What are Some Tips for Using a Checklist?

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  • Written By: Michael Pollick
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 02 September 2019
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Many of us fall into the trap of believing we can remember every step of a project or everything we'll need for a vacation. Truth be told, using a checklist may be the smartest thing we can do for ourselves. It's not always easy to remember 30 different grocery items or all the steps of preparing an elaborate dessert. By using a checklist, however, we can have a permanent record of our needs, usually in an easy-to-follow order. When using a checklist, there are several things to keep in mind.

One tip for using a checklist effectively is to create a consistent writing style. If you're using a checklist to follow a process, for example, use complete sentences or at least noun/verb combinations. Each item on the checklist should be consistent with all other items:

1. Retrieve suitcase from closet.
2. Pack underwear and socks.
3. Find shaving kit.
4. Fold shirts and pants.
5. Close the suitcase.

All of these items match each other in style. Consider how confusing it might be if you were using a checklist such as this:

1. Suitcase in closet
2. Socks
3. Find the kit (shaving)
4. Shirt, pants. Folded?
5. Suitcase now closed.


When the individual steps are not consistent and explanatory, using a checklist becomes much more difficult. If you are writing a checklist for someone else, such as a housesitter or neighbor, it is especially important to be clear and consistent.

Another tip for using a checklist is to provide a means of crossing off items as they are accomplished. When using a checklist containing numerous instructions or items, it can be very easy to become lost. Sometimes a lengthy checklist can only be done in stages, or a particular step may take hours to complete. There should always be a method for marking off completed items or at least for noting a stopping point. When using a checklist, it should be clear to anyone which steps have been completed and which have not.

When using a checklist for shopping, it may help to notate which items are required and which are optional. Placing an asterisk next to critical items may allow another user to make better decisions while shopping. If a budgeting problem arises, a grocery checklist with clearly marked priorities can be very helpful. The same is true when using a checklist for a do-it-yourself project. Required and optional steps can be notated if time or money becomes a factor.

Many people create a shopping list or chore list as needs arise, but not necessarily in the most efficient order. When using a checklist, it may help to organize the items according to a master plan. For grocery shopping, arrange the checklist to match your usual route through the store's aisles. Start with the first department you'll reach and work from there. A checklist should be logically arranged to avoid too much backtracking or omissions. When using a checklist for household chores, consider how long each task will take to complete. Knocking off the least time-consuming chores first may open up more time for the longer ones, or you might avoid mowing a lawn during the hottest part of the day or watering the garden too late in the evening.

It often pays to read all of the items thoroughly when using a checklist. There may be some additional tools or ingredients necessary to complete a later task on the list. Storage of a partially-completed project may also become an issue. A checklist is only as organized as the person who created it, so try to be as thorough and accurate as possible when creating one. If someone else wrote the checklist, be sure you completely understand any abbreviations, codes or technical jargon he or she may use.


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