As I get more responsibilities and work on more projects, I find myself increasingly using checklists. Especially with things that do not occur too frequently, I have to think “how did that go again, what should I not forget?”. After reading The Checklist Manifesto, where Atul Gawande discusses checklists in airplanes and in surgery – where you really don’t want to forget anything, I decided to try it out for myself.
So far I’ve made myself checklists for the following:
- Student starting a project
- Planning a conference trip
- Giving a talk
- Having a paper accepted
I keep the checklists as templates in Todoist. I’ve broken down each of these into different stages (for example, before the trip and after the trip), with various one-off tasks I need to do, such as booking travel, or filling in reimbursement forms. Sometimes I add links to the tasks, which will take me to the website or Evernote note I need to complete the task.
Then as soon as one of these events comes up, I copy the template to a new project, and fill in dates for each task which are suitable (this could be automated somewhat, but I prefer to have control over this). This way I will never forget all the details that need to get done.
I like this approach and would like to apply it to more things I do in my job. For example, I’m thinking about making teaching each class into a template. Although my materials are prepared from the year before, I still need to go over the materials, post all the details on the learning environment, grade exams etc. Since I already know all these things are coming up, I might just as well add them to my todo list (and reserve time for them!) with a few clicks. As I’m trying to improve estimating the time I need for a task, I can become more and more specific with this.
It would be great to have such a checklist for every new project. I can imagine such a checklist would contain, for example, creating a directory structure for the code. These tasks are of course much easier to estimate than actually working on the project, but perhaps some day I will get there as well.
However, there are other things I do in my job that I can plan in advance. For example, this year I have also been documenting how long I needed to prepare for lectures and to grade assignments. I can use this information to create a checklist for each course, and just repeat the checklist every year. For activities that do not take place on fixed dates, for example reviewing papers or giving talks, I could already budget hours, and move them around as needed. This would probably also help with saying no to more things.
Do you use any checklists? Or is this an overkill? Let me know by commenting below or on Twitter!