How to Improve at Work (and Life) With This Simple Solution

Do you know which shoelace you tied first this morning? Left or right? Did you give much thought to what you did first when you started up your computer? Do you recall how you ended up on this page?

How to improve at work (and life) comes down to being more aware of your daily routine and the habits that drive it. Separate the good from the bad, then work on doing more of the good stuff and less of the bad. Sounds easy, right?

Both you and I know reality is more difficult than that. Once you have identified the habits you want to change, sticking to that plan is easier said than done, especially when shit hits the fan and things get crazy. It’s easy to be a good boy or girl when all is running smoothly, but the real challenge is how your good intentions hold up under pressure.

True character is revealed in the choices a human being makes under pressure.” 
– Robert McKee

Luckily there is a simple solution. It has been tried and tested over the years, by people facing much more pressure than you and I usually have to deal with. It’s been around since before the computer, apps and even colour television.

Do you know what it is?

The correct answer is…

The checklist.

A checklist?

Yes, a good ol’ checklist. It will be the guiding light to see you through your daily struggle. A constant reminder of which battle you’re fighting and why. Something to motivate you and fall back on when things get tough. Here’s why Atul Gawande, a surgeon and author of “The Checklist Manifesto“, is a firm believer in checklists:

You have a desperately sick patient and in order to have a chance of saving him you have to get the knowledge right and then you have to make sure that the 178 daily tasks that follow are done correctly—despite some monitor’s alarm going off for God knows what reason, despite the patient in the next bed crashing, despite a nurse poking his head around the curtain to ask whether someone could help “get this lady’s chest open.” There is complexity upon complexity. And even specialization has begun to seem inadequate. So what do you do?”
– Atual Gawande on Farnam Street

His answer? Rely on checklists. Following a checklist ensures surgeons like Gawande take all the necessary steps, even when under immense pressure. It’s like a beacon to follow, no matter what distractions and problems come up along the way.

A constant reminder to stay the course

If surgeons, doctors and pilots use this simple solution to fall back on under pressure, why wouldn’t you? It’s easy to forget about the things you want to do differently as you’re working through your busy day.

A printed, paper checklist on your desk can be a great and constant reminder of the habits you want to change. Even when you’re facing deadlines and have a gazillion windows open on your computer, your checklist will still be there, prominently on your desk. It shows your progress and keeps you on the right track.

The counterintuitive secret to getting things done is to make them more automatic, so they require less energy.”
 – Tony Schwartz, Founder of The Energy Project

Of course merely printing a checklist will not solve everything. You’ll still need willpower and determination to make the changes you want to make. But it will help you make the new behavior automatic, so that over time you do it without thinking and you can clear up the list to add something new.

Digital versus paper

You could use a digital checklist such as Joe’s Goals, but you risk it being forgotten behind those gazillion windows and browser tabs you have open. Instead, put a printed version on your desk at the beginning of each week and adjust based on the results of your previous week.

Five elements are important when filling out your checklist:

  1. Set a clear goal (e.g. “check email only twice per day”, “go to gym three times per week”, “don’t bite nails”).
  2. When will you perform your new action? Either “attach” it to an existing routine (e.g. “when I turn on my computer“, “after lunch“, “before I brush my teeth“) or set a fixed time (e.g. “every day at 11 am“). This makes it easier to make the behavior automatic.
  3. Adjust on a weekly basis. Take off habits you mastered, add new ones and adjust a goal which was too ambitious or easy. But…
  4. Don’t try to change too much at once! Changing habits is hard, so start with one or two. More than that will set you up for failure (if you don’t know where to start, eating the frog is a simple yet powerful keystone habit to begin your day with).
  5. Invite some peer pressure upon yourself. No better motivator than some friendly social pressure. Tell your colleagues, promise your girlfriend or share a copy of your list on the Saent Facebook page.

Give it a try, and you’ll see it can work wonders. You can make your own, or click here to download our free daily checklist Template. Once you got your copy, make sure you set a daily reminder or recurring task to review your list!

Good luck and Godspeed, may the checklist be with you!

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