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Checklists aren’t very exciting, but there’s evidence that they can make a huge difference in how well you do something. Nine hospitals in Michigan instituted a checklist system for reducing the number of infections in their intensive care units (ICUs), and infections went down by 66%, saving 1,500 lives and 75 million dollars in healthcare expenses over an 18-month period.

The hospitals’ checklist was only five items long, and included things that everyone already knew they should be doing. But just because they knew that they should do them didn’t mean that they actually did them. They often just forgot. And if doctors in the ICU are forgetting simple things, it stands to reason that you are, too. A checklist can change that.

Why We Forget the Basics

It’s not entirely clear why we forget things that we know. Everyone forgets things—sometimes it’s because we fail to store information in memory, sometimes we aren’t able to move something from short-term to long-term memory, and sometimes it’s because there are other things going on in our brains that get in the way.

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This last one is probably the most common when it comes to forgetting things that we know we should do. Our brains are constantly processing information—especially if you’re browsing the Internet How The Simplicity Of Mindful Web Surfing Can Help You Focus How The Simplicity Of Mindful Web Surfing Can Help You Focus You can be more mindful of your browsing to stay focused, reduce stress, and be a lot more purposeful with your time online. With practice, you can strengthen your "mindfulness muscles". Read More or doing something else that exposes you to lots of distractions—and that makes it hard to think carefully.

This can make you forget all sorts of things. You might forget to document a process that you’ve just done, leading to duplication when someone else does it. You could forget to double-check your figures in a spreadsheet and miss an error. It could be something small, like forgetting to stretch in the morning when you’re trying to make it a habit How To Form A New Habit When It Seems Too Hard To Keep Going How To Form A New Habit When It Seems Too Hard To Keep Going Habits don't form overnight. Every year, we make these resolutions that call for major changes. If you want a new habit, you need to be ready for pitfalls and how to overcome them. Read More . The human mind is amazing in its ability to forget almost anything.

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Taking It Out of Your (Brain’s) Hands

This is why checklists are so useful—because they remove the burden of remembering from your brain and move it to paper. Paper doesn’t forget. A computer doesn’t forget either (unless something goes terribly wrong How to Diagnose and Fix a Dead Hard Drive to Recover Data How to Diagnose and Fix a Dead Hard Drive to Recover Data Several years ago, I experienced a hard drive failure. I was at work when my laptop suddenly started to act particularly strange. About half an hour later, the hard drive failed audibly and the laptop... Read More ). When you create a checklist and consult it before you take action, all you need to do is look at the list and do the things that are on it—and you make fewer mistakes. It’s that simple.

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Checklists are useful in all sorts of situations—for work, at home, in your personal life, even for really basic things like getting ready in the morning before you go to work. Keep forgetting to bring your flash drive to work? Add it to a checklist. Want to make sure that you log your time working on a specific project? Make a checklist for the end of the day to make sure you don’t forget.

There’s no limit to how many checklists you can make and how much time and energy you can save by taking advantage of the unlimited memory of paper and silicon.

Tools for Making Checklists

Fortunately, there are tons of great tools for making checklists. You could go old-school and keep checklists in a paper notebook 6 Simple Reasons Why Paper Can Still Be Your Killer Productivity App 6 Simple Reasons Why Paper Can Still Be Your Killer Productivity App Paper can be a more potent tool for productivity than a computer or a touch device, and shouldn't immediately be dismissed. Not convinced? Here are six reasons why paper is still relevant. Read More , or put them on Post-It notes on your desk. You could use a plain text file to keep track of your checklists, if you’re a fan of the minimalist look on your computer.

Of course, there are a lot of other great tools that you can use to manage your checklists, each of which can be very valuable if you decide to make a lot of different lists. Wunderlist, for example, allows you to make different to-do lists How to Use New Wunderlist Folders to Boost Your To-Do List How to Use New Wunderlist Folders to Boost Your To-Do List Wunderlist got a big update with two new features essential for a good to-do app: organizing and quickly adding tasks. Do these help it become the productivity app of your choice? Read More ; you could create one for each checklist.

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Microsoft’s OneNote can also be great for keeping lists organized; keyboard shortcuts, embedded files, and links to other Microsoft programs mean you have all the tools you need to manage and access your checklists 5 Tips for Using OneNote as Your To-Do List 5 Tips for Using OneNote as Your To-Do List Is making a to-do list on your to-do list? Set it up in OneNote to make getting things done as straightforward as possible. Read More when you need them. Evernote and other note-taking apps Time To Ditch Evernote? Letterspace & Fetch Are Compelling Alternatives Time To Ditch Evernote? Letterspace & Fetch Are Compelling Alternatives If you're looking for a supplement or an alternative to Evernote, let me — a notebook junkie — suggest Letterspace or Fetchnotes for pure simplicity and ease of use. Read More can help you in the same way. Even Microsoft Word can create checklists (see below for instructions).

You can use Trello for just about anything 10 Unique Uses of Trello Other Than Project Management 10 Unique Uses of Trello Other Than Project Management Trello is a list lover's delight. Its Kanban-style approach was not meant just for project management. Don't believe us? Look at these ten unique uses of Trello. Read More , and checklists are no exception: it’s a great system for creating, managing, and accessing a lot of lists, and its card system makes it easy to keep them separated into different sections. And you can access it on your phone, making it a great mobile list-keeping app 9 Best Apps For Managing To-Do Lists On Android 9 Best Apps For Managing To-Do Lists On Android If you need to keep track of what to do next, these Android apps could be a life saver. Read More .

If you just want to make a checklist and print it, there are plenty of tools online that will help you out. Printable Checklist is a no-nonsense, no-frills checklist generator. Just click Add item to add more items to your list and type in what each item should be. Then print away. Checklist.com lets you create your own list or choose one from 55 different categories that you can download and get using right away. There’s even a mobile app so you can access your lists from anywhere.

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Chances are, if there’s something you need to do, someone has already created a list that you can use. Just search [what you’re doing] checklist and see what comes up. We’ve even posted checklists here on MakeUseOf; we have a two-part PC spring cleaning checklist A Spring Cleaning Checklist For Your PC Part 2: Delete Junk & Free Wasted Space [Windows] A Spring Cleaning Checklist For Your PC Part 2: Delete Junk & Free Wasted Space [Windows] Regular PC maintenance is often neglected, leading to lost hard drive space and a bloated operating system that runs increasingly slower. To avoid a dreaded Windows re-installation, you should perform a thorough cleanup at least... Read More , a VPN features checklist 8 Instances You Weren't Using a VPN, but Should've Been: The VPN Checklist 8 Instances You Weren't Using a VPN, but Should've Been: The VPN Checklist If you haven't already considered subscribing to a VPN to secure your privacy, now is the time. Read More , and six digital routine checklists Finetune 6 Vital Digital Routines with Simple Checklists Finetune 6 Vital Digital Routines with Simple Checklists A good checklist breaks down the complex into a series of logical steps. If you don't use this tool more in your daily life, it's time you started. Read More .

Make a Printable Checklist in Microsoft Word

Of course, if you want to make your own checklist, you can fall back on an old standby: Microsoft Word. To create a printable checklist in Word, you’ll need to make a bulleted list. Click on the arrow next to the list button, then click Define new bullet. Click on Font and choose Wingdings, then click on Symbol and choose the empty square.

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Now, just type your list, and you’ll get a checkbox next to each item. Print it out, and you’ll have a checklist!

word-checklist

It’s also possible to create a checklist that you can check off in Word, but that’s more complicated and a lesson for another day (Microsoft support has a tutorial for it if you’re interested).

Stop Forgetting: Start Checking

Now that you know the benefits of checklists and have a wide range of tools at your disposal for creating them, you can start creating your own lists for the things that you’re likely to forget. Whether you’re going to make your own checklist with Microsoft Word, manage a whole system of lists in Trello, or print off some pre-made checklists, you can be confident that you’ll make fewer mistakes, no matter what you’re doing.

What are the things that you forget often and have you found other ways of reminding yourself? Please share in the comments!

Image credits: Question, Filling tasks to checklist via Shutterstock.

  1. Squalle
    December 2, 2015 at 3:14 pm

    I'm a huge list person. I have lists for everything. It really does help keep things out of your head. Of course, you have to remember to keep up on your lists. lol

    I use Evernote for alot of things, but I'm not real fond of how it handles lists. I use an app on Android called List Maker Pro (now available for free from the Amazon Underground app) that lets you have lists upon lists of lists of lists.

    There are lots of other sites for lists too. Gubb.net is an online only (as far as I know) list making site. Of course, there's always list.ly. And don't forget to search on Wikipedia for "lists of lists of lists" and enjoy!

    • Dann Albright
      December 9, 2015 at 7:24 pm

      Yes, remembering to keep up on lists can be a challenge. :-) I agree with your feelings on Evernote; it's great for keeping reference items, but not so great on day-to-day stuff. I've never heard of Gubb.net; do you like it more than list.ly? And have you tried Wunderlist? That was my go-to before switching over to Habitica.

  2. steve.gossett
    September 8, 2015 at 3:56 pm

    Im hard old-school, having a lot of post-its of various sizes and colors. However, on my phone I use a simple note app and sometimes the voice recorder. Notes app is great when going to Lowes Home Depot or grocery store. I dont tell my wife though - she'll just expect me to remember more...

    • Dann Albright
      September 9, 2015 at 10:12 pm

      I use the Notes app on my phone pretty often, too, and I'm a Post-It fiend. I love Post-Its. Both of those work perfectly well for keeping the information that you need to store! They make it a bit more difficult to create a checklist that you can reuse for specific tasks, though.

  3. prittman
    September 8, 2015 at 1:24 pm

    I guess I'm low tech. I make my checklists either by simply typing in each term on a separate row (then crossing them out), or I make a simple table with two column. Each row has its own term, and the left column is there to place the check in.

    I agree with using lists to help the brain. The brain can't or won't remember everything. Isn't that why we have computers to begin with? I use a checklist every time we go out of town on an overnight trip. I hate that feeling of really wanting to stop at a drugstore right before we pull into a hotel room just because I forgot to pack item x.

    • Dann Albright
      September 9, 2015 at 10:11 pm

      I've used travel checklists a lot, and I love them. They were especially helpful when I was traveling to compete in triathlons; you'd be amazed at how much stuff you have to bring, even if you're not staying overnight anywhere!

      And the low-tech approach is perfectly fine. If you don't need automation or sharing, a text doc or a simple spreadsheet works just as well as a dedicated app.

      Thanks for reading!

  4. hildyblog
    September 7, 2015 at 3:53 pm

    Don't forget Google Keep. It's got its own Android app and is available through your browser at keep.google.com (and it's free with no app ads). You can easily create lists, check things off as they're done, and uncheck everything when you've completed everything. If you need a record, you can make a template list, copy it to a dated list, and archive the dated list when you're finished.

    One thing to watch out for if you try OneNote, I experienced a lot of data transfer and battery drain with the Android app (much more than Evernote, which I also use). My experience may not be typical but it's worth noting.

    • Dann Albright
      September 9, 2015 at 10:10 pm

      Thanks for pointing out Google Keep! I've never used it (in fact, I'm not sure there's an iPhone app). It does sound like a great alternative to the other systems mentioned in the article, though, especially if you're on Android.

      Interesting about OneNote and data transfer / battery drain. I haven't heard anything about that, but I'll definitely keep an eye out for anyone else with that problem. If it's widespread, hopefully Microsoft will take a shot at fixing it soon.

      Thanks for your comment!

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