As an entrepreneur with a small staff, compliance and productivity are important components of your business. Without productivity, you don’t have a business. Without compliance, breakdowns are right around the corner.
Using checklists can mitigate the potential for breakdowns and increase productivity at the same time, provided they’re used effectively.
Checklists: powerful simplicity
Checklists may seem like tools for people who can’t remember to pick up eggs at the grocery store, but don’t be fooled by their simplicity. A checklist might be “just a list” but it’s often the type of list that makes people more productive.
A person’s productivity relies on their efficiency, and being efficient requires a clear understanding of what needs to be done. A checklist defines exactly what needs to be done, and mitigates the potential for error by eliminating the need to remember everything.
Memory is fallible
Having a list to work with relieves the pressure of trying to remembering more than the human brain can handle. According to science, your short-term memory can only hold seven items for an average of twenty seconds. Using a checklist means you’re unlimited in the information you can have at your fingertips.
It’s possible to expand your short-term memory capacity with strategies like chunking, but a checklist is effortless. Why waste time trying to memorize information you can easily reference from a sheet of paper? By putting the information in writing, your brain is free for other creative tasks.
Checklists put people on autopilot
People are most productive when they can remain in their flow. Distractions and interruptions use more of the brain’s energy to get back on task. They’re also frustrating. When a task list can be implemented from a checklist, there’s less distraction and more focus – two prerequisites for productivity.
Chronicle.com makes an important point about adding routine tasks to your checklist, “Routine tasks that you perform every day can become blurred in your memory because they are so similar day to day. These mundane tasks can still benefit from a checklist, if the steps of the task are important enough that you want to make sure they won’t be omitted.”
Two types of checklists
In general, there are two types of checklists you can use to boost productivity: a referential checklist and an action-oriented checklist.
A referential checklist is a list you refer to when you’re trying to assess existing circumstances. For instance, teachers use a referential checklist to take roll call. An action-oriented checklist is a list of tasks that need to be prioritized and completed.
Components of an effective checklist:
- It’s useable. A good checklist will be “checkable,” meaning, you can cross items off, or mark a box. It doesn’t matter if it’s printed on paper, written on a dry erase board, or laminated on a piece of paper. What matters is that you have access to it, and you can use it.
This checklist for selling your business from Inc.com is a good example of what a usable online checklist looks like. If you host your checklists online, rather than using a Word document, lean how to use basic HTML to create a list with checkboxes.
- It’s simple. A checklist doesn’t need to be a graphic design contest. The less frills, the better. Simplicity eliminates distraction. Especially when the checklist is designed to support compliance in the workplace.
- It’s concise. For a checklist to support productivity, the items need to be clear and concise. Be intentional with your words and use as few words as possible to describe each item.
Here’s an example of a concise referential checklist for entrepreneurs who have purchased a FedEx delivery route. The checklist is intended for the buyer to reference after the sale has been made, so they know what to expect during the approval and transfer process.
A checklist alone isn’t magical
By itself, a checklist won’t guarantee compliance and productivity. Your checklists need to be usable, and you’ve got to find a way to get people to adopt them as their standard. If you haven’t introduced checklists to your team yet, you may find they already have their own set of checklists. If so, it should be easy to transition over to an official set of checklists to help them get their tasks done more efficiently.
Ultimately, a checklist is a tool that supports productivity by closing the gap that extends beyond the capacity of the human memory. Designed and implemented correctly, a checklist can cause a windfall of productivity for your business.