Compared to the complexity of GTD, creating checklists probably seems like a trivial task. Given the way my brain is wired, I always thought that something as simple as creating checklists could not possible produce much value. For some reason, I associated high value with high effort.
Instead, I concentrated on improving my knowledge of GTD and writing scripts to automate my common tasks — this felt more challenging and so gave me a more satisfying feeling of accomplishment.
But then I began to think about it. I asked myself when was the last time that I packed a bag for travel only to find that I had forgotten some important item? Or that I had to perform a multi-step process (like the weekly GTD review), and had forgotten to do one of the steps in the heat of the moment?
When I asked myself these questions, I quickly realized that creating checklists for multi-step processes would prevent me from ever dropping the ball on anything again. That was a couple of years ago, I now use checklists extensively. The rest of this post will discuss how.
What are checklists good for?
Checklists are very good for processes you perform often enough to want to speed up, but not often enough that they are part of your muscle memory.
They are also good for processes you repeat very often, but are just getting started with. Packing a bag falls into the former category, while the weekly GTD review falls into the latter.
Once you repeat a process often enough, it becomes a part of your muscle memory and you don’t need a checklist for it. But at the beginning, you will need a checklist to guide you through the process.
How to create checklists?
The way I create checklists is very similar to the way I do a mind dump or brainstorm for a project. I sit down with a cup of tea, and think of all the things that I need to get accomplished for that particular task.
For example, I recently had to upgrade my Mac as it was getting a bit long in the tooth, and I needed to come up with a checklist for all the software I needed to install.
I also took this opportunity to jettison all the unnecessary software that I had accumulated over the years. So I sat down and began to think about the software that I used on a daily basis and that was essential for my work.
Each time I thought of a software, I wrote it down in a special Todoist project I created just for this purpose — MacRestore.
I also added some maintenance tasks to the list that were not strictly software installations — like getting a copy of my Dropbox folder from another computer instead of downloading the entire 50GB of data from the internet.
After finishing the checklist, I then began to work off it to download all the necessary software. I went through a similar process for a checklist for packing my bags for winter, summer, fall and spring trips of varying lengths.
Todoist allows you to export projects, so I exported those lists that I believe that I will use often — like the packing lists. Now any time I need to pack, I just import the appropriate list into Todoist and work from that — I no-longer have to worry about forgetting to pack an essential item on any of my trips.
Wrapping it up
Creating checklists is an easy way to manage tasks that you repeat regularly, but not very often. Or for tasks that you repeat very often, but haven’t had enough time with yet to absorb into your muscle memory. Give them a try, you won’t regret it.