Checklists, to-do lists, action lists – we’re told from everywhere that they work. We’re urged to use them every time and for everything that needs to be done. But do they really work as their gurus try to convince us?
It’s all about quality
Obviously, every more complicated project or task requires to get split into smaller parts so that it becomes more doable. Obviously, it’s much easier to get things done when we’ve got a clear and precise list with all activities to be completed. Is it, though, more effective given the quality? I would argue with that.
It takes just one look to hate. This is how I feel about check-lists. Remember your first day at work? You were given a long list with mandatory action items, mandatory learnings, mandatory safety regulations to get familiar with. Did you feel excited about doing all of them? Me in the least.
It’s all about meaning
Check-lists have something that deters. In my view, they’re meaningless. How could I say differently if I look at a number of items to perform and I don’t see the point? They are just items. They have no significance as such. They pop up only to check them off. But checking them off for the sake of checking off is counterproductive. What if we move forward if we don’t know what we’re doing it for? What if we take a thousand little steps if they lead nowhere? And this is precisely what happens when check-lists are given a high priority in our life. When we build all our life around them.
It’s all about happiness
I see people who kill themselves to check off everything on their lists. Sometimes without even knowing why they do so. Do they feel happy, though, once the list is cleared up? They may feel temporary relief, but I wouldn’t call it happiness. Rather a quick breath before the list gets filled up again with new tasks. It’s a never-ending story. A never-ending vicious circle. How potentially can we be happy about something painful that never ends?
I remember times when I’ve been using check-lists. It was a terrible feeling once the list got empty. It was like my job was getting purposeless. On the other hand, every morning a quick look on my action list filled up to the brim was making me automatically procrastinate. Having a checklist with hundreds of points to complete encourages to play and cheat with them. Doing things out of the list is not uncommon. I was getting sick while having to come back to the list. I was feeling like my job was only about putting out fires, not about building something meaningful.
If you’re spending more time putting out fires than building the right foundations, you’ll never get out ahead of your to-do list.
It’s all about free thinking
Checklists kill free thinking. Often times, the temptation to put a check mark is so strong that we forget the intention of why something is on the list. Checklists kill our watchfulness. Being accustomed to ticking off successive points from the list, we often skip what’s behind them. Checklists narrow down the overview of the situation. If we entirely rely on them, we miss important changes that occur meanwhile. It happens as well that being totally focused on the list instead of on the ultimate purpose we don’t realize that some points become not valid anymore.
It’s all about problems
The issue with checklists is that they don’t solve all possible problems that may happen along the way. Nobody cares whether we have ticked off all the points from the list. We won’t be awarded for having crossed off all the lines. People want the result.
What worked for me and what was truly motivating to work was knowing not only the purpose but also the highest idea: What I was doing it for? Don’t get me wrong. It doesn’t mean that I never use check-lists and I consider them as the worst evil of this world. I mean that my check-list is always behind the scene. I use it to check the final result. However, it doesn’t define all my way I go through to my goal.
I let changes happen and I modify my list depending on how the objectives evolve. Being flexible helps to move faster without losing time to reformulate the check-list over and over again. I put the meaning and purpose first. The rest is an addition.
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