How to Make Any Process Foolproof with a Checklist

Consistent Results with Less Effort and Stress

After I finish writing a blog post, there are still 43 things I need to do to publish it. Some are pretty trivial, but they still need done.

I used to worry about making mistakes. Several times, I published a post without adding a more tag (<!-- more --> — it’s a WordPress thing), or with an empty link (<a href="">), or at an oddball time (right day, but 3:47 pm instead of midnight). Once, I even forgot to schedule the post at all—I left it as a draft.

None of these were a big deal and each was quickly and easily rectified. It was, however, increasing the cognitive load to publish a post, stressing me out, and making it take longer than I wanted it to.

So I did what any self-respecting productivity nerd would do: I solved the problem one last time by making a checklist.

Photo courtesy of © Adobe Stock / Andrey Popov

How to Solve a Problem so it Stays Solved

What Ender Wiggins Taught Me About Avoiding Quadrant 1

In the movies, you know that moment when the bad guy goes down with one shot and the good guy turns his attention away too soon? You know what’s going to happen. It was just a flesh wound. Now the bad guy’s back, and he’s madder than ever. Our hero could have won once and for all if he’d just kept fighting a little longer.

Quadrant 1 happens. It’s not ideal. It’s not where we want to spend our time, but it happens. When a fire breaks out, it has your attention. You need to put it out before it spreads and causes more damage.

Once the fire is out, don’t leave it at that. If you go a little further, you’ll never have to face that problem again.

Photo courtesy of © Adobe Stock / auremar

How to Start Any Document with the Right Template

You only need to start at the beginning once.

I’ve loved tear-off stationery pads as long as I can remember. You know the ones—they’re like Post-It Notes with a form printed on them. Shopping lists, to-do lists, packing lists, babysitter instructions… Once, my parents bought a “While You Were Out” pad to keep by the phone in the kitchen. I was thrilled.

Paper is powerful, and stationery pads give you a starting point to help you quickly create a powerful little document, sometimes as little as 3″×3″. You knew you wouldn’t miss something because you had a template. All you had to do was fill out the fields.

Fast-forward to today. The world is much more digital now but we have a lot of the same workflows—meeting agendas and minutes, quarterly reports, envelopes… Have you ever started a new document by creating a copy of and old document? You know how helpful it is to have a template to start from instead of starting from scratch every time.

Did you know the Mac has a built-in feature that lets you turn any document into a digital stationery pad? It’s a great way to get a jump-start on any workflow.

Photo Courtesy of © Adobe Stock / aleks_g
Sleep Smarter Rodale Books, 2016
Amazon Audible iBooks Website

We spend one-third of our lives sleeping. That’s twenty to thirty years, hopefully longer. Yet we understand so little about sleep—namely how it works and exactly why it’s important.

I discovered Shawn Stevenson when he spoke at Michael Hyatt’s Free to Focus summit. He was addressing the impact that sleep has on our productivity. In Sleep Smarter, he also goes into how sleep impacts our health, memory function, ability to focus, our weight… it seems like there’s no aspect of our life that sleep doesn’t impact.

Some of my favorite tidbits:

  • What happens to your body chemistry, hormones, and metabolism when you sleep, and what’s throwing it off when you’re laying there awake.
  • The effect a patch of light the size of a quarter has on your sleep.
  • Why you might be more tired after hitting that snooze button.
  • Over 100,000 traffic accidents in the US are caused each year by driver fatigue.
  • Putting a TV in your bedroom causes you to have half as much sex.

One caveat: Shawn brings in a lot of scientific studies to support his arguments. Just remember that correlation is not causation.

Whatever quality of sleep you’re getting now, Shawn can help you take it to the next level. It’s a great book, the kind you’ll refer back to as you start spotting problem areas and want to fix them. It’s an even better listen; the audiobook is read by the author, and his personality shines through. (For example, at one point, he throws in a random Bane impression, from The Dark Knight Rises that isn’t in the text; I love it when they do that with audiobooks.)

Question: Have you read Sleep Smarter? Share your thoughts in the comments, or on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook.

How To Displace Quadrant 4 Before It Ruins Your Day

Understand why you’re avoiding Quadrants 1–3 and stay on track.

There are four Quadrants of Time Management:

  1. Crisis Management. When fires crop up, you need to put them out. You can’t ignore them. They won’t go away on their own without leaving significant damage.
  2. Growth, Actualization, and Renewal. This is where you want to spend as much time as possible. You have time to solve problems creatively and turn them into opportunities. You change things so fewer fires crop up. Your time spent offstage is rejuvenating and energizing, helping you to return to the stage stronger and more skilled.
  3. Gravel. Some activities don’t contribute to our goals, but they still need to be done. No matter how much you eliminate, automate, or delegate, some of it will still fall to you.
  4. Waste. We only have 24 precious hours in a day. When we’re in Quadrant 4, we’re wasting our time. We’re avoiding something.

We go to Quadrant 3 because we have to, Quadrant 1 because we have to now, Quadrant 2 because we want to, and Quadrant 4 because we’re trying to get away from 1–3.

Photo courtesy of © Adobe Stock / Tony Recena

What Contexts Should You Use?

Identify when, where, and how you’ll get things done.

One of the fundamental concepts in GTD is the context. As David Allen explains in Getting Things Done (2015) (emphasis his):

[The] best way to be reminded of an “as soon as I can” action is by the particular context required for that action—that is, either the tool or the location or the situation needed to complete it.

In other words, contexts are a way of marshaling the many things you need to do so you can focus on the few that you can take action on right now.

Photo courtesy of © Adobe Stock / praphab144