One of my long-time corporate roles was in the aviation industry. As you can imagine, this industry is highly regulated and there’s no room for error. This is where I first came across the mother of all checklists … the challenge and response checklist.
This is where the non-flying pilot will read the checklist item to the flying pilot who will then verbally confirm the status or configuration of the item.
While this type of checklist is totally necessary for the aviation industry, it’s probably a bit over the top for us business owners!
What is a checklist?
A checklist is a list of steps for a repetitive task. Checklists ensure that you don’t forget steps while you’re performing a multi-part task.
Don’t confuse a checklist with a “to-do list” which lists things needed to be done, whereas a checklist shows you “how” to do something [ie how to load a blog onto my website].
What’s the best time to use a checklist?
The short answer is more often than you think. You probably already use checklists without even noticing.
You can use a checklist whenever the task is:
easily forgettable, either because it’s too complex or too simple
In the above example, you use the “I’m going out” checklist not because it’s hard to pick up five things … You use it because it’s a boring task that you don’t want to think about
What does a good checklist look like?
Good checklists don’t include every tiny detail…they serve as a reminder for every important step. If you’re looking for every tiny detail, you’ll need work instruction instead.
So, a good checklist is:
easy to use
On the other hand, a bad checklist is:
too complex to use.
Bad checklists will kill your productivity, instead of helping it. You’ll spend more time figuring out how to use it than actually doing any work…and nobody has got time for that!
So how do you create a checklist?
Choose a repetitive task that you do regularly
Write down all the steps you need to complete for the task
Next time you do the task, compare it with the steps you’ve got listed
Add anything that you’ve missed, remove anything that you don’t need and rearrange the order if necessary
Once you’ve done this without any changes, your checklist is good to go
Your checklist can be created on paper, or you can create them electronically. I keep my checklists in Asana and tick them off in there. This saves me paper and I can always find them because they’re in one place.
Your new organised life
Using checklists will improve your work and productivity. No more wasted time trying to remember what to do next. I find them invaluable when I bring on a new client and I’m learning their processes.
If you start using checklists, you’ll have all these bonus side effects:
Organisation – By making sure you’re not skipping any steps you’ll stay more organised. You won’t have to go back to check if something “fell between the cracks”.
Accountability – When something goes wrong, you’re able to pinpoint where and when in the process it happened.
Avoid distractions – If you only do the tasks on the checklist, you’ll be forced to avoid distractions.
Motivation – Checklists are powerful because they make us act.
Consistency – Checklists ensure that the process gets done correctly the first time.
Productivity – If you do your tasks more quickly, efficiently and with fewer mistakes, you’ll have more time in your day.
Delegation – Delegating tasks will be so much easier. With a checklist to follow, there’s less room for mistakes and you’ll feel more confident handing over tasks to someone else.
Remember to use your checklist, and you won’t forget any step in the process ever again!
Marie Robertson-King is the Head Empress of organisation and systems at Empress of Order.
After spending decades in the corporate world, she is now bringing her wealth of experience in administration, systems, reporting, communications and procedures to the small business community! Marie has worked across multiple industries in her career - construction, mining, aviation and finally oil and gas.
She’s obsessed with detail, loves organisation, order and making life easier for her clients. She gets a kick out of a well-executed spreadsheet or a beautiful presentation, and she’s well known for producing work to a high standard, even under pressure.