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How the humble checklist can skyrocket your productivity

How the humble checklist can skyrocket your productivity

Posted 22nd January, 2019 by Aidan

Having a multitude of tasks on your ‘to-do’ list is nothing new to a busy blogger or business owner. Unfortunately, the need to get everything done brings with it unwanted pressure that can cause mistakes and other problems.

To prevent that from happening, you’ve probably considered hacks to increase productivity, building in checks and balances to ensure perfection. However, a popular method of ensuring excellent execution – used by some of the most under-pressure industries – is the simple checklist.

In this post, we’ll explain how you can leverage this deceptively easy technique to its full potential on a daily basis.

A quick sojourn into productivity hacks you may have already tried

Before we proceed, we want to briefly touch on some of the primary productivity hacks in use today.

For example, some writers and bloggers use the Pomodoro Technique to get work done. Admittedly, this is more focused on, well, focus.

However, pinsharp focus often goes hand-in-hand with productivity, too. This technique doesn’t really discuss quality in your work, simply what you need to do to complete it.

The same goes for the Getting Things Done (GTD) method. This technique offers a distinct approach to compiling a to-do list. It’s going to feel rather familiar in the next section, and we’ll discuss the major differences in our preferred approach there.

However, anything GTD-based still doesn’t measure quality per se, just whether or not a task is completed. You may be noticing a pattern here. Given this, let’s get onto the potential solution.

The Checklist Manifesto: our inspiration for this piece

At this point, we’d like to introduce the nucleus for this article. This author’s daily life has been heavily inspired by a book called The Checklist Manifesto, by Atul Gawande:

The  Checklist  Manifesto

It’s a decade old at this point, but no less relevant to daily business production. In it, Gawande sells the idea that using a checklist as your ‘foreman’ frees up your mind to simply complete the work you have, without worrying about the specific steps involved themselves.

One of the most intriguing examples in the book relates to Gawande’s primary field – medicine. Throughout the book, there’s discussion on how highly-trained professionals such as surgeons can work more consistently, efficiently, and safely.

There are other niches and industries featured, but ultimately, the premise is the same: business-critical tasks will be better served by using a checklist, and could even save lives depending on the application.

Behold your productivity and quality saviour – the checklist

We don’t want to have built up an error-busting technique only to come across as anti-climatic, but we love a good checklist. Yes, this is nearly the same thing as that list of shopping sitting in your bag, but with a few big differences:

  • Items are highly-specific. In other words, they’re almost SMART-style tasks.
  • Given this, items will usually build in quality control elements (if you’re writing them correctly, that is).
  • It’s a permanent method of completing individual tasks, rather than a ‘one-shot’ tick list.

To give you an example, take cooking pasta. Even something this simple could see you potentially miss a step – maybe you forget to check on the cooking time, or don’t make enough for a portion.

By getting into the exact process on a macro level, you can make sure literally everything that encompasses the task will be included. Keeping with our pasta example, you’ll start by gathering your ingredients (which is where your regular shopping list comes in handy).

Once you’ve done that, there may be a ’mise en place’ step or two, followed by specific cooking instructions incorporating a taste test and refinement (which brings in the quality control aspect).

Our advice is to leave no stone unturned in documenting a task. Initially, you’ll find that individual tasks will potentially take longer. However, once you settle into a rhythm, you’ll find a harmonious balance between quality, thoroughness, and how long a task takes you.

Finally, you’ll usually go through a constant cycle of refinement when it comes to your checklist. This is accepted, and brings up one important point. The checklist itself becomes your subordinate, and whenever a non-optimal situation arises as a result of using it, the checklist is at fault, rather than the person carrying out the task.

This means the ‘blame game’ can be eradicated. It also means the checklist becomes more comprehensive and useful as time goes on.


Being uber-productive is great for many aspects of your business. However, if you’re simply blasting through tasks without thinking of the final quality, you could need to do more work down the line fixing the errors you’ve made.

While there are many complex ways to balance productivity and perfection, a checklist could be all you need.

As outlined in Checklist Manifesto, surgeons have improved their error rate by simply following a dedicated checklist to the letter. This helps them concentrate on delivering good work, without distractions. Of course, this could also help skyrocket your productivity too.

Categories: Tips, Blogging, Marketing, Small Businesses

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