Checklists – yes you do need them!

Do you do anything on a regular basis that has to be done in a certain order? Is there something so critical that if you forget about it you are guaranteeing everything to get screwed up? I bet yes.


A checklist will make sure you don’t miss any steps or forget anything. 

I remember when I was helping to teach a SCUBA diving class. If you are going under water you will need a lot of gear. There is no way around it, SCUBA is a gear intensive sport. Every piece of gear is pretty critical to you having a successful dive.

I was a dive master and was helping to assist the class. We all suited up and headed to the water’s edge. The instructor, who was a good friend of mine, glanced over at me and said “Where are your fins?”. And I thought for a moment, then said, “at home in my closet”.

I can tell you after that I never forgot to bring a critical piece of equipment.

That’s when I learned of the power of a checklist. I made up a list of all the critical equipment I needed and then all the optional equipment I might want to have.


For pilots in an emergency situation a checklist can literally be a lifesaver.

A Doctor about to perform surgery can look over a checklist to make sure they’ve covered all the bases before taking a knife to a patient.

Someone doing a weekly review can easily use checklist to make sure they don’t leave any loose threads behind.

There are several apps you can use for making checklist. Evernote has a checklist feature that is really handy.

Another great little app I use for checklist is Paperless. It’s like a checklist on steroids.

Here’s why I like Paperless:

  • Icons – You can use icons to help group your checklist.
  • Organize – You organize your lists in any manner you want.
  • Notes – You can add notes to your checklists. I use it sometimes fro prompts to remind what to check for.
  • Backup to Dropbox – I love backing up my lists.
  • Uncheck all – There is a handy uncheck all feature in the app. This is great if you are using these lists over and over again.

What makes a great checklist:

  • Document every step that needs to be taken – Yes dumb it down. This is no time for thinking! A checklist is about doing and getting it done.
  • Sequence the list – If step A needs to happen before step B make sure the order is correct.
  • Break the list down – Know what’s essential to do. This is critical when making a list. What are the parts that have to be done. Once you have the essentials then you can add more tasks as the  icing on the cake so to speak. Also break it down into manageable chunks of work.
  • Action phases – Generally checklists are about doing and not forgetting, so phrase your action items with this in mind. Use verbs to indicate the action needed to be taken – review, approve, assemble, etc.
  • Reassess and review – Checklists are living documents. Periodically pull it and go through the steps. Has something changed?

Here’s some tips for validating a checklist:

  • The author of the checklist should verify the checklist by personally testing it out step by step. Once complete then you can move on to the next step.
  • Have an end user test the list.
  • Can the checklist be completed in a reasonable amount of time for the task at hand?
  • Correct any errors that were detected.
  • Periodically review your checklist so they stay current and don’t get

Here’s some checklists I have:

  • GTD style weekly review – Yes I pull out this and go through it on a weekly basis.
  • The Friday wrap up – At the end of the week I take out this list so I’m sure I’m going to feel clear for the weekend.
  • Packing lists – For anything you may pack. Backpacking gear, travel, client presentations, etc.
  • Invoicing – A checklist will help keep your billing accurate and on time.
  • Performance reviews – A checklist also helps to ensure you cover all the basis during a review.
  • Dashboard – I like having a checklist for all our key dashboards we monitor. This way the dashboard can be updated by anyone.
  • Project management – I have an entire manual of checklists that can be used during each phase of a project to ensure steps aren’t missed.

Save time by writing down everything needs to be done once. Tweet This Quote

Yes I know most of us aren’t trying to fly a plane during an emergency or about to operate but checklists can still be really handy so you don’t miss a step.

If you want to read more about checklist check out  Atul Gawandi’s The Checklist Manifesto.

Send me a message on Twitter with any checklist you use.