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List for Life: 5 Reasons Checklists Rock

I love a good list. Lists help you prioritize. They help you see progress overtime. They transform enormous, complex projects into items that are doable! Lists can come in many forms, but regardless of whether you’re talking about a checklist on a Jira issue (I'm with the team behind Issue Checklist for Jira one of several checklist apps in the Marketplace) or a few items scribbled on a scrap of paper, lists are unbeatable tools. Here are a few ways lists make life better.

Quality Control

A checklist is a simple, fool proof way to ensure quality. Classic examples involve safety. Think of the pilots cross-checking every item, or the increasing use of checklists in hospitals. A checklist is sure fire way to ensure critical protocols are followed.

Checklists can also play a QA role in software development, when we use them for Definition of Done, Acceptance Criteria or cross-browser testing.

Standardization

Following a checklist is a great way to ensure that everything goes through the same process – no playing favorites, no scope creep, no forgetting little but important steps. In fact, standardization is one of the big advantages of moving business processes into Jira. Using lists in Jira allows you to keep your workflows simple and avoid creating extra subtasks. You can even have you lists added to issues automatically .

The most obvious example how lists can help standardize processes and prevent scope creep is the grocery list. Compare what you buy when you go shopping with and without a list.

If you prefer a more technical example, consider how adding a checklist requests in a Jira Service Management project can improve support. Having a list of the questions that need to be asked and the files that need to be uploaded saves time for both service agents and customers.

See What You Know, and What You Don’t Know

Ever notice how many self-help articles end with a list of “key take-aways”? Or how many online classes have a skills checklist at the end? Checklists are a great way to ensure you’re getting it. They make progress visible. When you’re learning a new skill, or improving on an art that’s never fully learned, using a list allows you to recognize and focus your efforts where it’s most needed.

Improved Productivity

How do lists improve productivity? Let us count the ways:

  • Lists make it manageable
    A checklist is a great way to break huge tasks down into bite sized pieces. Once you can see something broken down into its smaller parts, you can choose how to tackle it (prioritize, delegate, jump-in).

  • Lists allow you to be prepared
    Just as we can use list to ensure quality at the end of a process, we can use them to ensure we’re ready to get started. Try using a Definition of Ready list to keep your backlog organized.

  • Lists help you avoid “blank page paralysis”
    It’s much easier to get started if you know what it is you have to do. Having a list – preferably made the day before – lets you get started on the day’s task right away, without lost time pondering what needs to be done.

  • Lists make it easy to manage recurring tasks
    Lists are recyclable. There are things we need to do every week, every month even every year. Keeping a reusable list helps you remember even across long time intervals.

  • Lists help you prioritize
    You can order items in your list in what ever way works best you: putting the most important items first, or following chronological order if there are dependencies. Then you not only know what you need to do, you know you need to do next.

  • Lists can be structured
    It can be useful to structure your lists with separators and subheadings. One of the best productivity tips I ever got came when I was working on my thesis in college. The instructor recommended that we divide our To Do lists into two categories: the things that need concentration and long blocks of time, and the things that can be chipped away at 5 minutes at a time. This simple tip can save you hours, allowing you to eke productivity out of the tiny pockets of time available between meetings, errands, and… life.

Better Mental Health

All of the above are good reasons to use a list, but perhaps the best reason is that lists help are good for our mental health.

Just the act of making a list is therapeutic. Big projects feel more intimidating in our heads and more manageable once we’ve broken them down into a list. Using a checklist to prepare or ensure quality helps us boost our confidence. And just knowing that an item has been put on list lets you relax (or focus), knowing that an important detail won’t be forgotten.

Then there’s the wonderful sense of accomplish you get when you check something off the list. Every check is a win, an instant sense of accomplishment. And we need this. Checking things off a list (on paper, I prefer to highlight so I can still see what’s been done) allows us to see where our time and energy go. I enjoy crossing “Laundry” off the list once my clothes are hanging on the line, but a friend of mine takes it a step further, putting a tally mark on her list for each load of laundry completed. Checking things off a list is validating, and when you’re feeling overwhelmed it can help you remember which things you did and which things you just spent a lot of mental energy worrying about.

 

The best tools often the simplest. Long live the list.

 

2 comments

Worth mentioning that there are several checklist apps available on the Atlassian Marketplace - https://marketplace.atlassian.com/search?query=checklists

For me the last part about mental health is the most important. When I make a list with something, I feel like its already included somewhere and I don't need to think about it... Until i come to that list again :) 

Checklist are also great for drafting materials (like an 'info dump'), eg. list of key point to cover in email/documentation etc.

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