The Joy of Checklists

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It was 4:00am yesterday morning, and I was driving to the airport for a speaking engagement in Pittsburgh. This is a pretty common occurrence for me (not necessarily the Pittsburgh part, but the rest of it). All of a sudden I had one of those, “Oh no, did I leave the iron on?” moments. I forget what it was that I was actually worried about—it wasn’t the iron. Probably, “Did I lock the door?” or “Did I water the plants?” Something like that. But rather than fret about it, I was able to dismiss the worry from my mind almost the instant it appeared.


Because I use a checklist.

As a professional speaker, I fly for business a lot. And after a few years of worrying about things like locking the door and watering the plants, I eventually came up with the brilliant idea of using a checklist (something most of my fellow speakers figured out within days, or, at the outside, weeks). The difference was amazing. No more worrying! Just go down the list, and everything’s taken care of! I now have a packing checklist and a “leaving the house” checklist.

“Good for you, Bill,” you say. “But why should I care about your packing checklist?”

Because checklists aren’t just for packing or leaving the house—they can also help you in your business. Anything you do that can be described as a system or a process can be turned into a checklist. A colleague of mine has a marketing checklist that she uses every time she develops a new product. It includes items like “Possible Domain Names to Buy” and “Online Marketing Tools to Use.” She’s a true award-winning performer, and she runs her entire business using checklists like this.

I found that I was going through the same process every time I was booked for a speaking engagement, so now I’ve developed an automated checklist: “Send contract,” “Schedule conference call,” “Book flight,” and roughly 20 or so other steps that I do before and after each presentation.

award winning performanceI’m a private pilot (nothing big, just little Cessnas), and as a pilot I use a checklist every time I fly. Even though I’ve done a pre-flight check on a Cessna 172 hundreds of times, I still use a printed checklist each and every time. It’s that extra little insurance policy to make sure that nothing important gets left out.

My daily calendar is a checklist as well. The last thing I do before leaving my office for the day is map out the following day. Every thing that needs to get done goes on the calendar. My day then becomes a simple matter of following the checklist. “9am, time to write the blog,” “10:15, call my Pittsburgh client.” No more relying on memory, no more wondering what I should do with my day—and most important, no more important things falling through the cracks.

What are the systems and processes in your business (and in your life) that you could put into a written checklist? What are the tasks that you find yourself doing over and over again on a regular basis? Are they steps in a sales process? A marketing sequence (“Send email two weeks before product launch”)? Vacation planning (“Research hotels online”)? Make it into a checklist.

The last thing you want is to have your own award-winning performance derailed because of a forgotten detail.


About the Author:

29-time Emmy Award winner and Hall of Fame keynote speaker Bill Stainton, CSP is an expert on Innovation, Creativity, and Breakthrough Thinking. He helps leaders and their teams come up with innovative solutions — on demand — to their most challenging problems.
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