When it has to be done right

We often perform task analysis for clients – identifying those tasks performed frequently, as well as complex or important tasks.  When we identify task that meet these criteria, we typically recommend the use of a checklist to help ensure correct performance.

Besides consistent performance, a checklist has the benefit of capturing improvements to performance.  Any additional steps, or modifications to a step, can be easily incorporated into the process by editing the checklist.  Every time you do the job, you perform it at least as smart, if not smarter, than the last time.

As well, checklists make knowledge sharing easier.  Should someone else need to perform a job, such as when your responsibilities change or you need to be away from the office, providing them a copy of the checklists increases the likelihood that the job will still get done properly.

First thing, I recommend that you make two groups within Microsoft To Do: one group called Checklists, for all of your new checklists that you are going to create. I also recommend that you create a second group called Used Checklists. Microsoft does not allow you to just ‘archive’ a checklist after usage. So, if every time you use a checklist, you just keep duplicating the ‘master,’ your Checklist group will fill up pretty fast.  This will make it difficult to find the masters checklists in the future. Thus, you have two options.  You can delete the checklist once it is completed;  or, if you create a Used Checklist group, you can put the completed lists there.  I prefer the latter, as I like to keep past checklist for future reference. Should I something go wrong, I can go back and confirm I performed all the required steps or consider if I need to edit the list for future use.

With the folders created, now we can create our new lists. Let’s consider a scenario where we need to create a relatively complex report on a monthly basis.  Our first task involves getting data from all the regions, so we make each region a step in the task.  After the new data is loaded, we need to refresh the pivot tables within the workbook.

Oh, yes, last month one of the managers noticed that the graphs did not reflect the data shown in the pivot tables.  So, let’s add a step to also verify that the charts are correct.

Now that we have our ‘master’ list, we add it to the Checklist group.  For April, we duplicate the report checklist and move it outside the group folder.  We then check off the steps as they are performed.  Once the checklist is done, we have confidence the reports are accurate and complete. We now simply drag the checklist down to Used Checklists for future reference.

Another checklist could be reviewing presentations prior to a sales call. Some things we want to check before getting in front of the client: spelling and grammar (always!); fact check (are the quoted prices correct?); graphics and company branding (no ‘your name here’ entries).

The third example is prepping for a meeting.  Does the meeting actually have an agenda?  Do you have ready access to all of the relevant support materials?  Have the attendees confirmed?

As per David Allen’s GTD strategy, we now spend less brain power remembering all the necessary steps and more brain power on the quality of the work.

In brief:

To Do Setup

Create two new groups:

  1. Checklists
  2. Used Checklists

Create Checklists

  1. Click New List.
  2. Name the checklist.
  3. Optional: Add an icon.
  4. Add tasks to the list.
  5. Optional: Add steps to tasks.
  6. Drag the list to the Checklists group.

Use a Checklist

  1. Make a copy of the ‘master’ version of the checklist.
  2. Rename the copied checklist.
  3. Move the copy out of the Checklist folder.
  4. Mark off tasks as you complete them.
  5. After completing all tasks within the list, either:
    1. Drag the list to Used Checklists group for future reference.
    1. Or, delete the checklist completely.

This is part of a series on productivity using Office 365.

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