How to Stay Organized With a Checklist
Do You Feel Like You've Lost Control?
Have you ever had one of those days, where you leave work feeling like you've achieved nothing?
- Your desk looks more cluttered than when you arrived.
- Your inbox maxed out last week.
- Post-it notes cover your computer screen.
- There's no room left for your feet beneath the desk.
- And that morning meeting finally finished an hour ago.
Staying organized is a challenge. Information bombards us from all directions. Text messages, social media, email, web form responses, meeting requests, passing conversations, phone calls and standard mail vie for our attention.
It's no wonder stress levels are high. The American Psychological Association (APA) reports 39% of Americans in 2017 suffered from "somewhat significant" to "significant stress" caused by "too heavy a workload" in the workplace.
Unrealistic or uncertain roles were also among the top five workplace stresses in APA's survey in 2017. These negative aspects, along with too much work, make staying on top of your work difficult.
And it's not just office employees who wrestle with an overload of tasks and time management constraints. Tradespeople, retail workers and entertainers also struggle to get things done.
Most workplaces provide you with a job description that highlights duties and tasks. Sometimes, they are out of date or don't cover everything you do. And while they might communicate a list of responsibilities, they lack specifics.
Even when a workplace has step-by-step documented procedures, you can still have too much to do. Knowing how to prioritize and manage a heavy workload with a checklist has benefits. And checklists serve as an essential organizational tool.
If you're feeling overwhelmed at work, get organized with the help of a to-do list. At the start of each morning, write down everything you need to do. Be specific.
Keep a Daily List That Carries Over
A daily to-do list of tasks and activities:
- Acts as a reminder
- Helps you to prioritize your day
- Shows if you're over-committing
- Saves you time
Manage Your Time and Priorities Upwards
A checklist also assists with workflow. If you're a secretary or personal assistant who answers to more than one line manager, a checklist helps you to manage upwards. Include a column in your list to record an estimation of time for the completion of each task.
Encourage your managers to record the tasks they give you on your to-do list. The checklist broadens their awareness of your workload. They see what else you have to do and when it's required. The list manages their expectations.
Even if you only have one line manager, a checklist is vital evidence of your workload. Use your to-do list to:
- Discover more efficient work processes
- Lighten your workload
- Request help
- Argue for an assistant or new team member
However, what I'm about to share you with you isn't just any ordinary to-do list. It's a checklist organizer.
What You Need to Create Your Checklist
- Notebook (I recommended using an A5 sized book.)
- At least four colored pens, such as green, yellow, purple and red
- Ruler (optional)
- Star stickers (any color)
7-Step Checklist Organizer
- Open your notebook to the first available page.
- Write today's date at the top.
- Write down all the things you need to complete before you go home.
*Include new tasks even those you don't need to complete that day.
*Use one line per task.
*Prioritize each task with colored pens (refer to the color guide below).
Tip: You may want to break some duties into multiple tasks to manage them more easily.
- Rule a straight line through each task as you complete it. Or place a tick at the end of the line.
- Start a new list on a new page tomorrow.
- Go back through your book each day and find the pages with no stars. Assess any unfinished tasks. If you need to bring a task forward to a new page, complete the task on the old page so you don’t keep revisiting it.
- Reward yourself with a star when a day's list is completed. Place the star sticker on the page where you can easily see it. When you reward your efforts visually, it also indicates each item on the page is completed. A page with no star has unfinished business.
Prioritize Your List With Colors
- Red tasks have a sense of urgency. They must be completed that day.
- Blue tasks are repetitive.
- Green tasks are for long projects. You expect they will take longer than a week to complete.
- Black tasks are general tasks that you might find in your job description.
You can use other colours for further categorisation. For example, you may want to use different colors to differentiate between daily and weekly repetitive tasks.
Stay Organized at Home With Your Checklist
A checklist organizer works anywhere. You may want to keep two notebooks: one for work and one for your personal life.
Keep your house clean and your lawn mowed by adding chores to your home organizer checklist. You could also use it to:
- Organize your wedding
- Job hunt
- Plan Uncle Ben's retirement party
- Prioritize and pay bills
- Arrange your next overseas holiday
You can use it to manage most types of events or life circumstances.
Digital Checklist Organizers
Do you have a workplace process that requires frequent checking? Consider automating your checklist organizer for use on a smartphone or tablet. Create a PDF form or try one of the apps listed below.
PDF Checklist Organizer Form
Workplaces where customers access facilities often start the day with a site audit to inspect equipment and facilities. Create a prioritized list, like the one below, for a designated employee to check-off or comment. Once completed, the employee saves and emails the audit checklist to a manager or OH&S officer.
Checklist Apps for PC, Smartphones and Tablets
If you don't want to carry a notebook around, these apps can also help you get organized.
Apple's iOS comes with a standard Reminder app. Use this as an alternative process to keep you organized.
Find the Apple Reminder app limiting or not using an IOS device? Try Todoist: To-Do List and Task Manager. It's available for free on multiple devices, but it also comes with a premium option. Login to the app with your Google or Facebook account, or create a new one. I use it on my Windows 10 PC.
Other checklist and organizational apps (some have a small fee or contain in-app purchases) include:
- Google Keep
- Habitica (a gamified to-do list)
- OmniFocus 2
- 2Do (to-do list, tasks and notes)
Apps Versus Paper-Based Checklists
Apps automate checklists. They make it easier to share and integrate your workflow with other people, programs and work processes. However, when a computer system stalls or the power fails, a manual checklist organizer keeps you in control.
A paper-based checklist is an essential tool for emergencies. Consider keeping a printed copy of your digital checklist at hand.
If you're in control of your workplace's safety, keep a clipboard and hard copy of workplace health and safety checklists in an easy-to-reach place. It might also be a good idea to have a checklist for blackout procedures.
Why You Should Stay Organized With a Checklist
By using a checklist organizer such as a work to-do list, you take back control of your work. Rather than constantly remembering everything you need to do, writing down your tasks frees up your thoughts to focus on the job at hand.
A checklist organizer also extends beyond the everyday to-do list. Use it to complete a specific process, such as an occupational health and safety check or site audit. Or to organize everything you need to do to relax and enjoy a weekend away.
By making checklists part of your day, you relieve workplace stress. You can also use a to-do list to:
- Put forward a business case for more resources
- Update a job description and assign responsibilities
Most of all, checklists help to visually manage and organize either a process or things you need to do. As a result, that final tick takes a heap of pressure off you.
Do you keep a to-do checklist or organizer for work or personal use?
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
© 2012 Tina Dubinsky