How I use checklists to relieve stress

Checklists are like measuring tapeI know a lot of people who hate checklists, no matter what Stephen Covey tells them. I’m not going to give you any tips today on how to make a checklist that you will hate less, but I do want to suggest a new way of thinking about checklists that may be helpful for you.

To me, a checklist is a foundation or starting place. Just like I often create an outline before I write anything, a checklist is like an outline for everything I need to do in a day or for a particular task. Most importantly, a checklist helps me break down everything that needs to be done so that I can develop an accurate estimate of how much time will be needed.

Let’s take the example of a particular day of housework. I had one day available, so I started by making a list of all the different things that needed to get done. These included going to a few different hardware stores, cleaning the gutters, researching and ordering some electrical components online, working on the fence, and a few other tasks. Once I had my list, I guesstimated how long each task would take, and then prioritized them for the day.

These are the three main things that my list helped me do:

  1. figure out everything that needed done
  2. figure out how much time it all would take
  3. put everything into a good order to help me get it done

What I found was that I didn’t have time to get everything done that day, but that was all right. Because I knew in advance that I wouldn’t be able to get everything done, I didn’t have to stress about it midday, and I was able to plan to do the remaining tasks at a future time.

A checklist is a tool, like a measuring tape or stud finder. It helps to make sure that you’re putting things in the right place, and not missing anything. For me, it provides an opportunity to work backwards. I decide the time I want to stop working, and then use my list to work backwards and figure out what I can get done before then. No matter what, I’m going to maintain my work-life balance, and my list helps me do that while still getting things done efficiently and eventually.

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