Too much to do, too little time? Feeling overwhelmed and stressed? Go back to the basics by writing out a simple checklist. It will change your life.
Simplicity at its best: The checklist is one of the world’s oldestand most effectiveproductivity systems. If anything, author and entrepreneur Alexandra Franzen shares, it is just as valuable now as it was during the days of the Roman Empire. Writing out a simple checklist allows us to tangibly plan our day and set in stone what we want to accomplish.
Cut out unnecessary noise: There are countless apps and organizational systems out there to help us straighten out our lives, but often they only add to the madness. Trying to keep up leaves us feeling drained and overwhelmed. Learn how to choose your highest priorities, set realistic goals, celebrate tiny wins, and feel calmer every day with the magic of checklists.
Be realistic about the time in a day: By physically writing down our tasks on a single piece of paper, we force ourselves to limit how much we can do in a day. Too often, we cram our day with tasks and chores and leave almost no space for self-care or time with loved ones. We end up disappointed in our inability to complete our never-ending to-do list. Checklists help you plan your day in a more gentle, realistic way. You accomplish what needs to be doneand enjoy things you want to be doing, too.
In the life-changing Checklist Book, learn:
- The history of the checklist and why it remains to be relevant and effective today
- The science behind the success of checklists, such as the instant satisfaction we feel when we put a check next to a finished task
- How to create a basic daily checklistand checklists for specific situations, like moving to a new city or navigating a divorce
Readers who love life-improvement books like The Bullet Journal Method, Free to Focus and Atomic Habits will love The Checklist Book.
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About the Author
Her books include You’re Going to Survive (true stories and advice on how to survive painful experiences in your career), 50 Ways to Say You’re Awesome (a book about the power of saying “thank you”), and So This Is the End (a novel about a woman with exactly one day to live).
She’s the creator of Get It Done, an online class that helps you tackle a project you’ve been avoiding and finally get it handled. She’s the founder of The Tiny Press, a publishing imprint specializing in short books that are 100 pages or less. She also works as a copywriter and consultant, helping clients complete all kinds of writing/storytelling/media projects: books, websites, podcasts, marketing campaigns, and more.
She lives in a house with an entire wall that’s covered in giant bulletin boards and checklists. alexandrafranzen.com
Read an Excerpt
Excerpt from The Checklist Book
From a deadly crash, the checklist is born.
It’s October 30, 1935. Franklin D. Roosevelt is the current U.S. President. If you’re into astrology, the Sun is in Scorpio. Annie Oakley, a movie about a gun-slinging cowgirl, is one of the most popular films at the box office, along with The Ivory-Handled Gun starring Buck Jones. Movies about cattle thieves, horses, and sheriffs are really having a moment.
On this dayat a field near Dayton, OhioBoeing Aircraft is planning a very special presentation for the U.S. Military. It’s the grand unveiling and debut flight of the Model 299, also known as the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress.
The Model 299 is, at this point in history, the most advanced plane that the world had ever seen. It was as if everyone had been using rotary phones, and now, here comes the iPhone. A marvel of technology. Boeing is hoping to dazzle the U.S. Army Air Corps with this exquisite new plane, thereby securing a lucrative military contract.
Things do not go as planned.
Tragically, the plane lifts off, climbs for a seconds, then nose-dives into the groundkilling two people. Three others were rescued from the wreckage. A horrific tragedy for the families of those who were lost, not to mention, a huge embarrassment for Boeing.
What went wrong? Was it a mechanical malfunction? No. Inexperienced pilots? No. After a thorough investigation, the sad truth came forth. The fatal crash happened all because the flight crew failed to do one crucial step: release the flight control gust locks. Why didn’t they do this step? They forgot. Simple as that. They had too many steps to remember and they just forgot one.
After this catastrophe, Boeing vowed, “Never again.” They developed a new system: the Pre-Flight Checklist. By completing this checklist, every vital step would be completed. Nothing would be skipped due to negligence, distraction, tiredness, forgetfulness, or any other human frailty.
Essentially, Boeing’s leaders realized, “The human brain can only hold so much information/tasks/steps at a time. Even the most seasoned pilots are bound to forget things occasionally. By providing a list of things to check off, we can dramatically improve flight safety.”
This new system worked so well, in fact, that many organizations followed Boeing’s lead and brought checklists into their operations, too.
How do you get to the moon, make tough business decisions, and save millions of lives? Make a checklist.
NASA created a Launch Operations Checklist for the Apollo 11 moon voyage of 1969. This list was incredibly detailed (well over 100 pages long) with every single step that needed to be taken to carry the astronauts to the moon and back. This checklist was so crucial to the mission’s success that it was called “the fourth crew member.”
Restaurateur Danny Meyer, founder of legendary restaurants like Gramercy Tavern, Union Square Cafe, and the international Shake Shack franchise, created a simple four-point checklist to help himself make smarter business decisions. As his restaurant empire continued to boom and expand, Meyer’s personal checklist helped him to reduce what he called “progress anxiety.” Thanks to his handy list, he could evaluate business opportunities using a short, consistent list of criteria, weed out the wrong opportunities, and focus on the right ones.
In 2008, the World Health Organization published a Surgical Safety Checklist. This nineteen-point list reduced the number of deaths due to infections and other preventable complications by 38%. Atul Gawande, a physician, public health researcher, checklist aficionado, and author of The Checklist Manifesto, calls this Surgical Safety Checklist an “absurdly simple” tool.
It’s true. Checklists are often “absurdly simple.”
So simple, in fact, that we sometimes feel like, “This whole process is unnecessary. I don’t need to make a list. I’ll just remember everything by myself.” But the “Oh, I’ll just remember it” strategy rarely works out!
In a world full of distractions, noise, and chaos, an absurdly simple tool is exactly what our beleaguered brains need. A checklist is like a form of mental medicinethe prescription for a weary, overstuffed mind.
Long before airplanes and moon landings: The early origin of the checkmark symbol.
While most historians credit Boeing with inventing the modern checklistas we know and use it todaythe checkmark symbol (✓) actually has much earlier roots.
During the Roman Empire, the letter "V" was used as shorthand for the word “Veritas,” meaning “Truth.” It’s believed that during Roman times, putting a “V” next to something indicated “It’s truly done” or “Yes, it’s the complete truth.”
Over the centuriesperhaps due to the fact that most people are right-handed and tend to write the letter “V” going from left to rightthe tail on the right side of the “V” became elongated, leading to the checkmark symbol as we commonly see it today.
Veritas is not just a Roman word, but also a Roman Goddessthe Goddess of Truth. She’s often depicted wearing white and holding a mirror. She’s an elusive goddess, often hiding at the bottom of a sacred well. Perhaps the message we’re meant to receive is that finding the truth is not always easy, and sometimes requires great effort to uncover.
I like the idea that whenever I check something off a list, it’s like a quiet little moment of connection with the Goddess of Truth. Because there is no such thing as a “halfway” or “semi” checkmark. It’s either a full, solid checkmarkor it’s not done yet. There’s no in between. With each checkmark, it’s like saying, “Veritas, see? It’s done. Really and truly done. It’s the truth.” I feel like this particular Goddess gets a thrill of delight every time an item is checked off.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Take What You Need 15
Chapter 1 The Power of Making a Checklist 17
Chapter 2 The History of Checklists 33
Chapter 3 The Science of Checklists 43
Chapter 4 The Big Question: How Do You Want to Spend Your Time? 50
Chapter 5 The Daily Checklist 79
Chapter 6 The Loose-End Checklist, Seasonal Cliecklisf, Survival Checklist, and More 122
Chapter 7 Checklist Troubleshooting 153
Closing Thoughts 169
Recommended Books, Websites, & Other Resources 174
About The Author 189
What People are Saying About This
“There's something universally satisfying about making a list of meaningful goals, checking things off, and basking in the golden glow of accomplishment. As humans, we love that sweet feeling of alignment and integrity: ‘I said I would do it. I did it. I followed through. It’s done.’ Research shows, the more promises you keep, the better you feel. There’s a direct connection between your level of personal integrity (promises kept, boxes checked, intentions fulfilled) and your self-esteem, happiness, and well-being. The Checklist Book is your invitation to gently assess your life. How are you living? What kind of promises are you making and why? Which kinds of goals matter to you and which don’t? What belongs on your checklist for today and what doesn’t? What does ‘a good life’ mean to you? You’re in good hands with her. Enjoy this book. Happy list-making. Enjoy the journey of raising your level of integrityclosing the gap between the life you wish to lead, and the life you’re actually living.”
Dr. Sasha Heinz, PhD, psychologist and life coach