If You Aren't Using Checklists You're Wasting Hours of Your Life

So much of what we do each day, week, month, or year, is a repeated process. Your morning routine. Your work day. Packing for a vacation. Reviewing your goals. Processing email. Reviewing your personal or business financials. These are all important things that we do repeatedly.

Unfortunately, most people end up reinventing the wheel each time they perform the recurring actions in their life. We may base our process loosely on a wanna-be “checklist” in our mind that comes from what we remember of the last time we performed the tasks. This means that we waste time and brainpower trying to think about what we should do rather than just doing it well.

Making the decision to create, implement, and revise checklists in all areas of your life will dramatically increase the value of your time.

Over the years I have become fairly obsessive with checklists. I’ve realized that the more checklists I have, the more it frees me up from the details of a task and helps me to focus on the desired outcome. Some examples of what I have checklists for include: my quarterly planning retreats, my morning routine, work day startup routine, workday shut down routine, evening routine, client meeting prep, client meeting follow up, weekly goal setting/review, vacation prep, etc.

Develop a simple system that allows you to quickly and easily create, use, and edit checklists.

Technology, especially the supercomputer that nearly all of us carry with us everywhere, has made creating a simple system very easy. It has also, however, made it easy to get bogged down by trying to pick the perfect piece of technology rather than simply implementing the practice of good checklists.

Personally, I use a task management software called Nozbe to house all of my tasks, projects, and checklists but there are countless options out there. You can even use a simple google doc or spreadsheet. However, the nice thing about a dedicated task management system that is built to work across platforms (smartphone, personal computer, browser, watch, etc.) is that the system is more readily available to you when you need to access a checklist.

Whatever system you decide on, make sure that it is easy to quickly create, use and edit a checklist. You do NOT want to use a system that creates more stress or distraction for you. You want it to be a single place where you can build checklists efficiently to eliminate hours of work from your life.

Create a checklist.

Start with something simple. Something you do every day. A good checklist to have, that most people don’t have, is your “Workday startup routine.” How you start your workday has a tremendous impact on the rest of your day. What do you do when you get to work and sit down at your desk? Do you have a plan? Do you pop open your browser and your email and just start putting out fires?

Here is my current Workday Startup Routine for reference:

  1. No email yet! Review Weekly and Monthly Goals (or do Weekly Preview Checklist if Monday) (10 minutes)

  2. Review tasks in client relationship manager and task manager (Nozbe) to identify most important thing for the day. Process items immediately that can be completed in less than two minutes (20 minutes total: 10 minutes in client relationship manager, 10 minutes in task manager).

  3. Do the most important thing for the day (prioritize long-term, true hourly wage-increasing items) (90 minutes)

  4. Inboxes Zero. Delete, delegate or schedule items. Do NOT work on items. (15 minutes total: physical inbox, voicemails & texts, Task Manager inbox, Email inbox).

  5. Take a break: Walk, snack, listen to audiobook. (30-60 minutes).

  6. Does this checklist need any revisions? (3 minutes)

This checklist ensures I start the workday off not only knowing what needs to be done but also ensures I get the most important item done right off the bat.

Put time parameters on and in your checklists.

One thing that I realized I had to do for myself in following my own checklists was to put time parameters on the entire checklist and on each individual item. You may not need to go into this amount of detail but I would encourage you to consider it. It will help you to better estimate how long it will take you to complete a checklist. For example, if you are trying to complete a checklist in between two appointments you will be able to know whether you have enough time to complete it.

The other reason to put time parameter on the especially the individual items in a checklist is to keep yourself on track. Personally, I set the timer on my watch for each individual item. if I have checklisted something to take 10 minutes, I will set myself a timer for 5 minutes so that I know when I am halfway through my allotted time and can step up the pace and prioritize the remaining time.

Too often, without time parameters, you will simply use up as much time as you have available, which negates much of the benefit of having a checklist in the first place. (See this post on how to prioritize your actions)

Update your checklists.

Notice the final item on my checklist. “Does this checklist need any revisions?” This should be at the end of each checklist you have. You don’t have to act on it every time (in fact, you shouldn’t as you build good checklists) but it will make you think about the checklist that you just completed and whether something about it should be changed. Should something be deleted? Should something be added? Do the time parameters need to be changed? Should it be assigned to someone else?

The checklist mindset.

Be sure to start small when beginning to create checklists. You can even create one as simple as “what to take to work in the morning”. Over time though, you will want to begin to think about the things that you repeat in your life and how you can checklist them. As you do this more and more, and as you use the same system for creating, implementing and editing checklists, it will become more second nature to identify things in your life that can be distilled into checklists.

Checklists foster creativity.

Any type of structure, such as a checklist may be thought of by some as stifling to creative thinking. The argument is that so much structure makes us operate like robots rather than as creative human beings. I personally believe the complete opposite. In structuring things that are repeated the same way every time, you not only ensure that nothing is missed (our “creative” mind doesn’t have a perfect memory) but it ensures that we are not wasting our brainpower on reinventing or remembering processes. We then have much more time and energy to think creatively about where we can add the most value.

I wish you all the best as you strive to create greater value with your limited time.

Kyle Mast, CFP®

Kyle Mast, CFP®Comment