Making Checklists: Our Top 5 Tips From Pros Around The World

Making-Checklists

Deadlines.

Meetings.

Presentations.

As an employee and business owner, your agenda is jam-packed full of to-dos. It can sometimes be difficult to stay afloat. This is why we at Process Street have created this article to make your working life a lot easier.

We’re going to look at making checklists for the effective management of your work.

We asked business owners and employees across the globe: What tips or tricks would you give someone for making checklists?

We gathered our responses, sieved out significant commonalities, and wrapped up our findings to produce this article.

Click on a subheader to jump to any section, or scroll down to read a full in-depth account on making checklists.

Making checklists: Why use checklists?

At Process Street, we love checklists.

We believe checklists are key to performing business operations with precision, high productivity, efficiency, and effectiveness. They are great at breaking down your workload into smaller, more manageable chunks.

Turns out we are not alone with our appreciation of the simple checklist tool.

From qualitative research, we found leading companies around the world implement checklists on a regular basis to get a job done. Check out our Employee Checklists: How Successful Organizations Use Them for more information.

In light of this, our next question asked: What tips or tricks would you give someone for making checklists?

We wanted to know how top business owners and employees across the globe were making their checklists.

Making checklists - qualitative research
Word cloud generated from responses given to our question ‘What tips or tricks would you give someone for making checklists?’ Source

We gathered up our qualitative data to produce our final top tips list. To create this list, we grouped all responses as per tip given. Each tip with a significant number of responses made the grade to be detailed below.

Keep reading to find out our top tips on making checklists; tips obtained from the unique insights given by leading business owners and employees.

Making checklists: Tip 1 – Split up your large projects

Making checklists - split up lare projects
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As a wannabe mountaineer, I often look at a mountain route and frankly feel daunted at the prospect of getting to the top. Mountains are big!

But, looking up towards the skyline with the peak glistening miles away, is not the way to go about climbing the thing. For my mental sanity, I have to split the route up in stages. I take one step at a time.

I adopt the same approach as a content writer, and for any large projects thrown my way. This is the first tip I give to you on making checklists: Tip 1 – Split-up your large projects.

In general, highly complex projects need greater planning and control than simple projects. This means checklists for complex projects need to identify and record every key task. To do this, a large project has to be broken down into smaller, more manageable steps. Take one step at a time.

Consider the manufacture of an airplane for instance. Such a highly sophisticated, intricate machine will require many tasks to be executed with both precision and accuracy. All tasks need to be considered, even tasks operating on a micro-scale.

As stated by Celeb Backe from Maple Holistics:

List specific actionable tasks rather than a general project. Every macro project needs to have actionable microsteps to help you reach your goals. Keep in mind that things that need to be completed are labeled as a task while completed tasks fall under the category of a larger project.

Raj Vardhman from GoRemotely supported Backe’s thoughts, stating the following:

You want very specific tasks that are easy to complete and tick off. Sometimes this means breaking down broad objectives into a variety of small, yet concrete activities. Don’t worry about the length of your checklist – it is much easier to complete a lot of smaller tasks than several major ones.

Creating checklists for your business begins with the breakdown of your larger projects, into smaller, actionable items.

As a manager, you could be entrusted to create checklists for a number of different departments. Knowing the details of processes from each, to break down larger projects into their constituent microscale tasks, can be difficult. Andrew Chen from Hack Your Wealth responded with a good solution. For each separate department:

interview those workers, observe their workflow directly, and even do their job yourself for a day to really understand deeply the nuances and intricacies of their workflow…. Making sure our processes were efficient and effective could not have been done without significant time spent on the frontlines directly observing customer support and real estate agents and shadowing their work.

However, despite the importance of including smaller tasks within your checklists for the completion of your project as a whole, a balance is needed. You need to detail the intricate complexities of a large project, whilst keeping your checklists actionable. This means, avoid long, arduous lists that are a significant task in themselves to complete. This brings us nicely onto our next tip: Tip 2 – Keep the checklist manageable.

Making checklists: Tip 2 – Keep the checklist manageable

Making checklists - keep checklists manageable
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As with most things in life, to extract full value from a checklist you have to do it right. By do it right, I mean the creation of A* checklists. All. Of. The. Time.

Something that you already know to be important – otherwise, you wouldn’t be reading this post.

Tip one focused on splitting up your larger projects into more manageable chunks without omitting essential details. You can think of this tip, tip two, like a brake or limit to control the level of detail of each task within your checklist.

As stated by Atu Gawande in his book titled The Checklist Manifesto

A good checklist is precise, efficient, and easy to use even in the most difficult situations. It should provide reminders of only the most important steps, rather than trying to spell out everything—after all, a checklist can’t do your job for you. And above all, a checklist should be practical – Atul Gawande, The Checklist Manifesto

This point was backed up by Stacy Caprio from Stacey Caprio Inc:

Many people use checklists however fail to make them short enough to accomplish in one or to prioritize what is important. The point of a successful checklist is to be able to cross everything off of it in a short time-frame, ideally one day, so you can make progress and get done what you need to. Keep your checklists short and focused on what is important to make them successful.

Checklists are big-picture thinking, giving you what rather than how. This distinction has been nicely summarized by Ree Johnson from Mind.Body.Spirit.Bliss

When you make a checklist, you get excited and want to include every single thing that comes to mind! Or maybe that’s just me? I tend to nerd out on things like checklists. When making a checklist, you want to make each step succinct and to the point. You should be able to glance at each bullet and quickly understand what it is you need to do. A checklist gives the big picture. It gives the what. It tells you what you need to do or what you need to get. Whereas directions give the how. Directions go into depth on how you need to do something to get your desired results. Remember a checklist isn’t directions so don’t go overboard describing every single detail. Less words is best.

Despite not giving directions for each task, you cannot reduce task specificity, as detailed by Sneh Choudhary from Beaconstac:

Be super specific: If you have an item on your list that says “Increase traffic by 20%”, rest assured that isn’t going to happen. You need to drill down to the specifics like change the CTA on the blog, revisit on-page SEO, check the number of external and internal links for it actually be achievable.

To repeat, you are looking for a balance. For a checklist to be effective:

it needs to be specific, precise and easy to use. Most importantly, it should cover the most essential steps in your workflow.

As stated by Gladice from Earn Money Live Free.

If you are struggling to stabilize this complexity vs task detail balance, a good rule to keep in mind is:

Don’t put anything on it that doesn’t have to be there.

A rule that Ellen from Messina Staffing swears by.

Making checklists: Tip 3 – Group your tasks

Making checklists - group your tasks
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Told by Tim, from Hook Agency:

I find that creating checklists can sometimes lead to overwhelming amounts of items, but simply by clustering like items into one, can significantly shift my mindset and can help me be more productive. I help my employees occasionally by reviewing their to-do lists and sharing this strategy with them, and it seems to scale out to them as well.

Clustering your items as such means you can use selective attention. That is, you can react to the grouped items selectively as individual stimuli. This is as opposed to processing a mind-boggling amount of information all at once. Several items are clustered in one group. You then only have to deal with each group.

Deciding how to group items is the next task. Your best bet would be to look for overlaps and similarities. As stated by Chloe Brittain from Opal Transcription Services:

I like to divide tasks into logical categories and color-code each category. That way, I can see at a glance, not just the individual items, but also the big-picture view of everything that needs to get done. This is super helpful if you’re the type to hyperfocus on details, because it lets you approach things with a “macro” view and prioritize the work that’ll have the most impact, as opposed to going down a list ticking things off in an arbitrary and mindless fashion.

Using a daily checklist as an example, I might have color-coded categories for marketing, client work, administrative, and non-work-related errands.

For this type of checklist, it helps to have a way to easily shift tasks around as you add new items, so a traditional paper-based checklist might not be ideal here.

Kati groups her items as per business discipline using a color-coded system.

Another way to group your items would be in accordance with the time-frame items span over. For example, Susan from Organized 31 groups her items based on whether they are associated with weekly or monthly recurring tasks, assigning items to specific months (or weeks).

Many people simply create endlessly long checklists of all tasks that need to be completed or try to just remember the recurring tasks. I find assigning tasks to specific months ( or weeks) allows you to create checklists that are a more manageable size. The recurring tasks listed fall into the following categories:

  • Every month (or week)
  • Every other month (or week)
  • Once a quarter (or month)
  • Once a year

With these monthly (or weekly) checklists, you don’t forget periodic tasks and no more wondering whether you did the task last month or the month before. Having all recurring tasks scheduled for the year, frees up memory and brain space that can be used for current projects and creative thinking.

Time-frames considered may be more intricate, that is, rather than dealing with weeks and months, you could be talking minutes and hours. This is how Josh Ladick from GAS Focus.Inc likes to group his tasks:

First, there should be a time dimension to the checklist. I have daily printouts I have created. Hours of the day are lined up along the left side. First thing every day, I write out the tasks I want to accomplish, and I highlight the time I start and draw a line to the task. This way, at the end of the day I can look back and see how long each task took. I like to look for patterns in like tasks, so I can better know how long certain tasks take. This is good to know for future planning.

Another way would be to group your items in terms of task priority, distilling what needs to be done first. This is how Evan Porter owner of Words likes to start the creation of his checklists:

When it comes to managing my business, I try to distill what needs to be done into just a small handful of critical tasks. I don’t like checklists that go on forever, they’re distracting and overwhelming! Usually, below my list of main priorities to check off, I’ll keep notes or a separate list of smaller priority tasks that can carry over from day to day or week to week if need be.

You can also separate your items into multiple dimensions, so we are talking groups-within-groups. This is how Jennifer Johnson from Jentimecity likes to do things:

I have a bullet journal with three separate sections that goes everywhere with me.

  • One section is for notes from client calls and projects, deadlines, and other business tasks.
  • One section is for personal errands and appointments
  • The third section is for creative ideas and strategies–pretty much anything I want to remember or look into or that sparked an idea.

Each page is written in a list form with sublists underneath. Sublists are a must for detailed projects with multiple steps. For example, to complete a client briefing, I may need to compile notes from emails, research a media outlet, research the journalists involved, compile all the information into the client briefing, and edit for clarity before sending it to the client for review. Each of these steps is a separate task under the main task: client briefing.

Jennifer organizes her tasks firstly into business, personal, or idea items. She then breaks down items in each group further. So for example, she has items collectively organized into the group client briefing, also grouped under business items. Under client briefings, items are grouped further into research media outlets, notes from emails, research journalists involved. You can implement a similar layered method to item grouping for your checklists.

Jennifer records her checklists using a bullet journal, meaning she can continually hop-in and carry out the same process, again and again, and again. Noting this – literally – brings us to our fourth tip on making checklists: Tip 4 – Keep a record.

Making checklists: Tip 4 – Keep a record

Making checklists - keep a record
With Process Street you can easily record your checklists, and organize them into folders.

Recording your checklists means to document your business processes. Without documented processes, how can you effectively manage them?

Companies that document their processes via checklists have a 280% higher success rate on their projects (95%), versus those that don’t (25%).

Process documentation doesn’t have to be complicated. Like Jennifer, you can record your business processes old-school style using a pen and paper approach such as a bullet journal. Simple, yet effective.

Johnathon Mendoza from Fueled shares Jennifer’s fondness towards documenting checklists on paper. He gives his insight and how he does this:

The first method is a simple pen, paper, and list. I usually start my word day by writing the date at the top of a page (or wherever there’s room on the page to save paper) and then write out my daily tasks followed by my projects I’m currently working on. Under the projects I am working on, I list out different aspects to ensure I don’t forget anything. For example, if I am working on a blog post, I will list out the various steps (research, write, find images, etc.). As I go through my tasks, crossing them out creates a feeling of accomplishment that keeps me motivated to continue working.

Another method is writing your checklists down on a whiteboard, as done so by Carsten Schaefer from G-TAC Software UG:

For my own personal tasks, I have a simple whiteboard and a marker. Once I finish something, I delete it with a tissue – it feels really good.

Obviously, using an erasable whiteboard marker isn’t as lasting as ink-to-paper. The whiteboard offers a temporary checklist record, bringing benefits as it is easy to produce and erase once the checklist is no longer needed. The whiteboard is great for uncomplicated, non-routine tasks where task detail is not necessary.

David from Loyal Entrepreneur also documents checklists via a whiteboard:

...let’s say we are about to launch a big campaign for the holidays. The financial manager needs to prepare all of the accounts and make sure we are all set for the craziness that is about to come. The marketing manager is all drowning in social media, and customer service department need to close all of their open inquiries. It’s highly recommended to have a big board in the middle of the office, seen by everyone, on this board will appear the whole checklist of every department. Why is that a good think you say? It encourages collaboration and common success desire, which always lead to better results. Plus, if everybody else sees your checklist, you got to keep up you work pace which always leads to better results.

David writes down his checklists using a whiteboard during the special circumstance of running a new campaign. Larger whiteboards, placed on office walls provide full, clear visibility of the checklist contents. This is utilized by David for full transparency between teams and employees, encouraging collaboration and motivation via establishing common success desires.

Despite the advantages white-boards, bullet journals or writing your checklists down on paper bring, these methods fall out of favor with the increased complexity of business operations.

For example, as often is the case, your checklists will not be set-in-stone once they are produced. It is likely that you will have to dive into your checklists on a regular basis, updating and refining them. Taking the pen and paper approach as an example, these constant changes will be time-consuming to enforce. Think of all the checklist re-writes and messy Tippex lists.

Luckily for you, there are alternative ways to recording your checklists that account for the complexities of business.

Keep reading to find out how Process Street can superpower your checklists and smartly record your business processes. And you can get started for free.

But more on that later.

Whilst we are on the topic, we come to our final making checklists tip: Tip 5 – Regularly update your checklists.

Making checklists: Tip 5 – Regularly update your checklists

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Mark Webster from Authority Hacker

I think the most important thing I would remind anyone building a checklist is that it should always be an ever-evolving list.

Checklists should be continually worked on and added to. This means that even though you’ve created a “V.1” of your list, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t revisit it and add to it as time goes on. No matter how thorough you are, it’s highly unlikely you’ll ever include everything that needs to be included on day one. Only after you begin executing your checklist on a daily basis will you notice what’s missing and what needs to be expanded upon.

A good checklist should always be a living, breathing list. It should be open to modification and something that everyone working with can update and have their input on. This way you’ll get a much more effective list!

Nikola from Brosix shares Mark’s opinion:

…my number 1 tip would be to create a sample checklist after discussing everyone’s ability first. Then be ready to go through several updates before releasing it as a finished one. Don’t try to make it perfect from the first second. Organizing others’ tasks is complicated.

No process is perfect. There is always room for improvement. As stated by The ROI of Continuous Improvement:

1 in 10 improvements save money… [each saving, on average,] $31,043 in its first year of implementation.

1 in 4 improvements save time… [each saving, on average,] 270 hours in its first year of implementation. – KaiNexus, The ROI of Continuous Improvement

My colleague Ben Mulholland, nicely summarized tip number 5 below:

Continuous improvement is a method to make sure that your processes, methods, and practices are as efficient, accurate, and effective as possible. This is done (surprise, surprise) by periodically examining and improving your processes to smash bottlenecks, use the best software, and take advantage of the most efficient methods – Ben Mulholland, What Continuous Improvement Is (and How to Use it)

Once you have adopted this idea that your checklists are by no means static tools, you can go about flexing your successful flexible process management skills.

Having dynamic checklists that are easily adapted and changed, not only allows for continuous improvement, it also creates a space for process integration. That is, rather than running in isolation, your processes can mesh and mingle, creating a network that acts as a super organ for your business. For Alice Nelson-Smith from It works this was her top tip:

“When it comes to checklists, my advice would be to create multiple ones which feed into each other and change as you complete your tasks. As well as a checklist for the current workload you are working through, you should have one for the work you’ve completed but is in the process of being checked or approved, as well as a list for projects you need to keep your eye on for the future.

Having multiple checklists means you can keep your mind clear and focused, without overcomplicating your usual to-do list and will also keep you motivated. Doing this also enables you to keep an eye on what you have completed and the kind of projects other people are working on, as well as having an accurate idea of your overall progress.”

Before we conclude our top tips on making checklists, I have detailed a case study, to bing some of the above-mentioned tips to life.

Making checklists: A case study

Louise Balch from The Actually provided us with her own, personal account of how she went about creating her checklists, implementing some of the tips covered in this article.

When I first started in my current role, there was a particular type of project that overwhelmed me. I was intimidated because I didn’t have much experience in that particular area. Because of this, I subconsciously avoided working on the project on a regular basis.

I would dread when people would ask me about it and postpone meetings and deadlines around it. Of course, that just added to my stress and the friction I felt around sitting down and just getting the work done. And then when I did start working, I always ran into obstacles and needed more information, delaying the time it took me to complete it even more.

About a year into working in this position, I had a major “a-ha” moment. Yes, each version of this project was complicated but they followed a very similar overall outline. The same questions came up for every single project. It clicked for me that if I made a checklist of collecting the relevant information before sitting down to work on it, the entire process would go much smoother.

All of a sudden I felt 100% more clear about what I was doing. I set up my checklist and template and was quickly able to move through my list. In conversations about future projects, I knew exactly what questions to ask, inspiring confidence in others and in myself.

So my advice is, if something scares you, break it down into the smallest variables possible. Then, reverse engineer a checklist around that. It may take a couple of tries to get it exactly right, but your checklist will become your best friend and help you feel more confident and clear in your work.

To create her checklist, Louise Balch:

  • Split her larger projects down, into smaller, more manageable tasks
  • Grouped her tasks in accordance with the relevant information they obtained
  • Continually re-assed her checklist and updated as required.

This brings me to the end of our top tips on making checklists. However, I have pulled out a few more responses that give marvellous insight into making checklists. Insights that cannot be ignored.

Making checklists: More tips for your checklist templates

As mentioned previously, to create our top tip list on making checklists, we grouped responses by the tip given. Tips that had a significant number of responses have been detailed as our top five. However, other tips given deserve a mention.

Making checklists: Delegate tasks

Ian Peterman from Peterman Design Firm gave the top tip to make sure tasks within your checklists are delegated between team members.

…I take on 3-5 tasks for the day and delegate as many tasks to my team as they have time for. I use checklist-style to-do lists as checking things off always helps keep the motivation going. I consider delegation a check-off for me.

Darko Jacimovic from WhatToBecome shares Ian’s opinion on the importance of task delegation. Darko provides further insight, stating that you should only delegate tasks as necessary:

My suggestion is to assign only the necessary few people to checklists, clear up who’s in charge of resolving the checks, and use them to handle significant, larger-scale tasks.

Making checklists: Know your energy flow

David from THGM Writers gives his top tip for making checklists, promoting the importance of knowing your energy flow:

We all have ebbs and flows in energy over the day and over the course of a project, and there are times of day when we are more efficient doing smaller things, whereas there are times when we are more efficient deep-diving into the big projects. Everybody’s to-do list has some of both in them, and some project checklists are longer than others. I know for myself, I like to be able to check off a lot to get the momentum going. For a to-do list, that means clustering lots of small items at the start of the list, then deep-diving later on. Within a major project, that means making a more detailed list of the early phases of a project, and being more general later on, so that I can check off a lot of items early in the project, then get really focused in my work without having to interrupt my flow by checking more things off. Know your energy flow, and arrange your checklists accordingly.

Making checklists: Set a goal

Megan Meade from Software Path believes that setting a clear goal is vital for creating effective checklists:

Research shows that writing down a goal increased the likelihood you’ll achieve your goal by 42% according to Dr. Gail Matthews…

Making checklists: Use verbs

Caitlin Proctor from ZipJob explained how using verbs can significantly improve your checklists:

Use verbs in your checklist items! I just started doing this a few weeks ago and I feel so much more productive.

Example:
Instead of writing “blog,” I switched to “research [blog post]” and “update [blog post].”

Adding verbs helps me break down the tasks, stay focused, and track my progress as I go! It was a super easy switch, but really effective.

This brings me to the end of our top tips for making checklists. But wait, there is more!

As always, we at Process Street are going to go that extra mile, to create content that is inspiring, interesting, engaging and most importantly actionable.

In this next section, I will show you how you can start implementing all the above tips given today for free, using Process Street.

How to make checklists superpowered using Process Street

Process Street is superpowered checklists.

If you are reading this article on making checklists, then I am sure you are already aware of how checklists can be used as a powerful business process management tool. At Process Street, we have taken the checklist tool. We have then worked to refine and develop it, creating all-purpose, dynamic, interacting, and integrated process management machines. A few key features include:

  • Stop tasks, to ensure task order
  • Dynamic due dates, so no deadline is missed
  • Conditional logic, creating a dynamic template that caters to your needs
  • Role assignment, to ease task delegation within your team
  • Approvals, allowing decision-makers to give the go-ahead (or rejection) on important items, in addition to providing comments as necessary

Check out our below webinar for more information on how our checklist features work.

By using Process Street, making checklists will become so easy, you won’t know what to do with yourself. With Process Street, you can easily implement the above mentioned top tips when making your checklists:

  • Splitting down large projects: Large projects can be split down into individual tasks. Within each task, you can add any one of our form fields, such as the subtask form field, long and short text form fields. Form fields allow you to break down your large projects further into clear and usable steps.
  • Keep the checklist manageable: You can keep on eye on the number of tasks within your checklist, making sure your checklist remains at a reasonable and actionable length. In addition, our form fields have been designed to do-a-lot-in-a-little. Adding form fields to your checklist will give the detail needed, without making your checklist too complicated.
  • Group your tasks: Features such as our dynamic due date, allow you to incorporate items that have been grouped in accordance with time. Within Process Street, you can create folders to store your checklists, grouping them as per business discipline/department. Within our Edit template view, you can easily group tasks under headers.
  • Keep a record: Using Process Street, your checklists are automatically stored in the cloud, meaning you can access them anywhere at any time.
  • Regularly update your checklists: It is quick and easy to update any one of our checklists by going to the editing view. Check out our How to Edit Templates help site article, if you are unsure how to do this.

If you want to find out more about Process Street, watch the Proces Street Intro video below.

Sign up to Process Street for free, and start making your checklists today.

Making checklists made easy

In this article, we have gained insight from business owners and employees across the globe, on how they make checklists in their professional lives.

Our summarized top tips:

  • Split your large projects into smaller, actionable tasks
  • Keep your checklists manageable, avoiding unnecessary details
  • Group your tasks
  • Keep a record of your checklists
  • Regularly update your checklists
  • Delegate tasks between team members
  • Know your energy flow
  • Set yourself clear checklist goals
  • Use verbs for your checklist tasks

Are there any tips and tricks for making checklists you can provide, not detailed in the above article? If so, we would love to hear from you. Please comment below, who knows you may even get featured in one of our upcoming articles!

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Jane Courtnell

Hi there, I am a Junior Content Writer at Process Street. I graduated in Biology, specializing in Environmental Science at Imperial College London. During my degree, I developed an enthusiasm for writing to communicate environmental issues. I continued my studies at Imperial College's Business School, and with this, my writing progressed looking at sustainability in a business sense. When I am not writing I enjoy being in the mountains, running and rock climbing.


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