Getting organized through checklists



An effective leader is an organized person.  Being organized is a “development” skill that can be practiced and honed.  One of the best developmental activities is getting organized through checklists.


According to Wikipedia, a checklist is a type of informational job aid used to reduce failure by compensating for potential limits of human memory and attention.

I find the word “repeatable” is missing in the definition.  In my opinion a checklist is something that can be used repeatedly to ensure successful completion of a routine task.  Every time you repeat the task, you use the same checklist.  A to-do list or a to-buy list when you go grocery shopping should not be treated as a checklist.  It has a one-time use and therefore cannot be revised to take on a definite form such as a template.

We use checklists daily.  For example, as I leave my home every day, I make sure I have my keys, wallet and cell phone.  Boom – this is a checklist.

My blog checklist:

As I write this post, I have my blog-post checklist handy.  Here it is:

Sample blog checklist

Sample blog checklist

This checklist (as all checklists) will surely evolve.  As I write more and more posts, I will think of other useful and repeatable actions that help make my posts more effective.  Surely I will revise the checklist to include those steps.

Other Examples:

To become better organized, think of all the activities that you perform multiple times.  For example, taking a test.  You can build a checklist for that.  The sections could be test preparation, activities on test day and post-test day activities.

Your exercise routine could have a checklist.  Checklists for camping trip, travel, event planning, audits, vehicle inspection, medical check-up, project initiation, project closure and many other activities are quite common.

Every night before going to bed, I go through another checklist: quick news check, look at the next day’s schedule, ensure that all lights are turned off, the cooking-gas burners are all switched off, no water taps are dripping and set the alarm.

As the definition indicates, you don’t have to rely on memory.  Instead, let the checklist guide you.  For activities that you perform daily, you will form a habit and likely may not need the checklist.

Dr. Gawande:

Incidentally, this post will not be complete without the mention of the ultimate authority on checklists.  This is the “Checklist Manifesto” by Dr. Atul Gawande.  Read it if only to savor the doctor’s fantastic writing style and some terrific stories.  The book also contains a checklist for checklists and talks about a surgeon’s safety checklist sample used by the World Health Organization.

It is an “unputdownable” book!

I have found checklists to be very useful.  How about you?  Which areas do you use a checklist for?  Which other tools work for you?

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