The Power of an Old-Fashioned Checklist

The Power of an Old-FashionedI have yet to find anything better than the old-fashioned checklist for keeping track of daily tasks. This is a very powerful tool that keeps my life sane, no matter how many deadlines and things-to-do that crop up both professionally and personally.

I’ve tried just about every task list software/app I can get my hands on for cheap or free, and none of them meet the needs and convenience of simply writing it down in a notebook – one which is portable. Usually, I’m a huge advocate for going digital when you can. But, for daily tasks, the notebook is your best friend. (Caveat – there is a tiny bit of digital cross over. Keep reading.)


There are several benefits and impacts of using an old-fashioned check list in this way…

  • You will better be able to prioritize your day, when you see both meetings and tasks on paper. (Like using a map to plan a route.)
  • It helps prepare you for the next day. You know what’s coming. You even know if you need to adjust your usual routine.
  • You’re more likely to get all those little things done. (I find anything that doesn’t get written down doesn’t get done. I like to think of myself as a reliable person. The checklists help.)
  • There is proven psychological impact to checking things off. It helps you realize just what you’ve accomplished for the day. (This is so satisfying to me, that I’ll even write down tasks I’ve already completed just so I can check them off.)

Your Daily Checklist

A daily checklist of tasks to complete is something I employ both at work and at home (these days that’s both).


Here’s how it works:

  1. Use a spiral notebook (or something similar).
  2. Use your last 15 minutes of work and/or the last 15 minutes of your day to write tomorrow’s list.
  3. At the top of the page, list all your meetings or scheduled events.
    • Include the time, location (address or phone # or conference room #)
    • Include events that even happen daily 
  4. Below the list of meetings/events, write your task list for the day

    • Put your most critical 2-3 tasks at the top of the list, then…
    • Include daily tasks (those that happen every day)

    • Add tasks that are weekly that happen on that particular day

    • Add tasks that are monthly or yearly that happen on that particular day

    • Look at the previous day’s task list – anything that didn’t get completed needs to be transferred over to the new list

    • Even small items should make the list – reminders to yourself to call the dentist or pay your bills

    • If your day is lining up to be on the lighter side, then add tasks that are preparatory for upcoming things (to get a head start)
  5. At the beginning of your day, double check your list.

  6. Add to it anything that came through since the day before (emails that popped up overnight, etc).
  7. As you go through your day, check things off, adjust, cancel, and add to your task list as needed. (The BEST part is the checking off. It’s addictive.)

A few extra tips:


DO break larger tasks into their individual steps. If your task is “write a book” every single day, then you won’t check that task off for weeks, months, or even years, which is demoralizing. Make your task “write 3 pages” or “write 1000 words” or “write scene A” etc.


Pay Attention to Your Timing

Do NOT include items you know won’t happen in a single day. This will be different every day depending on your planned activities and your priorities. But if you know that you’ll be in meetings for 8-straight hours, scheduling a task that should take you 4-5 hours isn’t realistic. Any tasks which you need to put off to tomorrow you can either…

A) start tomorrow’s list and add the item(s) there, OR

B) moved those tasks to the long-term list (which we discuss in a second)

Only Immediate Tasks


Do NOT include items that are further out in time. If you include tasks that are for later in the week/month/year, you lose the satisfaction of getting to check it off for all that time. Plus, adding tasks you absolutely won’t/can’t get to that day means your checklist will be WAY too long. You want a checklist that is manageable (another psychological trick). Move those long-term tasks to the long-term list (see below).

DO Take Notes When Needed

The notebook doesn’t just have to be for checklists. If you need to take written notes (I use OneNote, but that’s not always convenient) write them on the back of the checklist or the next page in the notebook.

Long-Term Tasks

I gave a small caveat earlier. I do use digital task lists. As a PC girl, I’m particularly partial to the task manager in Microsoft Outlook. Don’t use the digital list for the daily stuff. Use it for longer-term tasks. Things out in time that I don’t want to forget are coming or that I want to get to, but much later than today or tomorrow.

For tasks that are recurring but only on a monthly or yearly basis, use your calendar (Google for me). Schedule something on your calendar for those items (with a reminder) so that you don’t forget it’s due on that day. (Don’t forget to schedule in time to complete the task if it takes longer than an hour or two.)


Okay everyone. Now that you have the tool, go out and start checking off those tasks. I’d love to hear how it goes for you! Was this helpful?