How to write a checklist

A written checklist allows you to break a task down into steps.

It’s easy to write a checklist that’s hard to follow.

It’s hard to write a checklist that’s easy to follow.

How you formulate each step in the checklist is what will make or break it:

  • A checklist succeeds when it has been executed step by step
  • A checklist fails if it doesn’t get followed (thus, if it’s not easy to follow)

The checklist is reponsible for taking the burden of decision making away from the person executing it.

The leverage of a simple checklist

The checklist gives you a format to share how a task should be executed.

As a business owner, it helps you delegate. As a team member, it helps create shared habits.

The checklist can be executed over and over again. If you’re doing something in your business over and over again, a single checklist will add up to regularly freeing up your own time.

For example, at Bitesize Irish Gaelic, I’ve learned to use checklists so that the customer support team member can:

Most importantly, don’t make me think

A checklist is just a list of steps required to perform a task.

Each step in the checklist should be an atomical action.

Here’s a simple bad checklist:

  1. Find the WordPress post and write the SEO description in under the post
    • Publish the post and view it online, then email Eoin to say it’s live

Here’s an easily-executable version of that checklist:

  1. Go to http://www.bitesizeirishgaelic.com/blog
    • Click “Log In”
    • Enter your username
    • Enter your password
    • Click “Submit”
    • Click “Posts”
    • On the top post, click “Edit”
    • Scroll down to the “SEO Optimizer” section
    • In “Description”, enter the SEO description
    • Click “Publish”
    • Click “View post”
    • From your browser navigation bar, copy the URL of the page
    • Go to your email client
    • Compose a new email
    • For the recipient, enter me@mysite.com
    • For the subject, enter “Please review new blog post”
    • Paste the URL into the body
    • Send the email

The second checklist is longer, for sure. But it takes the burden of decision making away from the person executing the task.

The only path of executing a checklist is to complete the first step, and to move onto the next step. By making each step so easy, you’re creating momentum for the person executing it. You’re helping them reach the end of the task.

Your ultimate goal is to have the person execute the last step in the checklist (having already completed all the other steps). Create as little friction as possible for them to reach that last step.

As every checklist should be, the one above is open to improvement. If you have suggestions, be sure to share them as a comment below.

Tips for writing a successful checklist

  • Use numbered lists
    • The person will be switching back and forth between the task list and their task
    • For lists presented on a screen, the number makes it easier to make a mental note of where in the list they are
    • Better yet, have the list printed so each step can be checked off as it’s been executed…
  • If you find yourself writing a step in the format “do this and this”, it’s time to consider breaking the two actions into their own steps
  • If a step seems too simple, it probably belongs in the checklist
    • For a checklist of “Update WordPress software”, a good first step is “Open http://www.ourwordpress.com”. A bad first step would be “Edit the post”.
    • This helps set the context. It’s a way to synchronise the reader with the context you expect them to be in.
    • It also gets the reader into the swing of executing the checklist, increasing the chance they’ll get to the very last step before forgetting about following the checklist.

Finally, a successful checklist is one that evolves. It can simplify, adapt, and be broken up. Keep working on improving your checklists.

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