Everyone has their set of tools to help them stay focused and productive. For all of the great apps, websites, and systems out there I still default to the humble, trustworthy checklist.

Why checklists work:

Checklists are simply lists that have a little box that is meant to be checked off when a task is complete. It always feels good to check tasks of your list because of the mini dopamine release that occurs as a result of accomplishing something you set out to do. This can make checklists feel a bit like a game, which helps you keep the discipline needed to complete whatever is on your list.

Why they are essential to productivity:

First, checklists are very practical in that they are easy to make and require only the most basic material. If you have some paper and a pen then you are ready to go.

Second, checklists help you to not forget things. As a person who can be quite forgetful at very inconvenient times, checklists are a must-have in my life. Whether they are work tasks, shopping lists, or the order of activities for your son’s sports warmup, checklists remind us of what we need to remember.

Third, checklists are very helpful for avoiding mistakes. Take the airline industry for example, where pilots are required to follow strict protocols to avoid slip-ups, even though they know the required activities by heart. While I am not a pilot, I find that having a checklist helps me keep to best practices at work while saving me mental energy.

Fourth, checklists can be used to train habits. They say that on average it takes 30 days of regular practice to form a new habit. Using a checklist to keep track of your activity adds a bit of gamification to this. Want to stay on a diet, spend 10 minutes a day learning a language, or say thank you more? Simply keep a checklist to help you make sure you do what you have written for yourself each day and before you know it the activity will become habit.

We all need help staying productive in one area of our life or another. The checklist is easy to use, inexpensive, and readily available to help you stay on top of your game whenever you need it.