Work checklist written in the notebook

Check Yourself: Keep a Work Checklist & Up Your Productivity

Jill Huettich

Jill Huettich

WealthFit Contributor

Do you want to quit making mistakes? Are you highly motivated to get more done? Would you like to take your professional life to the next level? It's time to make a work checklist.

What do pilots, surgeons, and top investors all have in common? They rely on checklists to perform better at their jobs.

While checklists may seem like too simple of a solution to functioning in high-stress jobs, the evidence suggests otherwise.

Have you ever wondered how enormous skyscrapers stay upright? There are so many of them, and yet it’s extraordinarily rare to hear of one collapsing due to structural problems. Again, thank checklists.  

In a vast number of professions, work checklists are highly effective at reducing errors—or eliminating them entirely. This begs the question: how can something so simple have such tremendous value? The answer has to do with the rapid growth our society has undergone over the last several decades.

How Work Checklists Improve Accuracy & Productivity

We live in an increasingly complex world. Compare the world we live in today to what it was 50 years ago. Our grandparents didn’t have personal computers, smartphones, or 24/7 access to information. The wealth of opportunities and technological advancements we take for granted today just didn’t exist.

And although those advancements have provided our generation with countless benefits, a simpler life isn’t one of them. We juggle responsibilities, run from one engagement to the next, and communicate day and night via text and email.

While many would argue that this culture of nonstop hyper-productivity is a good thing, it has made our lives a balancing act and a breeding ground for emotional exhaustion. We’re far more likely to let a few things slip.

If you work at an office, your mistakes might not be as life-or-death as the mistakes of surgeons or pilots. But they do have a negative impact on your performance, causing you to make small errors or miss due dates. Do this enough, and your professional reputation can tank fast.

If you’ve ever gone to the grocery store to buy ingredients for a recipe then realized after you got home that you forgot a critical spice or vegetable, you understand how even the simplest of mistakes cost you time and effort.

Put Your Checklist Where Your Mouth Is

The Checklist Manifesto, written by author and surgeon Atul Gawande, makes a compelling case for checklists. Gawande argues that checklists don’t only shield us from failure, but also establish a performance baseline.

Atul Gawande smiling because he completed daily task by due date

To support this point, Gawande explores a study conducted in a hospital on the effectivity of nurses and doctors. The study found that when doctors and nurses in the ICU created their own checklists of daily tasks, patient care improved so much that the length of patient stays at the ICU were cut in half. This is a pretty amazing result for something as simple as writing out tasks and checking off boxes.

However, checklists have benefits that extend far beyond than the medical field. Gawande cites a study of venture capitalists conducted by psychologist Geoffrey Smart.

Smart wanted to understand how venture capitalists choose companies to invest in. He found that some base their choices on instinct, while others kept checklists to determine whether or not key criteria had been met. Though only 13 percent of venture capitalists took the checklist approach, that 13 percent had higher returns on investments and were less likely to regret investment decisions.

Checklists improve accuracy while boosting productivity, making them a vital tool to complete any complex task. That being said—if you’re ready to rise through the corporate ranks at your workplace, a work checklist is a great way to make sure you’re putting forth your best effort. It won’t go unnoticed.

How You Can Create the Perfect Work Checklist to Eliminate Mistakes and Improve Productivity

Perfect Your Work Checklist to Eliminate Mistakes and Improve Productivity
Work checklists and productivity flow diagrams

So, how do you write the best checklist possible?

First, you need to consider your goals. Are you suffering from financial stress? If so, you may want to base your checklist around budgeting.

If you want to apply checklists to your work, you’ll first want to create a work task list. Begin by writing down each daily task you have to perform. It’s helpful to write down these tasks as you’re doing them to ensure nothing gets left out. By the end of the week, you’ll have a detailed picture of how you spend the majority of your work hours.

Now review your list and select the task that will benefit most from a work checklist. You’re going to want to choose a task with a handful of steps that you perform regularly. While you may know what all of those steps are by heart, a bad day or a momentary distraction can make it easy to overlook something.

The next time you complete this task, write down the steps you’re taking as you’re performing them. Once you have those steps written down, you’re ready to create your work checklist. For the most effective work checklists, Gawande recommends that you:

Keep It Simple.

You don’t need to have every breath scheduled. It isn’t necessary to identify every last step on your checklist. Not only will that make your checklist crazy long, but it’ll also eliminate flexibility and creativity. Instead, keep your checklist short and specific. Only include the most essential tasks.

Consider the Objective.

Although your checklist is primarily for you, today’s work environment often requires teamwork. Make sure you include task handoffs and collaborations when you’re forming your list. Doing this will ensure you’ve taken the roles of your team members into account.

Test and Refine.

Once you’ve created your first checklist, use it the next time you perform that task. As you’re going through it, make adjustments. Are the steps clear and concise? Did you overlook anything important? It’s rare to create a perfect checklist the first time, so plan to test and refine as you go.

If you need some extra guidance when writing your checklist, examining the Navy SEAL created extreme ownership checklist is the place to start.

A Final Warning About Checklists…

Many people don’t believe that they need a checklist. They believe that they are too intelligent. They believe they know their job inside and out. The suggestion that they might need to rely on a list is insulting.

But it doesn’t have anything to do with your intelligence or competence.

Gawande fell into this trap too. Although he created a hospital surgery checklist for doctors and nurses, he never expected it to affect his own practice as a surgeon. To avoid being called a hypocrite, he gave it a try—and it saved a patient’s life.

After making a small mistake in surgery, Gawande needed to get his patient extra blood. Fast. That blood was only available because it was included on his checklist. Without it, the patient would have bled out on the operating table.

The bottom line? We all make mistakes from time to time, even when performing tasks we could normally do with our eyes closed. Some of the top performers in the world rely on them for a reason: checklists work.

Writing out a checklist might seem like an unnecessary extra task, but it can save you tons of stress in the long run. Start drafting yours today.

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Jill Huettich

Written By

Jill Huettich

Jill Huettich is a WealthFit contributor. With an MBA in Marketing and a Digital Marketing Strategies certification, she frequently writes about marketing, entrepreneurship and wealth-building strategies.

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