I am a fan of checklists. Ticking off a box of an accomplished task always feels rewarding. Checklist are versatile and come in all forms and shapes. Ticking off boxes is a popular tool in the productivity scene, bullet journal aficionadas and in the realm of self improvement. But like all good things there is also a dark side to the seemingly harmless paper with black boxes on.
Checklist are a simple tool to bring order to chaos. You feel that there is not enough time for all the tasks and projects you want to tackle? Take a couple of minutes to make a list with all the tasks written down. Prioritize the task and start working on the most important items. Once finished check them off.
The process of creating the simple checklist is and write down all items can already ease your mind if you feel overwhelmed. Once written down the task of accomplishing all this will look manageable while before the list it looked impossible.
Before creating your checklist it is easier for your brain to trick you into not taking any action at all. Why should you after all, so many things to do and so little time. The result of not doing anything will not seem to make a big difference.
In such a situation the checklist will help you out to start working on your priorities.
Ticking off items is addicting and might become a habit that you need to be careful of. Ok it is not the end of the world if you tick boxes on a regular basis just for the sake of it. However, if ticking off boxes is your secret pleasure you can expect to create unnecessarily long list with items to check. If your check lists become longer because you include tasks on it just to tick them off than the exercise to improve your life quality by getting things done dwindles.
The idea of a checklist is to get an overview of the things you want to do. But creating checklists just because you like to tick things off that list is probably not your goal.
You realize you are in this trap when the tasks on that list are minor and not worth mentioning it. Classics are “making your bed in the morning” or “5 minutes of stretching before bed”.
I am not saying that the two task are meaningless. When accomplishing a task takes as long as to write the item down and tick it off than the chances are high, that you are filling your list with unnecessary items to ease your ticking habit.
Get rid of that habit and slim down your list to keep moving.
The realm of checklists littered with unimportant tasks is one thing but there is also a dark side to check lists. This can be summed up in when quantity of your list towers over quality.
1. Keeping busy
A checklist setup is in most cases a way to get things going by bringing order to chaos. A checklist’s job is to make your life easier. I experienced this in Notion that I started a list with good intentions and a clear goal. Somewhere in the process I digressed from the path and turned the whole thing against me. Creating the checklist, customizing it and constantly adding tasks to it, created the opposite effect of my original intention.
Is your checklist keeping you busy with mindless checklist creating tasks? Is this keeping you from doing actual work because you are framing the perfect checklist to improve your workflow in the future? If your answer is yes than we have a problem.
2. The meeting friends checklist
I have seen this on several blogs that people create lists to track how many friends they met. Corona and the social isolation are maybe to blame for this trend.
When people start setting goals of how many friends they want to meet in the next month then we are in the ugly territory. I don’t know what the idea is of that but just because you meet a number of people doesn’t cater to deeper relationships. Meeting friends should be of both parties interest. When you need a reminder to meet x friends than this defeats the purpose. If on the other hand you want to meet acquaintances than this is okay but what is the point of that.
Personally I’d rather meet one friend a semester to spend some quality time instead of 3 forced social meetings a month just to generate the impression of being engaged with people.
Quality over quantity in every aspect of life
Personally I tapped into all of the mentioned points once except the social gathering list. Checklist can be powerful tools that help you reach your goals. But be careful and do not let the checklist replace your initial goal. When you spend more time in your checklist than with the tasks on the list than it is time to overthink your relationship with the checklist.
In a nutshell you should focus on quality and be mindful of quantity. Ticking a box doesn’t necessarily mean you progress. Instead of tracking the days you go to the gym you should rather track the progress you make. If you can’t do that then you need to work on your WHY to quote Simon Sinek. If your why is unclear you will struggle with progress in the long run.
In such cases it is wise to rethink your priorities and question yourself why you have a goal your struggling with. Is it just to look good in front of others or is it something you want for yourself? Decide and alter your checklist to get back on track. Happy ticking boxes.