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Do Checklists Work? How to Make a To-Do List That’s Useful For You

I love a good checklist. If you want to be more organized, my number one recommendation is to start using checklists. For everything. Learn how to make a to-do list that works for you.

Checklists help me stay organized, efficient, and on-task. They make sure that this ole’ brain of mine doesn’t forget things it needs to remember.

And because checklists help me with all of these tasks, they create feelings of competence and confidence.

Do you stay organized with checklists?

I make checklists often, for all different reasons, and usually have several that I’m working on at once.

They work for all different aspects of life.

To-do lists are one of the simplest organizational tools to keep in your arsenal.

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. As written in The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande, “They recognized the simplicity and power of using a checklist.”

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

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

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Do checklists work for everyone?

Yes, they do. They help disorganized people create structure and enable organized people to be even more efficient.

Checklists, when used well, lead to increased productivity, which in turn, increases feelings of competence, achievement, and confidence.

I think everyone can benefit from the power of using a checklist.

I’m here to share with you some reasons to use checklists, how to set them up and explore some different types of checklists you may want to use.

stay organized with checklists, checklist and coffee on pink and yellow background

How to Get Organized Using To-Do Lists

Reasons For Using a Checklist

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.

Spend your time doing, not figuring out what to do next.

Checklists are a fantastic productivity tool.

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 at 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.

How To Create A To-Do List 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).

How does a brain dump work?

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.

how to use checklists to stay organized, how to make a to-do list

Sort Your Tasks 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 of activities, 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.

Prioritize Your List

Next, prioritize your list.

Clearly mark any tasks with specific deadlines so that those tasks are completed on time. Put the tasks with deadlines first on your list, and follow with 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:

  • You will stay constantly aware of what you need to focus on at the moment.
  • You will be motivated by observing how much you have already accomplished.

To-Do List 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 the programs on the list below. Many of them are free to use!

  • 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 see the different capabilities of each and be able to determine which you prefer to use.

woman creating a to-do list, how to make a to-do list

“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 To-Do 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

Read More About Productivity:

Final Thoughts on Do Checklists Work? How to Make a To-Do List That’s Useful For You

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

Checklists help create productivity, leading to confidence and success.

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

Do you make checklists? Do you utilize any of the methods or tools discussed in this post? Let me hear from you in the comments below!

spiral notebook with checklist, how to get more organized with checklists

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