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How to Use Checklists to Improve Productivity

The top productivity hack that actually works

Photo by J. Kelly Brito on Unsplash

You have a busy day ahead. Zoom calls, impending deadlines, and an exhaustive fresh list of unread emails that inevitably piled up over the weekend. The average workday may sometimes seem like a never-ending struggle to get your work done. Just when you feel as if you are on top of things — more projects get added to your workday juggling trick.

There are so many tips and tricks out there on the internet that sell to you a listicle of tantalizing hacks that claim to get you on top of your project management. While these may be helpful for some, many want a much simpler solution.

That simpler solution is the handwritten checklist. Preparing for your day and becoming your most productive self may involve taking 5 minutes at the start to plan, write out your to-do list, and following up with that list after you complete a task.

It sounds too simple, right? Although each person’s productivity and working environment will differ, checklists have been proven effective across a wide range of domains. Industries such as healthcare, aviation, food services, and many more incorporate checklists as a means to get work done.

A 2015 study done in the American Economic Journal incorporated utilizing checklists for mechanics at an auto firm. The study found that after using the checklist, the firm saw an increase of 20% in revenue and that the checklists boosted productivity by serving as a memory aid and a way to monitor task completion.

Writing down a checklist at the start of each workday may help you find that you are getting more done and staying focused on the tasks at hand. It helps you build productive self-discipline. Here’s how you can start to go about integrating simple checklists for your busy workday.

Write it down at the start of your day.

We all build mental checklists in our heads when we are faced with many different tasks at hand. It’s very easy to start your workday off without writing anything down because you know already what needs to get done in your head. This may prove effective for your first few tasks, but after a while, it’s easy to lose focus and sight on what truly needs to get done for the day. Eventually, you start to lose inspiration and hold back on doing even the most minute tasks.

Instead, write down what needs to get done at the beginning of the day. List all the tasks on your radar, even the ones you know you may not get to. Put symbols or numbers next to tasks that take precedence.

You can choose to write your checklist or to-do list on a computer, tablet, or phone, but I prefer the old-fashioned way of the handwritten list. Especially if you spend all day on a computer already, breaking away from the screen helps you re-focus and reset your mind for the next task at hand. Bill Gates is one example of a leader who prefers handwritten notes to stay organized and motivated for heavy and stressful workloads.

Don’t abandon it halfway through.

It’s easy to have high levels of energy at the start of your day to write down your checklist, but what proves to be most difficult is following back up on that checklist later in the day. When work feels stressful or overwhelming we often go back to the habits we comfortably maintain. If checklists aren’t a regular part of your habits, they are in danger of getting abandoned.

Don’t let yourself fall into this trap. For the checklist to help with your productivity, you need to be consistent with it. Keep the list close by and always within a quick arms reach.

Think of it as your reward for completing a task. After all, there’s nothing more satisfying in your workday when you can scratch another item off the list. As your checklist habit grows, so does the satisfaction of checking off each item.

If more work does get added to your day, don’t hesitate to stop and add it to your list. It’s easy to approach more work as a burden but look at it from the perspective that you can now stop, add the tasks to your to-do lists, and re-evaluate your priorities for the day. Plan to be flexible and adaptable with your lists; don’t look at it as a static inventory, but instead as a living catalog.

Make adequate rest a part of the routine.

So many workaholics make use of checklists but forget one important bullet point: including an adequate break and rest time to help replenish energy levels.

Checklists will help improve productivity, but this won’t matter if you are burned out. You can prevent yourself from working too hard all the time by penciling in small breaks into your day and checking them off when you complete them. Think of them as just another necessary task on your to-do list.

Filmmaker and productivity YouTuber Matt D’Avella recommends finding balance in workdays to maximize true productivity:

“If we truly want to be productive for years on end, and not just for short blips at a time, it requires finding balance. Quite simply, you have the self-awareness to slow down or you eventually completely burn out.”

He emphasizes creating boundaries for your days, weeks, and even months to help you find the balance between work and rest. These boundaries help restrict you from taking on too much in a day and emphasize the importance of candidly disconnecting from your job to allow for an adequate reset.

When it comes to productivity, there are going to be many different methods that are effective for people. The checklist method is simple, easy to follow up on, and allows you to plan out a much-needed break from the day-to-day.

Checklists can also go beyond the professional sphere and can also help you focus on productive and meaningful habits in your personal life.

Next time you struggle to stay motivated and get your tasks done, pause and take the time needed to write down what needs to get accomplished and set your mind towards checking off those items on your list. Checklists hold you accountable and prove to be a straightforward and efficacious way to get work done.




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Ian Christopher

Ian Christopher

Outdoor Enthusiast | Naturalist | Photographer | Filmmaker | Educator | Writer | Based in California

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