We are now going to take our goals and turn them into checklists.

We will do this with each of our goals, healthy, wealthy, and wise.

Before we jump into the checklists, I am going to recommend a book.

Years ago, I read The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande.

Like Zig Ziglar’s book, Goals, this book had a major impact on my thinking. 

In the book, the author looked at the airline industry and noticed something.

No pilots, at any time, could fly a plane without first working through a detailed pre-flight checklist.

The checklists are not optional.   If you have ever flown on a plane you are as thankful for those pre-flight checklists as I am.

Atul Gawande is a doctor.  He noticed that doctors did not have to use checklists before performing their duties, not even complicated surgeries.

Mr. Gawande wondered what would happen if he brought checklists into emergency room medicine.

The results were astonishing.

It turns out, many of the medical staff were forgetting little details during the high stress of emergency room surgery.

When the medical staff used checklists, their mistakes dropped dramatically.  Improvement was instant.

Some doctors did not like the checklists.   

So, the hospitals assigned specific nurses to watch the doctors.  The nurses’ job was simple.  Make sure the doctors were following the checklists.

Sure enough, with checklists in place, mistakes fell.  Successful surgeries increased.

Inspired by The Checklist Manifesto, I went back to my goals.

I broke my goals down into monthly goals.  I then broke those monthly goals into weekly goals, then daily goals.

I turned those daily goals into repeatable actions.  I added these actions to my checklist.

Improvement was instant and drastic.

How to build a checklist

To hit our goals, we must take specific daily actions.

Repeated actions become habits.

Keep this in mind.  Pilots and Medical doctors are highly-trained professionals.  They should be able to perform their duties habitually.

Yet, they still use checklists.  In fact, it is against the law for pilots to ignore checklists.

If pilots and doctors have to use checklists, it will not hurt us to use checklists.

Many people do not like checklists.  I get that.

If you are feeling negative about checklists, think of them as a short-term solution.  Think of the checklists as a tool.

You are trying to hit your goals.  A checklist is a tool to help you hit your goals.

Some people seem to be able to carry checklists around in their heads.   

My wife can do this.  Not me.  I forget things often.

When I do not use a checklist, I spend much of my day darting from task to forgotten task.  At the end of the day, I can barely remember accomplishing anything of importance.   

When I am operating off of a checklist, I rarely forget things.

Do not rely on memory.  If you are anything like me, your memory will let you down.

When you start creating checklists, I suggest you keep a journal.  Write down the habits you would like to develop in your life.

Be patient with yourself.  I have checklists spanning decades.  My early checklists are a mess.

If you are starting out, your checklists will be a mess, too.  Over time, as you get better at tracking your habits, your checklists will improve.

Let’s say you are determined to make walking a daily habit.

Give yourself about a month to build the habit.  In your journal, on your calendar, or on your checklist, create a reminder.

Give yourself a little box to check off.

  • Take a walk every day.

Each day, tick off the box when you take a walk.

  • Take a walk.   

Simple as that.

Try to build a chain of unbroken check marks.

If you break the chain, don’t beat yourself up.  Start over again the next day.

Start building a new chain of checked boxes.   

Aim for progress, not perfection.  This will take time.  There is no way around it.

I once read a quote that stuck with me.

“Most of us overestimate what we can accomplish in a year and underestimate what we can accomplish in decades.”

The truth is, some of your goals are going to take longer than you think they will.  That’s okay.

Author Brian Tracy often reminds his readers, “There are no unrealistic goals.  Only unrealistic deadlines.” 

If you don’t hit your goal on time, set another deadline.

Don’t quit.  Self-discipline is not spectacular.  Self-discipline consists of doing the little things every day.  Over time, the little things add up.

You are laying a foundation for optimal performance.  Optimal comes from the Latin word optimus meaning best.  We all want to perform at our best.

Here’s the part we don’t like.  Optimal performance follows self-discipline.

Every four years, we celebrate the athletic feats of Olympic athletes.  But, think about it.  Over the last four years, those Olympians spent three hours a day training.

Daily, boring, repetitive self-discipline carried these athletes to the Olympics.

Like it, or not, optimal performance follows self-discipline.

Optimal performance follows our habits.  The habits come first.  Focus on the habits.  Use a checklist to track your habits.