Actively using a standardized checklist to guide your work can help you stay organized.

Urgent work can lead to dropped balls

The beginning of workdays can often be chaotic. As we begin our work each morning, we know we likely have many new emails, voice messages, and other requests from colleagues who await our timely response. We also might have meetings to attend and important projects that require hours of focus to complete.

Attempting to address incoming requests while making progress on our ongoing work can be stressful as we struggle with how to prioritize all our responsibilities. The rush to produce results and stay organized is challenging; deadlines are sometimes missed, and balls are sometimes dropped.

Stephen Covey's Time Management Matrix may help us know how to prioritize responsibilities as we work through these mentioned challenges.


Stephen Covey’s Time Management Matrix

“Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important.” ― Stephen R. Covey

Stephen Covey’s Time Management Matrix is a helpful tool to think about the type of work we focus on, and the importance of balancing our time among different types of work to be productive. Many of the requests we receive fit often within the 1st and 3rd categories of the four-category Time Management Matrix Stephen Covey published in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People:

i.       Urgent and important

ii.      Not urgent but important

iii.     Urgent and not important

iv.      Not urgent and not important

The challenge with addressing hectic, urgent requests is that this type of work can quickly take over all our productive time during the workday, crowding out room for work that's not urgent but important–work that's critical to our success. 


The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right

“Good checklists, on the other hand are precise. They are efficient, to the point, and easy to use even in the most difficult situations. They do not try to spell out everything—a checklist cannot fly a plane. Instead, they provide reminders of only the most critical and important steps—the ones that even the highly skilled professional using them could miss. Good checklists are, above all, practical.” ― Atul Gawande

Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right highlights the use of checklists in various types of work. Gawande provides examples of how checklists are used in the airline industry by pilots for work that they might be very familiar with, but work that if steps are forgotten, could be dangerous or deadly for themselves and the passengers for whom they serve. He shares examples of how specialized surgeons and surgical teams use and benefit from checklists to perform complex procedures, avoiding errors and ensuring better patient outcomes.

As you can see in Gawande's quote above, a good checklist includes important steps to help keep any professional focused. It's a set of reminders of important tasks and projects we want to complete that are at risk of being forgotten when we are in the rush of getting things done.

Leader Standard Work 

When I get on my computer for the day, the first thing I do is open an excel spreadsheet that looks similar to this:


I'll work through my daily standard work in the morning and work through items that are important to me during openings throughout the day and workweek.

At Intermountain Healthcare, we call this spreadsheet our Leader Standard Work. It's essentially a checklist that leaders customize to outline the tasks―most of which are quadrant II: not urgent but important―that are important for us to complete.

My Leader Standard Work—my checklist—helps to act as a reminder of important work I want to complete each day, week, month, and quarter. It keeps me more balanced in the allocation of my time toward completing work in quadrants I, II, and III. It’s also a helpful resource to which I refer when I have scheduled time for deep work during the workweek.

Perhaps of favorite outcomes from implementing the use of a checklist in my work is fewer balls dropped.

Do you use a reoccurring checklist for your work? What tool or format do you use?