I used to be anti-checklist.
It seemed so anal-retentive to check off little boxes on a sheet every time I wanted to get something accomplished. And if I’m honest, I had a fair bit of pride tied up in the idea of being able to remember all the steps of a given task without having a cheat-sheet to refer back to.
Look how smart I am! I can keep it all in my large and imperious brain! WHERE IS MY PARADE??
And that worked fine when I had a relatively predictable daily routine with a limited number of steps to remember. But now that I’m responsible for making sure multiple complicated strings of detail-oriented tasks get done in the correct order on a daily basis?
As a startup EA, I’ve been more or less forced to embrace the art of the checklist, and I honestly can’t believe I’ve managed to function without it this long. Because here’s the thing, using checklists does all of the following:
– Reduces error
– Reduces the amount of time and brainpower needed to complete a task
– Creates good habits
So basically it’s faster, easier, and more effective than just doing things by memory. And all it takes is a pen and paper (or a computer) and a few minutes of setup.
Here’s how it’s done.
One list to rule them all
First step is to make a list of all the lists you will need to make. I recommend you start with DAILY, WEEKLY, MONTHLY, QUARTERLY, and YEARLY. Then come up with specific procedures you need to go through on a regular basis. For example, I have checklists for TRAVEL PREP, BOARD MEETINGS, CONFERENCES, and NEW HIRE ONBOARDING.
Not coincidentally, you can expect blog posts on all of the above in future. For now, though, let’s use DAILY as an example of how to make a checklist.
TO DO TODAY – the daily tasks checklist
Easiest way to do this one is just to keep a notepad next to you and for one full day, write down absolutely everything you do. Yes, even when you get distracted and go off-task. Write it all down. I recommend this for two reasons: 1. if you try to just sit down and think about what you do every day, chances are you won’t remember everything. And 2. it’s a super useful exercise to look at how you’re actually spending your day vs. how you think your day ought to be spent.
Once you have your list of stuff you did today, highlight everything you did that needs to get done every day. Add any tasks you know you normally do every day but which didn’t happen that day for whatever reason.
Now that you’ve got a list of repeated tasks, rank them in order of priority. Then take chronology into account. Email might not be the most important thing you do, but you probably need to check it first thing in the morning to make sure you address any urgent communications. And it’s hard to start scheduling before you’ve seen any email threads about meetings that need to be scheduled.
Voila! Now you have a list of tasks that need to be performed every day, listed in ideal order.
Now, you probably feel like you’ve already got your daily routine down, yeah? I mean, after all, you do it every day. But I highly recommend printing out your daily checklist and, for at least one week, going straight down the list, doing each task in the order listed, and checking them off as you go.
This will accomplish several things:
1. It will free up time and brain power you weren’t even aware you were using to ask yourself, “what should I do next?”, decide, and take action.
2. It will bring to light any discrepancies between the priority order you’ve listed out and the reality of how things work best. Feel free to adjust accordingly.
3. It will make you far less likely to let something slip through the cracks, now and in the future (since by following this procedure you are unconsciously creating a habit).
4. It will feel surprisingly satisfying to check off things you don’t normally think of as accomplishments because they’ve become invisible by virtue of repetition.
For the WEEKLY checklist, the only difference is that you’ll likely want to go in weekday order, i.e.:
Monday: Check calendar for next two weeks, make sure there are no train wrecks, conflicts, etc.
Monday: Get priorities for the week, schedule them in.
Tuesday: Send agenda for 1:1
Tuesday: Set up for weekly staff meeting
Wednesday: Prep high tea
And so on. Lather, rinse, repeat for monthly, quarterly, and yearly tasks.
Your specialized tasks lists are done a little differently. Basically, you work backwards.
It’s pretty much impossible not to miss a step when you’re mentally walking through a set of actions in a given set. So instead, start with the end result, and then ask yourself what happens just before that. Keep working backwards until you reach step one. And voila! You’ve created a checklist.
Next up: we’ll look at an example of a more specialized procedure: TRAVEL PREP.
Meanwhile, I’d love to hear what kinds of specialized checklists y’all are coming up with!
Now I’m a believer!