Hello my name is Hannah, and I am a crazy checklist lady. Whew, glad I got that off my chest. Let’s see… now I can cross “confess checklist obsession” off my checklist.
Ok, so maybe I’m not exactly that obsessed, but I am pretty in love with checklists. Always have been. It started when I was little. I was a homeschooler (one of those “all the way” homeschoolers, K-12, no co-op, just me and the fam doing school at home. The first time I set foot in a traditional classroom was in college.) So we didn’t have a strict school day routine—be jealous, people; homeschooling is awesome. Instead of a class schedule, my mom would write “assignment sheets” for us—basically a list that said this is what you need to get done today, in whatever order you please, for however little or long it takes you. And thus my love affair with checklists was born.
Fast forward to today. Now I have to have a checklist if I want to get anything done, not just schoolwork. And it has to be on real paper. I’ve tried list apps before and decided nothing really replaces a paper list. I usually have a notebook dedicated solely to keeping my daily checklists. The best part about checklists is crossing things off. There’s just something extremely satisfying about the nice little swoosh of a pen that means “mission accomplished.” I’m that person that writes things on a checklist that I’ve already done just so I can cross them off. I’m also that person that flips through old notebooks, finds an incomplete (and totally obsolete) checklist that I wrote months ago, and checks off all the stuff because hey, I did it all eventually. I’m highly motivated by the thought of little checky marks that only I see. Not sure what that says about my personality.
There’s a stereotype that people who keep checklists are organized and efficient in the extreme—the color-coded, always-knows-where-everything-is, multitasker-who-never-skips-a-beat, five-minutes-early-to-everything type. For me, that’s a cruel irony. Despite the fact that I’m generally known as an organized person, there’s a behind-the-scenes tornado of panic to wade through for every cool and collected impression that I make. I’m chaotically organized.
My checklists are the prime example of this; they’re often scribbled in random places, with nondescript and disjointed entries ranging from “marketing meeting at 2:45” to “call mom” to “write chapter 11” to “submit internship application and resume” to “clean the fishbowl,” all on the same list. Probably the funniest checklist item I came across in a notebook leftover from my last spring university term was “Get your life together.” Miraculously, that item had a check by it and I’m still not sure why…
But let’s be real: checklists are a double-edged sword. They can be highly motivating, but also highly discouraging. I don’t know how many times I’ve ended the day, heaved a deflating sigh, and crossed off only one thing on my list—the date at the top… and then written the next day’s date over it. Maybe it’s just me, but there’s nothing like an incomplete checklist to make me feel like a failure and a loser. Like “well lookie there, you can’t even meet the goals you set for yourself, let alone the things other people need you to do.” Ugh, talk about defeat!
That’s why I came up with the idea of the Magical Checklist. Imagine this—a magic list that keeps track of all the things you accomplished in a day without even planning on doing them! Even the simplest victories of your day would be recorded—say maybe you toasted your bread to absolute perfection at breakfast—and boom! The Magical Checklist jots it down. Mine, for example, might say “Successfully smiled and said good morning to the department Vice President without doing anything awkward—CHECK!” or “had a really engaging theological conversation with a couple of great guys,” or “got a sweet text from my roomie!” Or even “published a blog post—yay!”
So what about yours? I’m sure your magical checklist is actually pretty long. Maybe you were able to encourage a friend who needed it even though it interrupted your planned schedule. Maybe you told a joke that made somebody laugh. Maybe you picked up a book and learned something new that you weren’t expecting. Maybe you got a bandaid for a little kiddo who scraped up his knee. Maybe you took that much needed nap. Maybe you opted for carrot sticks instead of a candy bar. You know, stuff like that.
Unfortunately Magical Checklist doesn’t exist… pretty sure the science is impossible. But the idea is there: no day is wasted (unless you laid on the couch eating Cheetos all day. I can’t help you out there.) Even if you’re less productive than you planned to be, there’s still a lot of good that you probably did with your 24 hours that you might not have even realized. Your real-life checklist and all its demands is a tool, not a tyrant. And don’t worry, it’ll still be there, fresh and waiting for you to go at it again tomorrow.
So maybe, at the end of the day, especially if you felt like today was a checklist fail, look back at your imaginary Magical Checklist and search for the day’s little successes. You might be surprised by what you find!
That’s all I’ve got. Get out there and carpe some serious diem!