Creating Checklists For Irregular Activities

ChecklistI love lists. I get tremendous personal satisfaction out of stroking completed items off of lists. And I know from experience if I don’t write something down, it likely won’t get done. Frequently the mere act of writing it down helps me to remember to do it. (Which is why I like pencil and paper, but that’s another discussion.) I’m a visual learner, but from words, not pictures, which is good because I can’t draw — but I can write!

When I was building websites for a living, every project lived in a binder. I took really good notes as I worked my way through the steps of developing someone’s website. And when I went back into my notes, as I frequently did, it was for one of two reasons:

  • I needed to change something on this particular site, and I wanted to see what I had done before
  • I wanted to do something on another site that I had done on this one

What I started to realize was that there were certain things I did every time I encountered a given situation, but I didn’t do them often enough to remember off the top of my head what need to be done or how to do it. So I started taking notes on my notes! I extracted little bits of stuff — code, instructions, tips and tricks, recommendations and warnings for myself — and stored them in a general binder that wasn’t associated with a particular project.

Eventually I started keeping those notes and snippets in Evernote. Remember, I wrote about Evernote here  because it’s my way of remembering everything without having to rely on my own brainpower. And because it’s electronic, it’s searchable.

Because I like lists, and I like consistency and order, I then was able to turn some of my collections of notes into checklists and procedures.  Did I mention that I also love systems and procedures? The engineer in me likes the structure and the order, and the technical writer in me likes having and writing the documentation.

Here’s the thing. We all know the value of having checklists for the things we do regularly in our businesses and our lives. Most of the time we don’t need to write them down; the steps are so ingrained in our behaviour that we do them automatically. When is the last time you had to think about how to shower and dress in the morning? That’s a procedure, but we do it so often it becomes a habit.

As solopreneurs, we keep an awful lot in our heads. That’s one of the reasons why we sometime resist getting outside help, or outsourcing: WE know what needs to be done, but we’ve not taken the time to write it out so someone else can do it for us.

The first step to outsourcing successfully is to document those things we do routinely, the everyday tasks that have to be done, but not necessarily by us. So we think we’re creating systems and procedures, but what we’re really doing it documenting the systems and procedures we already have in place, however informally.

The stumbling block, I find, is when I have to do something only occasionally. I haven’t done it often enough to be familiar with what to do or how to do it. So I muddle my way through it, the first time. And the second time, maybe months later. And the third time, after another long gap. And so on.

Confused WomanSo my intention for myself, this year, is to Pay More Attention to everything I do, whether for me or for a client, and take notes (which I tend to do anyway), and then turn those notes into a step-by-step procedure that I can follow next time.

Because there will be a next time.

What do you do, what little (or not so little) tasks come up in your business, infrequently enough that they haven’t become imprinted in your brain?

For a lot of my clients, it’s working in WordPress. Sometimes they just don’t blog enough to be comfortable working in the interface. Sometimes they need to do something new. I’ve been creating some training PDFs lately, for clients who want to start adding video, or be more disciplined about blogging, or aren’t familiar with manipulating images.

Do you need help creating checklists for your business, or for your life? Call me, and we’ll talk…