How Checklists Make You Smarter – The Works

Apollo 17 Lunar Surface Checklist

“Discovering” something that everyone else knows about is like planting your nation’s flag in the flower bed at the mall and feeling accomplished for the effort. To say that I’ve come to understand that checklists are a huge part of The Works (the absolute must-do parts of business, sometimes also called the Grind), is really to my embarrassment and to your possible advantage, if only to hear my thoughts, and even if it’s to nod simply and sagely, and acknowledge that you arrived there first.

Checklists are what drives one through The Works.

Checklists Push You To Cover More Ground

We are driven by a need to feel accomplishment that comes from some place far back in our primal days. Kill a sabertooth and you are cheered by the tribe. Fail to bring home dinner and people might die. It’s primal. Though I believe strongly that external sources of praise (or criticism) aren’t useful to us, I’m pretty darned sure that when you drive your own sense of pride, it’s a good thing.

If I write down three tasks to accomplish, I can try and hit all three in a day. If I write down 29 tasks and hit seven, it’s more than three. From what I’ve observed in my own behaviors, somewhere in the middle is best. Push yourself to accomplish as many tasks as you believe you can, and set a number of tasks that’s a stretch to reach, but that isn’t insurmountable. In this way, you can cover more ground.

Checklists Free Your Mind for Creative Thinking

A lot of what we do in The Works of our own business is grinding stuff that simply has to be done. Paying bills or invoicing customers falls into this. Making sure you check the links in your newsletter is that kind of work. Every time you can put together a checklist, especially a repeatable one for series of tasks that you might perform more than once, you’re giving yourself a lot more opportunity to have your brain wide open for other pursuits, such as problems that might arise, any nuances that could also aid the experience, and/or any creativity that might benefit your business efforts.

Checklists Cover Your Back

In my days of product support and release engineering in telecom, we wrote MOPs: method of procedure documents, and these were used internally for all the details of an upgrade or similar projects, and they were used externally to explain to our partners how we conducted our business. Quite often, we’d learn something from executing against our MOP documents that would find its way into a future iteration of the process. Other times, we’d experience a problem that wasn’t any where near predictable. In those cases, we’d do what we could to adjust future MOPs, but it was part of our experience to learn that not everything can be covered. I’ll tell you that visiting your Vice President, several other VPs, and sometimes the client whose whole platform you disrupted was a little bit easier to deal with if you had what felt like a strong list of procedures in a reasonable order and with a lot of care and consideration.

Consider Three Types of Checklists

In my mind, there are (at least) 3 types of checklists you might consider for improving your own business, and for getting through The Works. First are tasks that are personal and repeatable. You might put your health and fitness goals in this category, for instance, plus any growth projects you’re pursuing like learning guitar or practicing another language.

The second kind of checklist would be repeatable processes, which you might use for projects like creating your newsletter, or publishing your blog, or doing the actual guts of the work that relates to your business. These are repeatable and could be gathered into packs of lists that would invoke the concept of “project.”

The third list is more of a daily task list, and it should be your “to do’s” and errands and whatever you’re pursuing that is something that might repeat, but is more calendar-minded in nature. Reminder to get the cat’s shots updated would fit well on this list, as would a reminder to check in with your vendor who hasn’t returned with a price quote yet.

With these three types of checklists, you will find a lot more ease of experience in getting through the grind. Are you using any kind of checklists or systems like this yourself? Have you seen a difference when you pursue your lists than when you don’t? What did I miss in the system?

What’s your experience? I’m sure we’d love to hear it. I know I would.

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