Checklists are a simple way to boost productivity. However, before you start adding boxes to all your lists, there are a few things to consider.
These are 5 simple changes to the way you approach your work that can make a huge difference:
Know what you have to do – Keep a list of tasks that move your project forward. Now you know what items to do during the time you set aside to work on that project. Don’t keep it in your head, write it down. It will keep the “Oh no, I forgot about…” to a minimum.
Know approximately how long will it take – Become aware of just how long things take you to do, start to finish, including prep and clean up time. Try keeping a log for at least a week.
You will be surprised. Both by the things that take longer and the number of things you can accomplish quickly. Now you will know that there is no way to get 3 big projects done in one day and can adjust your schedule and expectations accordingly.
Know what you will do next – By keeping track of the task you want to do once you are finished with the current one, you can keep keep from getting lost in the details of perfectionism. Just say to yourself, “as soon as I finish this, I can…” and keep working.
You can make this even easier by time blocking your day. That is when you divide your day into simple categories based on the routine tasks you need to do. I’ll make some calls then I will write an article, then I will prep for an event, instead of an appointment with an actual time for each task.
Know where your stuff is – By keeping the physical items you need to accomplish a task in the same area, you save yourself trips and hunting around for that one thing.
So by placing the ink, paper and stapler near the printer you won’t have to hunt around when you’re printing and run out of paper. Along the same lines, keep out in the open only a small amount and keep back ups tucked away ready when supplies need replenishing. A single ream of paper open and ready to use and the others stacked neatly underneath.
Know you can do it again – Always look for opportunities to repeat the process the next time – Create checklists that you can use to refresh your memory about what works or to hand off to an assistant. This frees up the time you would have had to use to recreate the wheel, which we all know, took thousands of years.
When I work with clients there are two things I always find as we explore their piles. One is money and the other is abandoned lists – written on what ever scrap of paper was handy at the time.
What’s a list?
A list is not a plan, just a piece of a plan. Having a plan will help you figure out which items on the list are actually important and the steps to achieve your plan.
Overwhelm happens when you subscribe to these misconceptions: “I have a list and it is my plan. If I write it down I will get it all done.”
Starting with the belief that you can get 87 things done in a day is setting yourself up to feel bad when you can’t finish your list. An effective list is never complete, new items are added and evaluated against your goals and plan.
I recommend creating your own book of lists out of all your other scattered lists. It will be the safe place to keep all your ideas in one spot. Then pick your daily tasks from this master list. When you use one spot for lists, your list will become self-correcting. Items that you are not really interested in will expire or become obvious. Items that are important – to your plan – will bubble to the top. In addition, there will be fewer scraps of paper cluttering up your space.
Your book can be subdivided into categories if you like. This will help when working on similar tasks at the same time. Then develop routines for the ongoing stuff. This frees up time to complete the important stuff.
I use checklists for many things. They are a fun way to keep yourself on track and tend to be treated more formally than a to do list. (Even though they are essentially the same thing.) More things from your master list to a checklist once they become important.
There are so many ways to customize them, an underline, a bullet, an actual checkbox – diamond – or circle, even a puppy outline can accept the check once a task is completed. The sense of accomplishment can be small or huge depending on how hard it was, how long it took, or how much progress the task provided, real or imagined. 1.Check. 2.CHECK. 3.check.
Check marks move us forward, onward towards our goals. So, which tasks are to be included? What kind of lists will boost productivity?
I like to start with the 3 most important tasks of the day. Sometimes they will take all day. Sometimes I get to pick 3 more from my master list. When I am feeling out of synch with the world I sometimes add some silly tasks (4. eat cookies) to the list just so I can check it off the list.
If I have a lot of little things to do in a day a formal checklist can keep me focused and running my errands in the most convenient way.
Talking points either about a subject or discussion points with a specific person. These are extra handy for dealing with the people you delegate to or collaborate with and serve to focus the conversation.
Other uses of checklists are for frequent routine tasks with a lot of steps or information needed for another person to do the task. These are great for systematizing and delegating.
“How to” pages around the office (or just in a convenient place on the computer) can help you remember which steps to do on projects. Especially the ones that are regular but not frequent. These tasks are at risk – something might be overlooked. I have them for end of the month bookkeeping and putting on a workshop.
Supply lists for purchasing or gathering the necessary things for an event. Think shopping and packing lists.
When most people start a new project, they start pulling all the pieces of paper that they think will help them onto the desk. The intention is that if the information is in front of them they will work on it.
The trouble with this method is that routine tasks get buried and overlooked, even if you have your agendas already in place. Keeping things tidy allows you to see both the project and the routines.
A much better approach is to treat the project work itself as one of the routines in your week. Then set the project up for success.
List the project on your master list. Next, create a folder with the name of the project and keep it in the project area, a dedicated spot for current projects. As you come across important pieces of information, store them in the file.
When you start working on the project, create a checklist – a to do list for the project – and keep it in the front of the folder. Work on the tasks during the appropriate time block on your schedule.
As the project evolves, certain tasks – like phone calls, might make more sense to take care of during a different time block. Simply move those calls to your “call time list.” Cross referencing your lists so you don’t overlook something important.
Retrieve the folder from the project area for your work sessions. Return it at the end of the session. Once the project is complete, weed out the file, returning support documents to their homes, updating the checklist with lessons learned and tossing all but the final version. Better yet, leave the final version in the computer.
There are lots of productivity tips out there, and the simple fact is that most of you will read them, say “that sounds good”, and never implement them. So I want to challenge you to try just one of these to boost productivity and see how it goes, then try another one.
There is nothing like the satisfaction of crossing a completed task off your list – unless you are a check mark kind of person. In either case, do it with a flourish.