someone else as a means of training him/her to perform a task.
  • Reduce cognitive burden - A checklist frees you to focus on the action steps without the mental burden of remembering what comes next, so it's easier to enter the highly productive flow state.
  • Reduce procrastination - A tedious or complicated task doesn't seem so bad once you've broken it down into a step-by-step process. Reduce the tendency to procrastinate by focusing on just the first step.
  • Increase confidence - Quickly scan your checklist to verify that every step is complete, and avoid that sinking feeling you may have forgotten something important.

Here are some practical examples of how you can use checklists:

  • Back up your hard drive
  • Complete your tax return
  • Handle your personal accounting (pay bills, balance checkbook, file receipts, etc)
  • Perform routine maintenance on your home or car
  • Write a blog entry (spell-check, proofread, select categories, etc)
  • Daily routine tasks (email, forums, web sites, voice mail, etc)
  • Your favorite goal-setting process
  • Your gym workout routine
  • Your house cleaning routine
  • Your travel packing list
  • Your master grocery shopping list
  • Preparing for a date
  • Preparing for a meeting
  • Decorating for the holidays

The next time you perform a recurring task, take a few minutes to create a checklist by documenting your action steps. Checklists can be documented on paper or on a computer or handheld device, so use whichever format is most convenient for you. Over time your collection of checklists will make your life significantly easier, allowing you to get things done instead of trying to remember what to do.