5 Surprisingly Creative Ways to Use Checklists

Written by on July 20, 2015 in Accountability

5 Surpringly Creative Ways to Use ChecklistsA good checklist is a powerful thing. It can help us stay focused and organized, reduce stress, achieve goals, delegate and teach, and it can serve as a comforting guide to keep you moving forward in the midst of a crisis.

Checklists are everywhere and are more than just a way to keep track of what you want to accomplish today. They communicate a variety of information from work goals and project objectives to people’s ability to organize and communicate information, and they save lives on a daily basis – think airline procedures, fire and safety services, and hospitals.

Dr. Peter Pronovost of Johns Hopkins University Medical Center created what is often referred to as the “holy grail” of checklists consisting of five straightforward steps for reducing deadly infections associated with line catheters. When Michigan ICUs put the checklist into practice over a period of 18 months, hospitals saved an estimated $175 million, and estimated 1,500 lives. The checklist protocol has since been implemented in every state of the U.S. and in several other countries. Dr. Provost’s checklist protocol has been credited with saving countless lives over the past decade.

Organizing is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it is not all mixed up. ~A.A. Milne

The Reason Checklists are So Useful is Simple

Creating and using checklists may not be considered by most people to be a particularly glamorous process, but the payoff does offset the effort because we all make mistakes and forget steps even (or maybe especially) with repetitive tasks or tasks we’ve been doing for years.

Lists help us put everything into perspective and focus on exactly what we want to do while minimizing the clutter that can so easily creep into our minds during hectic days. They also provide a visual reference to help us see the logic to how we are choosing to invest our time.

5 Creative Ways to Use Checklists


The most common checklists are for shopping and tasks we want to accomplish, but here are few additional ways to use them.

  • Procedural checklist: These types of checklists can cover everything from how to do the laundry (for kids and sometimes husbands), to preparing for back to school. In fact if you’re on Pinterest there’s a great board dedicated to school checklists at https://www.pinterest.com/explore/school-checklist.
  • Safety checklist: This list would cover such things as electrical cords and outlets, home heating, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and fire extinguishers and include dates of periodic testing, battery replacement, etc.
  • Emergency / Disaster checklist: This list might include an emergency exit plan and the location of shelters, checklist for an emergency medical kit, insurance information, and contact numbers for medical services. The Red Cross website has all the information you need to prepare your home and family for any type of emergency or disaster at http://www.redcross.org/prepare/location/home-family.
  • Food and kitchen staples: I would love to have $1 for every person I’ve seen walking around the market with a cell phone in their ear trying to figure out what they need to buy. We all have food and kitchen staples and keeping a list that we can use to check off items that are running low will at least help cover the basics.
  • Annual subscription and contract renewals: This is self-explanatory and can not only be a real time saver but help to prevent lapses in services.

According to the world’s bestselling author on time management, Brian Tracy, every minute of planning saves ten minutes of work. While there will always be unexpected interruptions, using a planning checklist will not only help to free more time and accomplish priorities it will assure you experience fewer “fire drills.”

Review your list at the end of each day and spend some time reflecting on how you actually used your time. Did your plan work out or are there more effective ways you could be using your time? You might also want to keep track of your accomplishments – no matter how small – to use for goal planning and year end reviews. (I use a spreadsheet for this.) An end of day review need not take more than a few minutes but it can help you to be more productive and accomplish more each day and it also serves as a good cut off point to separate work from family time.


Checklists are a surprisingly effective way to generate ideas in a systematic way by exploring all areas and issues that are associated with a problem or idea you wish to pursue. Many of the mind mapping tools are types of checklists, encouraging you to be systematic in your approach. The simplest process includes the questions which, why, where, when, how and who.


I know many of us have trust issues when it comes to delegation, but we can overcome most of those concerns by preparing an effective procedural checklist. By breaking down tasks into specific steps checklists can give us more confidence when delegating activities. Of course developing a successful procedural checklist is more than just putting ideas down on paper. For this type of checklist to be an effective communication tool, we have to think about such things as the important elements of the task and how much time it will take to go through the checklist. If others know what to do, when to do it, how to do it, and how not to get it wrong, you can reduce frustration and save a tremendous amount of time and effort.


Checklists motivate us to take action especially when it comes to goals. There’s something so satisfying about charting a course one step at a time and tracking progress. In my previous career as a life and small business coach I gave new clients a “welcome” bundle that included among other things – an achievement journal and the following checklist.

Checklists are not hard and fast rules to live by, but rather guidelines to help us make sense of the complexity of our lives. One reason a checklist may be such a powerful tool is because it serves as a constant reminder that we do make mistakes and we are willing to try to learn from and prevent them.

How about you? Do you use checklists and if so have you found any particularly creative ways to use them?

Let today be the day you give up who you’ve been for who you can become.
About Marquita Herald

Marquita Herald

Marquita is an author, resilience coach and the chief evangelist at Emotionally Resilient Living. She’s also an unapologetic workaholic who loves red wine, rock n’ roll, road trips (and car dancing!), peanut butter cookies and (especially) a dog named Lucy.

She’s saddened and frustrated by excuses and cruelty and believes authentic compassion is the most powerful force in the world.

To learn more about Marquita and the mission of Emotionally Resilient Living  click here.


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  1. krystle cook

    I love checklists. They keep me going. Otherwise I’d forget what I have to do amongst my hectic schedule.
    krystle cook recently posted…Avoid Headaches With These Solutions to Common Road Trip PerilsMy Profile

  2. Wow you do keep busy Jason and I can certainly see how checklists would help you! Thanks for stopping by and sharing.

  3. So glad you found the article helpful Rose! Thanks for taking the time to contribute to the conversation.

  4. Haha – well keeping track of your checklist is one reason why going digital is so helpful Kimba. 🙂

  5. So glad you found the article inspiring William! Thanks for taking the time to contribute to the conversation. 🙂

  6. As useful as checklists can be Nathalie, nothing will help you if it’s a necessary evil so if you believe it’s a habit worth cultivating then the key will be to find a system you like and sounds like the planner is working for you. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!

  7. Thanks for taking the time to share Jeannette. I’ve never heard of ICal but I’ll definitely take a look!

  8. Thanks for sharing Jeri – I saw the photos from your hike and it looks like you had a terrific time!

  9. So glad you enjoyed the article Donna and thanks to for sharing my posts with your readers because I’ve had several people comment here recently that they followed links from your Facebook page. 🙂

  10. So glad you enjoyed the post Diane and thanks for sharing!

  11. Sounds like you have a great system going for you Arleen! Living on a small Island I’ve become an obsessive recycler and have done my best to go paper free but fortunately the fact that between research and writing I spend so much time on my computers makes it much easier for me to keep digital checklists. But that’s just me and the point is finding what works best for each person. Thanks for sharing and contributing to the conversation!

  12. Glad you enjoyed the article Phoenicia and I agree with you about the good feeling of checking things off. I also use my lists for planning. Since I keep my more significant tasks on a spreadsheet at the end of each year I can look back and see (and celebrate!) exactly what I’ve accomplished. It makes planning for a New Year so much easier and more productive! 🙂

  13. New recipes is a great example for lists! Glad you found the article useful Erica and thanks for contributing to the conversation.

  14. Great point Donna about how lists can be useful for things we don’t do often. One example I didn’t include is how useful they can be during the holidays for everything from gift shopping to having one taped to the outside of each of those boxes of decorations most people have stored away in the garage. Thanks for contributing to the conversation!

  15. Glad you enjoyed the article and it sounds like your wife really came through for you and what a perfect example of how useful lists can be! You are so right about the importance of keeping in mind our checklists should not rule us which is why I mentioned in the article they should be considered ‘guidelines’ rather than carved in stone. Heaven knows I have no problem shuffling my own lists around; at the same time they have proven to be invaluable to help me stay on track and focused. Thanks for contributing to the conversation Dave!

  16. Thanks for taking the time to contribute to the conversation Stella – I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. 🙂

  17. Glad you enjoyed the post and the slideshare presentation Mark. I could be wrong but I have a feeling that checklists are one of those things that you either love or hate, and clearly I fall on the love end of that spectrum!

  18. So glad you enjoyed the article Isabel and I believe it’s safe to say that many people today rely on their smartphones for things like checklists. The only reason I haven’t made that leap yet is I spend so much time writing and online researching that when I’m out and about the last thing I want to do is be tied to something digital. 🙂 Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts.

  19. Jeri

    I went on a backcountry hike this weekend, and though I did a great job of getting everything together, I realized how much faster that process would have done if I would take the time to make a checklist. I only usually go once or twice a summer, so it’s not like car camping where I have my getting-ready system down a an exact science.
    Jeri recently posted…#AuthorInterview: Diana MarinovaMy Profile

  20. Marquita — I use a checklist — more of a To-Do — every day. I use ICal and it relieves the anxiety of trying to remember everything I have to do. For years, I’ve also used my own checklist for when I travel. It has been a godsend because I know I wouldn’t remember to take my cell-phone charger.
    Jeannette Paladino recently posted…To Order a New Service Press 1 – Again and AgainMy Profile

  21. I resist in making checklists but I know I should make it a priority. I’ve been using Brendon Burchard’s “1-Page Productivity Planner recently. It helps. I just need to be more consistent at it. Thank you for the school checklists on Pinterest, I will check it out!

  22. William Rusho

    What a great article. I know when I am busy, my brain gets scrambled, sometimes I think I need a checklist, for my checklist. I do like what you posted about using a checklist for creativity. Thanks for sharing.
    William Rusho recently posted…A Sequel to a Fantasy Novel in the MakingMy Profile

  23. Suzie Cheel

    I love checklists and always use one for shopping and for the markets each Sunday. I have checklists on drive for my daily health plan and I have just got a new habits daily check list. I love you A-Z slide share
    The one that slips by me often is my daily checklist- i need to work on that 🙂 I don’t have procedural ones. I know o do have a moving checklist for the next time we move xxooxx Thank you for you inspiration
    Suzie Cheel recently posted…Can You See The Perfection That Is You?My Profile

  24. Kimba

    Been a big ol list maker my whole life. Now in “Club 50” I need my lists more than ever. If it don’t get written down, it don’t get done! My current problem is that I forget where I put my lists – DOH!
    Kimba recently posted…Sign LanguageMy Profile

  25. Another timely post from a BHB person! I’ve been trying to find more creative ways to squeeze more time into my day…this is a good reminder to examine my current checklist process and see what I could do differently to fill that need.

    I used to teach a time management course and am good at prioritizing work tasks, but sometimes I think I rebel at applying the same thing to my non-day job (which is ultimately more important to my creative self). So, thanks!
    Rose M Griffith recently posted…Don’t Miss 2016’s Pittsburgh Vintage Grand PrixMy Profile

  26. Jason B

    I have several checklist. I use them to make sure that I get things done. Having a full time, pt job and running a blog I tend to forget some things every once in a while.
    Jason B recently posted…What Would You Do Different Financially In Your 20’s?My Profile

  27. Donna Merrill

    Hi Marquita,

    I don’t know what I would do without my checklist. Juggling so many hats in one day can easily throw a “solopreneur” off track.

    When I read about how check lists motivate you, I had an AHA moment because I just never thought of that one. But in hindsight I realize how much it does motivate me.

    Thanks once again for your guidance.

    Donna Merrill recently posted…Why Bloggers Fail In Blogging | How To Avoid FailureMy Profile

  28. I live by lists – mostly to-do lists and the 5 things I must get done each day. I’ve automated my book marketing into check lists and probably should standardize more of my business and life. I’m sharing this post on Facebook, Marty.

  29. Arleen

    I have checklist for checking my list. I find for me it helps if I write it down instead of putting the checklist in my computer or phone. There is something about remembering what piece of paper I wrote it down on, the ink I used, etc. The other advantage for me that if I write these things down I don’t spend the night thinking of what I need to do and end up having trouble sleeping.
    Arleen recently posted…A Sweet Idea with Promotional ChocolateMy Profile

  30. Phoenicia

    Great article!

    I write checklists every day. They help me to stay focused on actual priorities and not just tasks that would be nice to do. I enjoy the feeling of ticking off a task on my list.

    You mention checklists being well embraced, people want to see the progress they have made on the journey. It will give them the incentive to see the tasks through.
    Phoenicia recently posted…Five reasons why you need a mentorMy Profile

  31. Erica says:

    The one time I really use checklists is when I’m shopping for a new recipe. I’ll never just remember to get all the ingredients. If I rely on memory, I usually have a panic just as I start cooking because I’ll leave something out

    An emergency checklist is another important one. You tend not to know ahead of time when disaster will strike, so it is nice to have an organized plan ahead of time.
    Erica recently posted…20 Healthy Breakfasts You’ll Want To Eat!My Profile

  32. Donna Janke

    I am a list person so could relate to this post. You’ve pointed out great uses of checklists beyond the standard to-do lists. They can also be great for things we do regularly, but not often – e.g. an annual trip to the lake. Lists for keeping track of items to pack, preparations to make, etc. mean one isn’t trying to think of all the details all over again.
    Donna Janke recently posted…Hermetic Secrets at the Manitoba Legislative BuildingMy Profile

  33. Dave

    It’s ironic that you have brought up the idea of checklists. I have just returned from Boy Scout camp with my son – an adventure on many different levels, some very unexpected, like ending up in NC for two days when you were supposed to be in GA for the duration of the week. Alas, I digress.

    I was so overwhelmed with everything that was going on, but my wonderful wife came to the rescue with a checklist to help assuage my stress levels. With camp gear strewn all over the place, it was challenging to know and make sure that everything we left home with would actually make the return trip home.

    And this is where technology is wonderful. She sent me an email with a simple text list of things to remember. With two swipes and a few clicks, I had transformed that text into a list of items with check boxes next to them in my phone. I immediately felt the stress begin to melt away, knowing that I had something to help me out.

    With that being said, I have been on the other end of the spectrum where I have allowed a checklist to “rule” my life. Although it’s common sense, it’s probably worthy to note that lists should be our servant, and not our master. They are there to help us take steps throughout the day that align with our goals, ambitions, and values. But, I have to remind myself to always be cognizant of everything around me, and be willing to alter (or even abandon) those checklists depending upon the situation and conditions.

    It’s good to be back, and this was a great article to return to – thanks Marty!
    Dave recently posted…Reverse psychologyMy Profile

  34. Stella Chiu

    Hi, Marquita
    We started to use checklist when we were in grade school. Just like you mentioned, checklist is very useful in guiding the completion of the project. It also prevents human errors. The result of Dr. Provost’s work proved its significant in saving life and expenses for the hospitals.

    The uses of checklist in organization, productivity and delegation are documented. In this blog, you also input the idea that checklist can be used in motivation and creativity. That is so cooled. I enjoyed the post a lot. – Stella
    Stella Chiu recently posted…Parents, Please Stop Doing These in ParentingMy Profile

  35. Mark

    First of all what an excellent post Marquita!

    And thank you so much for sharing those mind blowing numbers from Dr.Peter Pronovost’s “holy grail” of checklists and how implementing them helped Michigan’s ICU’s save 1,500 lives and roughly 175 million dollars while doing so!

    That is just so awesome!and truly demonstrates the potential to us i what you’ve shared!

    And thanks for sharing your awesome A-Z slideshare presentation as well!

    It’s sort of like having a blueprint for long term steps for achieving practically any worthwhile goal and or undertaking!

    Mark recently posted…How Extremely Savvy Entrepreneurs Make Business Opportunities Practically Impossible To Resist!Part TwoMy Profile

  36. Awesome article. I am too a checklist person. I usually have to write down everything I have to do so I don´t forget it. I was that kind of person that goes with a little notebook writing things on it, today I use my smartphone, lol.
    Isabel Raynaud recently posted…Tarot gitano para todosMy Profile

  37. The first day of each month the sirens go off as a test, but otherwise they only go off when there’s a tsunami warning. So far it’s been quiet but we’re just weeks into the season. Last year we had 3 tsunami warnings and 1 evacuation order so it was a pretty stressful season. I live up on a hill above the coastal evacuation zone so normally we aren’t included in an evacuation order, but the last time we were all packed and ready to head out when they cancelled the alert. I attended a lecture at the Maui Historical Society last fall and the question came up about the possibility of a local tidal wave because the professor was talking about the various shelves and rifts off of the Islands. He said that if the shelf off of Lanai were to break off it would create a mega tidal wave that would wipe out most of Maui. Not likely, but definitely the stuff nightmares are made of. But then I grew up with earthquakes in California so I figure Mother Nature has blessed every area with it’s own unique challenges. 🙂

  38. Glad you enjoyed the article Doreen and appreciate your taking the time to share your thoughts and contribute to the conversation! 🙂

  39. Lenie

    Marquita, there are so many things we don’t understand about how the other person lives. What you wrote about the tsunami evacuation sirens was something else. Do these sirens go off on a regular basis and where do you go when they do go off. I would really like to know.
    Lenie recently posted…August Sales – Big Savings on School Supplies, MoreMy Profile

  40. Glad you enjoyed the post Sabrina, and you bring up a really good point. I think the very act of creating a list helps us to focus and identify all of the steps, including those that we might otherwise have missed. Thanks for taking the time to share!

  41. “Are we ever truly ex?” I don’t think so Rosalind. 🙂 Sounds like you’ve got it wired, and I must admit I’m pretty much hooked on using excel for all kinds of planning. The really funny thing is years ago I really resisted using it until a manager sat me down and made me learn. As I recall I pretty much hated her for that at the time, but went back later and thanked her. That was a good lesson to learn for many reasons!

  42. That quote is a little gem isn’t it? The best thing about lists is the way they free our minds to focus on other things. One area many people tend to undervalue is having a checklist for times of crisis, but when you’re blindsided by an emergency or like in our case when the tsunami evacuation sirens go off, your mind is going in a million different directions and it really can lessen stress when you don’t have to scramble to figure out what to do first. Thanks for stopping by and contributing to the conversation Lenie!

  43. I’m with you Jacqueline! The little bit of time it takes to set up and maintain effective lists really pays off in the long run. Thanks for stopping by and sharing!

  44. I think all that really matters is what system works for you Pamela. I had to use a planner when I was in sales and personally I can’t imagine a worse headache than having to go back to that, but that’s just me. As far as the story on list effectiveness, an interesting thing happened on Facebook after I published this article. I posted a follow up article from Ink Magazine about a study of the world’s wealthiest shows 81% of them use lists – at the same time a friend posted an article from Forbes that said the rich “NEVER!” use lists. My point is that no matter what the issue is you’ll find studies and articles to support your particular viewpoint. After nearly 30 years in marketing what I know from personal experience it’s surprisingly easy to manipulate research to support any hypothesis. If the study or article is based on research that hasn’t been blessed by academia and published chances are pretty darn good it’s rife with personal bias. Thanks so much for sharing and contributing to the conversation!

  45. Pamela Chollet

    The only checklists I really use is a To Do list. I’ve read they aren’t good for productivity, but for me they work. The only thing is I have to write it down, typing task lists on the computer doesn’t work for me. I’ve tried every organizational app and I waste more time organizing the darn app then getting anything done. I’ve been using the Franklin Covey system for 20 years, I carry that planner with me everywhere I go.
    Pamela Chollet recently posted…Parents, Kids And Self-Esteem: The TruthMy Profile

  46. I couldn’t function without my checklists! I think my checklists have checklists! No seriously, this even goes for writing my books. They have saved me an immense amount of time!
    Jacqueline Gum recently posted…Hurt Feelings… Where’s The Justice?My Profile

  47. Lenie

    Marquita, I use checklists for everything. When I was first married I was also working and in order to keep on top of everything I had a day-to-day checklist outlining everything that needed to be accomplished each day. It included the smallest items, like pulling meat out of the freezer for supper that night, but also the larger tasks like washing the windows. Sure made my life easier.
    BTW – I love the A.A.Milne quote.
    Lenie recently posted…August Sales – Big Savings on School Supplies, MoreMy Profile

  48. Rosalind says:

    Gosh as an ex-project manager – are we ever truly ex? – I could not have done my job without routine checklists, list making and indeed either excel or MS Project. Professional life was run from the todos list which was updated/reviwed to and from work on the train every day.
    I am a pretty organised person in life but I sometimes think this is due to managing my natural tendency to creative chaos that I have become so organised. I was an inherent loser of keys and wallet…no more.
    Rosalind recently posted…OpinionsMy Profile

  49. Sabrina Q.

    Love this post. I make checklist all the time. I make daily tasks checklist to the longer term checklists to per project/procedure checklists. It helps me stay focused and remember the details of projects that need to be done. I have also helped clients make up checklists for their business. It is very effective way of keep on top of the detail tasks. Thanks for sharing.
    Sabrina Q. recently posted…Going Digital with RecipesMy Profile

  50. As we get older, I find that lists and checklists become much more important. I can’t imagine getting the day without referring to my notes and lists. I’m not an extremely structured person, but sometimes I find my mind to be on overload and having a list helps keep it focused.
    Doreen Pendgracs recently posted…Sisterhood of the World BloggersMy Profile

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