GTD: The importance of daily checklists

The use of checklists has become a cornerstone of my GTD system. I have two checklists — one for home, and one for lab. They’re each broken down into key time periods, such as early morning, arrival at work, departure from work, arrival home, and bedtime.

Here’s the really neat thing about checklists: they’re a habit shortcut. All you have to do is establish the habit of going through your checklist, and you can automatically pick up a habit of doing anything you put on your checklists.

They have a secondary benefit, in that it’s easier to tweak your routine in checklist format. If you notice that things should go in a certain order, you can put them in that order on the checklist. If you find that the existing order isn’t working for you, then you can rearrange it. Typically I print them for a week at a time (made using spreadsheet software), so I update the file and then the next week it takes effect.

Here’s an example of an ordering issue I tweaked:

I keep my Next Actions and calendar on my Palm Treo, and every morning when I get to work, I sync it with my computer to pick up any changes I’ve made since I last left work. This sync takes a little bit of time. I found myself sitting and waiting for the sync before I could continue down the checklist, so I moved the sync to the beginning, and placed other things I could do while it was working immediately after it. Poof, I got back 4 minutes every morning.

You can get a copy of my lab checklist to see what I’m talking about here (PDF).

Do you use checklists?

5 thoughts on “GTD: The importance of daily checklists

  1. Maria

    Why yes, I *do* use checklists. Thanks for asking.

    Most people in medicine learn the value of checklists as interns. Checking off those boxes can bring satisfaction like no other.

    Sometimes I get a little too ambitious, though, and generally try to stay away from scheduling my day via checkboxes (didn’t David Allen make some remark about this very problem in GTD?).

    People must think we are rabid GTD people who offer daily, two-minute sacrifices (because of the checklist, of course) to the GTD gods. Egads.

  2. brock Post author

    Right, scheduling everything beforehand is too inflexible — it doesn’t allow you to deal with interruptions, changes in context, etc very well, and before you know it your pre-planning is all for naught.

    Key are the transitions, the times you might forget your wallet, or in my case, handkerchief or iPod. The iPod is especially important for me to bring back and forth, because I keep all of my working project data on it (backed up every hour, of course to the local machine).

  3. Amanda

    Funny, this is a very well time post for my personally.

    I was using checklists for my routine stuff awhile back and fell out of the habit. All of my other good habits went with it. Just about 4 days ago I restarted. Right now I just have an AM checklist (reminds me to take my vitamins and floss!), a “just got home” checklist and a bedtime checklist. Already I feel more in the swing of things.

  4. Amanda

    Umm, I really DO speak English as a first language. Make that: this is a very well timed post for me, personally.


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