In an increasingly chaotic world, we’re all looking for ways to save time, decompress, and enjoy people as opposed to devices. In this post, I’ll share a planning tool that can seriously help reduce stress and increase quality family time with a simple checklist. Oh, and if you don’t have a family you’ll still benefit from this time-saving tip. Wouldn’t an extra 5-30 minutes be great?!?
I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date
You’re late getting out the door, still running around trying to gather everything you need. Whether you’re hustling for a normal day at work or packing for a family vacation, frantically rushing is a recipe for disaster.
You’re feeling stressed and frazzled. This only increases the likelihood that you’ll forget something important. Your family notices the tension too. They’re walking on pins and needles around you. When your significant other or kid asks you a simple question it’s all too easy to snap at them. Have you ever been there?
An alternate reality
Now picture this: You’re relaxed and stress-free. So are your family members. It’s 5 minutes to your departure time and all the bags (and/or lunches, backpacks, suitcases) are packed. Everyone is ready to go, and you’re sure that you have everything you need. When your significant other or kid asks you a question, you turn to them and answer with a smile. The prep time was less than it used to be, and you were able to spend more enjoyable time with your loved ones. Wouldn’t it be nice to feel this way? Well, you can!
The solution: a checklist!
We’ve all seen a checklist right? Often it’s less than a page long, and it contains a list of things… Things you want to buy, things you need to do, or things to bring along. Here are some pretty common checklists:
- Errands to run
- Stuff to pack for a trip
- Things to do before going on vacation
- Daily task list
- Groceries to buy
A little planning goes a long way
The biggest obstacle to creating and using a checklist is that is requires pre-planning. You need set time aside and put some effort in upfront in order to see future benefits by using this tool. If you’re a planner like me, that sounds like fun. But alas, there are plenty of people in this world who cringe at the very idea of planning.
Why can’t I just wing it?
Technically, you can. You don’t need to plan in advance. You don’t need to make a list. You can try to remember all of the things you need. If you forget something you might be able to purchase it wherever you’re going. Remember what we’re trying to achieve though…less stress and more quality family time. If your checklist can save you 5 minutes every time you use it, and you use it five days a week that gives you an extra 25 minutes. If your list takes 20 minutes to plan, but it can save you 20 minutes – and a stress-filled day – twice a year, it’s still worth it.
Checklists are often used in a professional setting as a quality control measure, especially for repeatable steps. It serves as a reminder everything on the list is critically important, and it’s a safety buffer to help ensure each and every item gets taken care of.
Would you feel more comfortable if the captain flying your plane went by memory or used a checklist to verify all equipment is in order before takeoff?
The proof is in the packing
A family vacation – Part 1
A few months ago some of our extended family came to North Carolina for a visit. We had plans to spend a day at the beach, including an overnight stay. With a one-month-old baby, we had all sorts of new things to pack! My stress level was peaked. The night before we were supposed to leave, John and I had a huge (albeit stupid) argument about packing. It was a mess trying to track what was needed, who was packing it, where the stuff was going, and how it was all going to fit in as few bags as possible.
I had written down a half-assed list of stuff to pack, but it wasn’t organized and John couldn’t read my handwriting. At my worst moment I snapped “maybe I’ll just stay home with Chief and y’all can go without us!”. John was hurt by that statement because it was going to be our first time with Chief at the ocean. Furthermore, I didn’t really want to stay home, I was just frustrated.
Part 1 result:
We left 1.5 hours later than we wanted to. John and I were both a little trabby (our own word for tired + crabby).
A family vacation – Part 2
Two months later another group of extended family members came for a visit. Again we were headed off to spend some time on the NC coast. This trip was longer this time and we had even less time to pack. Wanting to avoid a repeat of what happened last time, I decided to put more time into planning before we actually needed to pack.
I set some time aside to create a few checklists that could be used for this trip, as well any trip in the future. When it came time to pack, I printed out the lists. John and I each worked on designated sections and the packing went much smoother.
Part 2 result:
This time we left only 20 minutes later than we wanted to. (Obviously still a work in progress, but a big improvement.) No one was trabby or stressed. There weren’t any arguments. Best of all we were able to spend more fun time on vacation. Proof that you can reduce stress and increase quality family time with a simple checklist.
When is a checklist useful?
If it takes more time to create your checklist than it actually takes to complete it, is it still a benefit? That depends on two things:
- Repeatability – How often you’re going to use the checklist
- Importance – How important it is you don’t forget anything on the checklist
Anything you find yourself doing over and over again could probably benefit from a checklist. In order to be most useful, create a list that you can access electronically for repeated use. You can open it up or print it out each time you need it. Writing a checklist by hand makes it more difficult to use over and over again.
These are a few of the repeat checklists I’ve created.
- Overnight packing checklist – everything we need to bring for an overnight trip, including sections for me, John and Chief; I print the list and use it to pack, then bring it along to make sure we don’t leave anything behind at our destination
- Working remotely checklist – everything I need to work away from the office; I use this for trips or days I work at home
- Diaper bag checklist – list of things that need to be in the Chief’s diaper bag at all times; I keep a copy of the list in the diaper bag too image of list]
- Beach checklist – anything we may want to bring to beach with us; this could coincide with an overnight stay but it doesn’t always so I made a separate list
- Project checklist – at work I have various lists needed for different types of projects; these typically involve steps needed to complete a project or get approval on things
- Grocery list – as we run out of things (or if I get specific cravings) I’ll jot them down on a list; this combined with our standard weekly purchases is what I use to order groceries online
- Holiday card checklist – names of everyone that we send holiday cards to; if someone not on the list sends us a card, I save the envelope with return address so I can add them to my list
Anytime you need to perform certain steps or remember specific things a checklist will be helpful, even if you’re only going to use it one time.
These are some examples of infrequent, but extremely important, checklists.
- Wedding checklist – everything we needed to plan for our wedding, and another list for items we needed to bring to the ceremony
- Baby/hospital bag checklist – everything we needed to bring to the hospital for Chief’s birth
- FAST – this is an acronym (and checklist) to help people remember the warning signs of a stroke. Act FAST if you notice Facial drooping/uneven smile, Arm weakness, Speech changes or slurring, Time to call 911.
- Car maintenance – your owner’s manual includes service and checks that should be performed at various mileage milestones
Call to action: create your checklist
Here’s your challenge figure out where a checklist would benefit you, then set aside a few minutes to create it. I invite you to comment on what checklists you’ve used in the past, or any new ones you plan to create. If you’d like help creating your checklist send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.