How to Stay Organized With Checklists

use checklist to stay organized

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I love a good checklist. I make them all the time, for all different reasons, and usually have several that I’m working on at once, for different aspects of my life. That makes sense, I guess, since I am a naturally organized person and checklists are a fantastic way to organize your thoughts and activities.

And of course, now that I’m getting a little older, checklists mean I don’t have to try to remember everything. There’s only so much space in this old brain!!

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a major list-maker. I just feel really comfortable having lists of things to do, things to buy, places to go…you get the idea.

But do checklists work for everyone?

My short answer is a resounding YES.

I think everyone can benefit from the power of using a checklist, and I’m here to share with you some reasons to use checklists, how to set them up, and to explore some different types of checklists you may way to use.

“They recognized the simplicity and power of using a checklist.”

Atul Gawande, The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right

Checklists Have the Power to Keep Us Organized

woman's hand with elegant silver pen creating a checklist in a spiral notebook

Reasons For Using a Checklist

Checklists are a fantastic productivity tool. Once you’ve made your list, it will prompt you with activities, so that you don’t waste time or energy determining what to do next. It’s right there in front of you.

It’s much easier to focus on the task at hand because you don’t have to worry about forgetting about another task – it’s written down! So your mind can forget about all the things that need to be done in order to give full focus to the one action you are taking in that moment.

You can tell where you are at a glance – what is and is not checked off? There will be a trail of what has been completed and a clear marker of what still needs to be done.

Checklists allow you to set priorities.

It’s easy to share tasks and distribute responsibilities to any number of people by using a shared checklist.

Checklists also make it possible to track tasks with multiple steps by breaking them down into smaller tasks.

When the inevitable distractions occur, a checklist will bring you right back into focus without the need to remember just what it was you had been working on.

And of course, there is a tremendous satisfaction each time you check an item off, and at the end when all of the items are checked and you realize just how productive you have been.

power of using a checklist to write down almost anything, pen and notepad

How To Create A Checklist With a Brain Dump

I’ve found the easiest way to make a checklist is to take about ten minutes and do a total brain dump. Get it all out of your brain and onto paper (or the computer screen, as you may prefer).

Write down everything you can think of that belongs on your list. If you aren’t sure about something, write it down anyway. Don’t stop until you feel confident that you have captured everything. At the same time, don’t be surprised if you come up with additions to the list as you go – that happens almost every time. Just add anything you think of as it comes to you.

Sort Your Activities into Broad Groups

Once you’ve got everything written down, sort your tasks into broad categories. As an example, if you are doing a daily to-do list, you may want to sort by tasks around the home, work responsibilities, social commitments, and shopping.

As you divide your tasks into broad groups, you will find that this is also a good time to break larger tasks into smaller steps. You want a really specific, complete list, with tasks grouped as appropriate. Shopping then becomes a list of what you need from the grocery store, drugstore, and quick errands such as bank and dry cleaner.


Next, prioritize your list. Anything with deadlines needs to be clearly marked so that those tasks are completed on time. Tasks with deadlines and tasks that have a highest priority go first on your list, followed by those that are less time-sensitive or necessary. Needs should always come before wants.

Share the Work

Share, share, share! This checklist may be exclusively for you, but if not, now is the time to get some assistance with these tasks. Be sure to note who is responsible for which activities, and make sure that those people are aware of what is expected of them and in what time frame.

Now that you have determined what you need to do and the order in which you need to do it, it’s time to get to work!

Remember to cross off or check each activity as it is completed. This serves two purposes – it keeps you constantly aware of what you need to focus on at the moment, and motivates you by showing how much you have already accomplished.

Checklist Tools for Computer and Phone

Checklists are most commonly created with pen and paper, but there are some really incredible computer programs and apps that are incredibly flexible and comprehensive in creating checklists.

If you’d like to explore the world of computerized checklists, try any of these programs:

  • Google Docs
  • Trello
  • Checklist
  • Dynalist
  • CheckVist
  • TallyFy
  • CheckLi
  • PocketList
  • FireSub
  • Checkmarkable
  • Process Street
  • Generous Apps
  • Reusable Checklist List
  • Clever Checklist

After exploring a few, you will start to see the different capabilities of each and be able to determine which you feel work best for your needs.

using a smart phone to create a checklist

“Checklists seem able to defend anyone, even the experienced, against failure in many more tasks than we realized.”

Atul Gawande, The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right

What Kind of Lists Can You Make?

You can really make a checklist for almost anything, and it can be short and simple or robust and complex. Some are single-use, and some checklists may be used over and over on rotation.

As such, a good checklist can be an excellent habit-building assistant.

Here’s a small sampling of uses for checklists:

  • Personal Activity
  • Travel Agendas
  • Packing List
  • Honey-Do List
  • Bucket List
  • Password/Security Info
  • Content Promotion
  • Emergency Preparedness
  • Home Inspection
  • Shopping List
  • Wedding Planning
  • Moving List
  • Event Planning
  • Invitation List

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Final Thoughts on How to Stay Organized with Checklists

Checklists truly are powerhouse productivity tools, and when used consistently, they can improve efficiency, motivation, and progress.

There are many tools available to help create and use checklists, and they can be adapted to almost any task.

Are you a list maker? Do you utilize any of the methods or tools discussed in this post? Let me hear from you in the comments below!

checklist and pen on clipboard

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