The Productivity Box: Making a Checklist, Checking It Twice

This season is hectic and there’s often no way around it. That mad rush to complete all of your end-of-year tasks while keeping up with holiday parties, office events, and family plans can feel nearly impossible. There’s a house to decorate, gifts to shop for, meals to plan out, and guests to entertain. And that’s on top of your normal workload. How do you balance it all, while holding onto sanity in the process? Let’s follow the magic of the checklist.

The Productivity Box: Making a Checklist and Checking It Twice

Learn from the best

We’ve always been told to learn from the best. So why not simply borrow a trick from Santa’s bag 🙂 He has efficiency down to a science—after all, who else can travel the world in 12 hours?! Before he launches this monumental effort, Santa is making a list and checking it twice. He’s the master of the checklist. You should be too if you want to stay productive this holiday season.

In this installment of The Productivity Box, we’ll investigate how using a checklist can keep you focused and efficient during this crazy time of year. And beyond!

What are the productivity benefits of a checklist?

Are there practical, measurable benefits of using a checklist? A field experiment in the American Economic Journal can answer that question. The researchers gave a team of mechanics at an auto repair firm checklists to stay on top of their responsibilities. Once implemented, the firm’s revenue increased by 20 percent. Employee productivity also increased as a result of being able to monitor task completion and maintain better mental recall.

As for the success of the checklist, it all comes down to neuroscience. If you’ve felt the satisfaction of crossing a task off your calendar, then you’re no stranger to the power of a checklist. That’s because the brain releases dopamine when you achieve a goal, behavioral scientists point out.

Dopamine will elevate feelings of pleasure, increase your attention span, and create a motivational feedback loop. In turn, this drives you to accomplish even more line items on your agenda.

On the flip side, the researchers continue, leaving a task incomplete will sabotage productivity levels. Your mind will fixate on that unfinished project. This will drain your mental resources and make it hard to re-focus or mobilize the energy to take decisive action.

You need structure to avoid this pitfall—and that’s where a checklist comes into play. This tool will help you formulate a strategic, itemized work routine, so you’ll know what to prioritize and concentrate on. In turn, it will optimize efficiency, goal orientation, and completion rates.

It’s worth noting, not all checklist formats are created equal. In fact, while it might sound simplistic (or even archaic), writing the list by hand is often more effective than using a virtual calendar or mobile application. According to Dr. Gail Matthews, a psychologist and professor at the Dominican University in California, you are 42 percent more likely to achieve a goal that’s written down.

Electronic input might be quicker and easier, but the manual act of writing forces you to visualize the task, map out a strategy, and chart your progress. You also then reap the intrinsic reward of being able to cross it off when you’re done. Writing is pure magic.

How to create a checklist—and maximize its efficiency

Chances are, you won’t have to circle the globe this holiday season. BTW, how in the world does Santa muster the energy?! 😀 But if there’s a lot on your plate and not much time to tackle it all, don’t stress. Just reach for a notepad because the trusty checklist has you covered. Here are a few tips on how to create and utilize a checklist for maximum performance, organization, and efficiency, both on the job in other hectic areas of life.

1. Write out your checklist before starting the day

You’re on autopilot when you get into work. You start reading emails and chatting with co-workers as you wait for your first cup of coffee to be ready. When you dive right into these low-priority tasks, however, you set the tone for an unproductive workday.

As this poll reveals, the average employee spends three hours each day checking emails. Instead of starting the day with this productivity-waster, carve out a few minutes in the morning to create your plan of action. Handwrite a list of the tasks you need to finish by EOD in order of their importance. Being intentional about your work routine will put you in the mindset for optimal focus and motivation.

2. Segment the checklist into focused time blocks

Not only does a checklist tell you what to do. When structured effectively, it also holds you accountable for when to do it. This format is called time blocking, and it helps you focus on just one task until it’s finished, rather than switching between multiple tasks (and stretching your attention too thin in the process).

When you create your checklist, designate a certain amount of time for each line item, then devote this block to that project only. Turn off all notifications, so you won’t be tempted to do anything else. According to Cal Newport, the author of Deep Work, this can save as much as 80 percent of lost productivity.

3. Refer to and update checklist items consistently

Here’s where the checking it twice part comes into play. Consider this checklist a living document that you’ll review and make adjustments to over the course of a workday. Don’t just set it and forget it. Place your checklist somewhere easily visible and accessible, then update it as priorities shift, tasks are completed, or you receive a new project.

This consistency will keep you organized so that nothing falls off your radar. The more organized you are, the less anxious, stressed out, or overwhelmed you’ll feel on the job, which leads to more balance in other areas of life too, suggests JED Foundation.

Making your list—checking it twice!

If you’re under the pressure of work and personal commitments during this time of the year, take a few deep breaths and reach for a pen to write your checklist.

This might even become your new favorite holiday season survival hack. Santa swears by it, after all! Give yourself a performance boost and borrow a chapter from his productivity playbook.

And when the winter holiday season is over, continue to practice this new habit. You can thank me later 😉

My monthly series dedicated to improving work performance through small and unexpected hacks will come back next year with a bang. Till then, enjoy a happy and productive holiday season!

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