How A Checklist Will Improve Your Life: The Best Tool For Directing Business Success

I start with two examples of how a checklist won’t improve your life:

I had always used checklists in a casual way for day-to-day tasks. Sometimes I would write down the steps or more often I would just go over them in my head.

Then I started doing financial audits.

Oh man! I had to fill out hundreds of pages of checklists. Every audit step had to be initialed, dated, cross-referenced to the work papers, and reviewed twice for completeness.

Finally, I discovered a voice of reason:

‘The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right,’ by Atul Gawande.

After reading this book, I became a total fan girl of checklists and haven’t looked back. If you haven’t read it I wholeheartedly recommend you do. He tells some fascinating stories that make it a very intriguing read. But, better yet he lays out how to craft a checklist that is a genuine tool you can use without creating a paperwork nightmare.

On a super stressful day when the phone is ringing, my email inbox is overflowing and I feel like I’m being pulled in several directions at once my checklist is a lifesaver. Even when I have to start and stop my work on a task I can be confident I’m not forgetting a step because of my checklist.

In my blog and Facebook Live ‘How to Get and Stay Organized: The Absolute First Step for Directing Business Success,’ I made my case for just how important staying organized is for your business. And, how step 1 is getting all your tasks on a to-do list.

I believe a checklist is the best tool to help you tackle the tasks on that to-do list.

Why? Well Mr. Gawande said it best, a checklist helps us overcome two ways our brains can fail us:

First, our memory and attention

We can fail to remember the mundane and routine tasks especially when more pressing issues demand our concentration.

Be honest, we have all been in a hurry to make a deadline when suddenly some piece of equipment stops working. We spent a whole bunch of time trying to figure out what’s wrong only to discover it was simply unplugged.

Second, our attention to detail

Our brains are built for novelty and excitement, and this causes us to become complacent. We will start skipping steps because some steps don’t always matter. That is until they do. How many time have you thought, “It hasn’t ever been a problem before?”

Another significant way a checklist will improve your life:

It helps your reputation with customers.

You will appear more confident, organized and efficient than your competitors because a checklist can significantly reduce mistakes. In business, it always comes back to your customers and clients.

Your customer is concerned about only one thing – did I get the result I paid for?

If you don’t deliver the promised result, then the brutal truth is:

 Your customer doesn’t care about any of the things you did right.

If you fail on just one key item, then you might as well not make the effort at all. While a checklist won’t make us perfect it will significantly increase the odds of us delivering on our promises.

What Makes A Great Checklist

How it looks – you want your checklist to be visually attractive in a clean and simple way. Don’t use graphics or fancy elements. You want your eyes to quickly find what you need.

  • Use a simple font that is large enough to read easily.
  • Use mixed case for the items
  • Use an organized, and uncluttered format
  • Ideally, it’s one page long. If it needs to be longer break the checklist into multiple sections or “checkpoints”.

How it reads – you want to instantly understand each item on your checklist. Use basic language and simple sentences. It shouldn’t take much time to go through your checklist.

Include steps that are critical to your work or easily missed

  • Make sure each item is actionable
  • Make sure the items have a logical flow and will detect errors at a time they can be fixed
  • Have ten or fewer items at each “checkpoint” or section. If the checklist is too long you will be tempted to take shortcuts.
  • Consider items that remind you to communicate with your customer or team members

Keep in mind

How do you want to use the checklist? One way is to use it is as a reminder while you work on a task. Another is to use it as a review tool once the task is finished.

Your checklist is a tool to help guide you through a process you already know. It’s not a substitute for knowledge and training.

The point of a checklist isn’t just to make sure all the boxes are checked. Use it as an aid and tool to support excellence in your work.

To stay useful your checklist will need to be reviewed and revised regularly.

A well-designed checklist doesn’t get in the way but actually, makes your work less stressful. It will free your mind from having to focus on what to do and allow you to concentrate on the unique or customer specific parts of your work.

At the end of the day, checklists are inexpensive and easy to make so there is really no reason not to start using them.

Is there any time a checklist would’ve prevented a mistake you made?

How could you use a checklist to appear confident, organized and efficient to your customers?

Let me know your answers or share your suggestions in the comments below.

Don’t forget to download my checklist template to help you get started!

And last but not least . . .

Check out my Facebook Live on this topic. I will talk about one way I use checklists to stay on track during a busy tax season.

Susan BrownComment