Assessing your checklist habits

By Tom Dowd | Apr 14, 2016

I used to work with an individual who carried her calendar with her everywhere. Within the calendar was her personal checklist for the day. Each morning, I would see her flipping the pages back and forth from yesterday to today and transferring the items not finished yesterday to the new day. After several days of watching her do this, I finally asked her two questions: First, how long does it take each day to transfer the new items over? Second, how important were the tasks in the first place if they kept getting moved? The answers were, that it took longer than she liked and the tasks transferred each day were probably not as important as she had originally thought. She was hurting her ability to manage time effectively in an attempt to organize each day.

The use of checklists always starts with the best intentions. Unfortunately, people often like to see them to check off their completed items and turn it into an accomplishments list. Checklists shouldn’t be used as an accomplishments list to tick off the little victories, or as an exercise in procrastination. Checklists should be used to drive execution of the tasks, but too often we start to migrate to the easier and quicker tasks. If you want an accomplishments list, then keep one, but don’t combine it with your checklist. A checklist should be about getting things done. On it should be all items needing to be addressed today: important, not important, urgent, and not urgent. It should be a complete list dedicated to today.

Assess your own checklist usage. Whether it is a literal checklist or a figurative set of tasks that you keep online, take the time to understand how often you move tasks regularly. You should stop using a checklist if you constantly shift tasks from day to day — this isn’t productive. Consider the following when conducting your assessment, some of which is reinforcement of past chapters:

• If you have moved a task for consecutive days, you must ask yourself, “How important is it?” If it is important, take action on it. If it is important but not urgent, don’t schedule it for tomorrow, schedule it for a week from now, when you know you can get to it.

• If you are proactively staying ahead of your day, week, and month as stated in an earlier chapter, then you should be on top of this and simply be making tweaks along the way.

• Checklists, if kept, must be comprised of the least amount of work you expect to get done and still consider the day a success. Specifically, this is the “I can’t leave until this gets done” list. Be very realistic.

• Build in daily events and habits. What do you do at eight a.m. every morning? Are there calls you have to return, administrative tasks that need to be done (e.g., paperwork to process)? If so, build it in. Account for the time you are using.

When it comes to checklists, the important key is to not write it down or add it to your online to-do list today if you are not going to do it today. Your checklist assessment should enable you to turn a potential time management hindrance into a time management tool.

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