The Power of a Personal Checklist

The Power of a Personal Checklist

It’s early in February, so I thought I’d check in:

How are those resolutions working out? Not so well? Well, you’re probably not the only one who has given up. There are myriad reasons why resolutions don’t work so well. Typically, this is because most resolutions are based on ideas about what you feel you “should” be doing, instead of healthy habit building actions that take you from problem behavior to desired behavior. Here’s where an annual personal checklist comes in.

A personal checklist has three main sections:

  1. Your top three-five values for the year.
  2. Your top five-seven action items for the year, some aspirational, some behavioral.
  3. The daily basic habits that will help you be more likely to accomplish your action items.

It might look a little like this:

2019 Personal Checklist Example

Values:  Kindness, Success, Adventure

Action Items:

  • Build business through direct calls
  • Learn to play guitar
  • Be a better partner
  • Improve income by $10,000
  • Take at least one trip out of the country

Success Habits:

  • Only 1 cup of coffee in the morning
  • Sleep at least 7 hours per night
  • Eat 5 servings of vegetables per day
  • Workout 4 days per week
  • Meditate every day for at least 2 minutes

Notice how the checklist blends together the person’s values, actions and habits? They value adventure and talk about taking a trip. They value kindness, indicate they want to be a better partner and need to sleep at least 7 hours a night (a surefire way to be less grouchy is to be well rested).  

Why values?

Well basing things in our most important values makes them easier to continue to pursue. Even on days when you don’t feel motivated to do much of anything. For example, if kindness is one of your top values and you’re having a lousy day, remind yourself of your value. This will help you not snap at people, even if they are frustrating you.

Why action items?

Action items are things you actually want to accomplish, much different from most resolutions which are based in what you “should” be focusing on. Action items can range from very concrete (make 10 outbound calls to clients per day five days a week) to aspirational. The more concrete action item can then be checked off each day, and you can reward yourself every week that you meet your goals. Aspirational items (i.e. one of mine this year is to be less wasteful) you’ll need to be more fluid with and apply the action item in a variety of circumstances when you get an opportunity to do so. For example, I am not taking plastic silverware when I pick up takeout. Also, I’m  trying to either cook more or eat at a restaurant more often than getting takeout. I’m buying less overall so there’s less to take care of (decreasing time wasters) and then there’s less physical waste to throw out! Keeping your personal checklist where you can frequently look it over will help keep both those more concrete items as well as the aspirational items front of mind.

Why daily habits?

Well our daily habits are the source of our long-term success. Good habits add up to good destinations. What are your top habits for success? I would guess they have something to do with taking care of your body, sleeping enough, eating well, connecting with those you care about, and resisting old bad habits. Identifying your top 5-7 daily items that nudge you towards success is a critical part of your personal checklist.

I encourage you to set yours up, right away! Check in with your checklist at least once per week. Are there any changes? Anything that seemed important that isn’t really important to focus on for the year?  If so, take it off your checklist. Anything you realize you need to add? Feel free to let your checklist morph over time, becoming more and more relevant as you apply concepts, and live by your values.