The Secret Power of Checklists

May 12, 2020

What if there was a free tool that could bring you the same success as astronauts, surgeons, and engineers? And that could help reduce stress and anxiety? Wouldn’t you want to use it? Well, grab a pen and some paper! In the next 10 minutes, you’re going to discover the almost-too-easy-to-be-true way these folks are able to increase their productivity and decrease their stress in some seriously stressful situations!

So, what is this secret master skill? The skill that, when employed in hospitals, decreases complication rates by 35%, and death rates 47%? The one that NASA uses to launch its shuttles and make spacewalks possible?

It’s nothing complicated, really; or time-consuming, at that.  It all simply begins with a list.

Yes, a list.

Listen, the world is complex. Have you ever stared at the mountain of work in front of you and just been overwhelmed by the complexity of it all? You start your day wondering, how am I supposed to get that project done for work, get my workout done, feed myself—maybe even my family as well—spend time with my loved ones, clean my space, and do it all in time to get my requisite 8 hours of sleep?

Phew, I’m exhausted, stressed, and want to roll over and go back to bed already.

So, how, in the face of all this complexity, do we pause, work through this, and leave ourselves with more than enough time to “do it all”? All while not forgetting to bake brownies for the kiddos’ fundraiser or miss that last-minute conference call?

It’s time we bring in the professionals on this one. Because the answer here is so simple, it’s important you know why it all works and the impact this simple fix can have!

To walk us through this journey to the ultimate, time-tested tool for productivity, we turn to the fabulous creator and thinker Matt D’Avella!

Matt D’Avella creates some incredible content that explores all corners of productivity, life hacks, and interesting ways of trying out new lifestyle ideas. He’s got some great insights to enjoy over on his YouTube page!

You can check out the books he mentioned, Essentialism and The Checklist Manifesto, as well. They are a great starting resource for anybody who wants to adopt a few more checklists in their life!

Get Your Checklist On!

Alright, do you have your pen and paper now? Let’s get listing!

I heard about NASA’s checklist system a while ago when I listened to astronaut Chris Hadfield’s book An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth (which is a great read, too). In it, he talks about how there was a checklist for absolutely everything they did and how it made an enormous task like a spacewalk so much easier to process. In a place where a million things can go wrong, if you have a checklist to run through, you spend a lot less time worrying about if you forgot something and are able to spend far more time focusing on the tasks at hand.

Like any habit, getting into checklists is a process. Choose one place in your life to try out checklisting and then suddenly, you’ll find new places to list. It’s not about giant overhauls to your systems, it’s about making small, incremental, and sustainable progress.

Not sure where to start?

Think about a routine you have that causes you a lot of stress. Maybe it’s getting the kids ready in the morning, or a particularly complicated issue at work that you only have to deal with every once in a while (and have to keep re-teaching yourself how to do… looking at you, printer). Whatever it is, the next time you do it, try out this checklist from the video:

  • Observe your own process on something

  • Record your process (Somehow.)

  • Try to do it again using the process you recorded

  • Refine your process (Did you forget any important steps?)

  • Teach the process to others! (If it’s a task you can delegate)

Give this process a go and see if it relieves your stress or anxiety about the tasks ahead! I can say from personal experience that I’ve seen my anxiety about work decrease astronomically when I adopted my checklist habit. (Not to mention, I’ve started using a checklist when I go to the grocery store now and I’m saving so much time and wasting so much less food!)

Ways to stick with it!

Some people find it super useful to make a checklist of tasks for the next day before they go to bed. It makes it easier for them to go right to sleep and not have to worry about what they have to wake up to.

Others, like myself and Sam, like to start the workday by going through our daily checklist. We write down everything we have to do in a day and spend the rest of the day gleefully working to check that list off. On our team, Renee, our outreach coordinator, is the queen of checklists. She has a checklist for everything from meal planning to next year’s Christmas presents. (I’ve taken a few notes from her and have started doing the same).

I find it helpful to have my checklist on an app (I like to use Google Keep, they have a handy checklist feature that makes it easy to create reoccurring lists). That way, I have it with me all the time and can check things off on the go. Others find it helpful to have checklists written with pen and paper.

Get inspired!

Now, equipped with your checklisting skills, I want to share with you one of my favorite articles featuring a checklist master! In this hilarious experiment, life adventurer Beau Miles sets off to tackle a day of getting things done, while running one mile an hour for 24 hours. This is the article to send to the “doer” in your life!

We want to hear how things go!

So give us a shout out on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter with your list! Tell us the quirky ways you’re employing a checklist to make life a little easier!

Until then, get listing, we can’t wait to see what you come up with!

Stay beautiful & keep laughing!

By Liesl Ulrich-Verderber