Checklists as motivation

One of my favorite things to do is to make checklists; whether I’m packing for a family trip to Tennessee or making edits to an animation, the first thing I want to do is make a checklist.

Checklists are great for a variety of reasons: they can help you organize your thoughts, keep you focused, and be a powerful motivator to get your tasks done in a timely and efficient manner. If you’ve made lists in the past, you know what I’m talking about; if you haven’t, you’re in for a real (boring) treat!

Organize your thoughts

Nearly everyone uses checklists regularly, usually in the form of a grocery list. Think about the last time you tried to go grocery shopping without a list; chances are, you can’t remember a time that happened, and if you can, how did that work out for you?

Your mind probably went off track at some point, and you found yourself wandering aimlessly up and down the aisles, trying to remember that one thing that you said you needed when you were standing with the fridge open but now you can’t think of what it was, so you’ll just pop over to the bread aisle because you know you definitely need to get some bread, and then you remember you should get some cheese for sandwiches since you’re already getting bread, and while you’re in the dairy aisle you should probably get some milk but then you can’t remember if you just bought milk or if you’re out at home because you forgot to check, and you think you did get milk before so you don’t get milk now and then you get home and realize you’ve forgotten several things including the milk that you thought you didn’t need—sound familiar?

Lists not only help keep track of what you need to get or do, they also aid in thought management. Writing down ideas and creating tangible lists helps free up space in your mind that would otherwise be occupied trying to remember the temporary archive of mundane tasks and items rattling around on a weekly basis.


Stay focused

Freeing your mind of this small burden allows you to essentially forget about everything on the list and get back to the task at hand. If you find yourself trying to work but your mind keeps wandering off to other things you need to accomplish—be it work or personal—transferring these thoughts to an external place is a great exercise to help you stay focused.

Writing things down doesn’t always have to be in list form, either. If you have something you need to do at some point today (but don’t have time to do it right this second) and you find yourself constantly thinking about it, distracting you from what you’re trying to do–write it down! Find a good lists or to-do app, or simply open the notes app on your phone or use a sticky note—just get the words down in physical or digital form; once you do, you’ll soon find yourself more focused on what you’re trying to accomplish rather than thinking about  those other tasks. And if you’ve got several things you need to do later on and you can’t stop thinking about them, write them all down in the same space and guess what? You just made a checklist, my friend!

A more obvious benefit to creating lists is tracking tasks if you have a lot to accomplish. If you’re making edits to a file or animation, for example, keeping a list of the changes will ensure that nothing gets missed—this is especially helpful if you have an abundance of minor edits to make throughout a document. There’s nothing more annoying than making dozens of edits and sending a new draft, only to discover you’ve missed a couple punctuation changes or spelling errors, so check them off as you go to guarantee nothing is overlooked.

Maintain motivation

For me, abandoning a checklist part way through is really difficult to do–it just feels so good to run down a list of tasks and mark them off one by one until everything has been completed, and this is where the power of checklists really shines: motivation!

If you’ve got a lot of things to do and the thought of even getting started makes you want to take a nap, just start making a list. If your family is coming over and you don’t want them to know the dust-covered shame in which you typically live, but you’re unable to even start cleaning because you simply don’t know where to begin, take 5-10 minutes to sit down with a pad of paper and list, list, list! And be specific, too–don’t just write down “clean house” because first of all, that’s not a list. That’s just one thing. You’re being ridiculous.

Break it down by room—living room, dining room, kitchen—or by task—make beds, sweep floors, load dishwasher—or even by task by room—make beds in kitchen, load dishwasher in bathroom—you get the idea; it’s ok to get tedious when making your lists because oftentimes the number of actual tasks doesn’t grow, only the amount of lines in your list. Again, if you have to clean the house, you could write “clean kitchen, clean bedroom, clean bathroom, etc.” and that’s totally fine, but you only get to check things off the list once an ENTIRE ROOM is clean. When you clean the bathroom, for example, you have to clean the tub, clean the toilet, wipe the mirror, swap the towels, sweep the floor, mop the floor, clean the sink–there are a lot of little tasks within that one big task that is “cleaning the bathroom.”

By breaking your checklist down into each of those smaller bits, you now get to check off so many more things, and you get to check each one off after it’s complete. It’s much more satisfying to have a long list of small tasks that get checked off throughout the process than a short list of large duties that each take a long time to complete; crossing things off the list as you move throughout your day really helps keep your energy up as you don’t feel so bogged down by the size of the items–I mean, just look at how long that list is and look how much you’ve already accomplished! Well done!