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Making Lists and Checking them (At Least) Twice

5 min read
in Blog, Organization
paper list next to laptop

Lists. Everyone uses them, and many people use several types of lists in their daily lives. Even Santa creates a list every year. There are a number of different types of lists, each with its own purpose. In this article, we will cover:

  • Shopping List
  • Process Checklist
  • Kanban Board
  • To-Do List
  • Priorities List

Shopping List

This type of list is probably the simplest. It merely serves as a way to help us to not forget something we need to get from the store. Most people, especially those of us with families, use a shopping list every time we go to the store.

We need to remember which basic staples need to be replenished. We need to make sure we get all of the ingredients for that new recipe we want to try. And we certainly don’t want to forget any of the special requests made by our family members. I rarely head to the store without a list, and if I do, I usually forget at least one item.

You can go the low-tech way of simply making the list on a piece of paper right before you go to the store. You can keep a marker board on the refrigerator for family members to add items to throughout the week. Or, you can go the high-tech route of using one of the many shopping list apps that are available.

My favorite app right now is Out of Milk, as it allows you to have multiple lists. You can access the list from a computer or your phone, and you can invite others to add items to your lists. You can also organize the items into categories (preset or new ones you create) and reorder the categories.

I have my categories ordered to follow the path I take through the store I shop at most often. Doing this definitely speeds up my trip and keeps me from backtracking to grab an item farther down on my list.

Process Checklist

A more complex list, and probably one that you are more likely to encounter at work, is a process checklist. This list is exactly what is sounds like: a detailed list of each step of a complicated process. Teams will often create and use this type of list to ensure that no step in the process gets missed.

You can create a process checklist in a shared Word or Google Doc; however, there are a few things you need to keep in mind. You need to establish a way of identifying which items have been completed, whether you simply strikeout the completed items or add checkboxes. Sometimes certain items on the checklist cannot be completed until a previous item is done. In these cases you need to establish a way to communicate the completion of one item to the person responsible for the next item.

If you have a need for several process checklists you might want to use one of the many shared list applications like Wunderlist or Todoist. These tools are especially useful if your processes involve quite a few people. They also work well for teams with members from other functional areas or from different organizations entirely.

However, if your processes need to be repeatable you will likely find SweetProcess or Process Street more useful, as they are specifically meant for onboarding checklists and other recurring processes. The other applications are capable of duplicating lists, but they often do not retain certain information, such as attached notes or files, or responsible parties for certain tasks.

Kanban Boards

A kanban board is not really a specific type of list, but rather a group of lists used by collaborative, agile teams to complete a set of tasks. These tasks can be part of a larger project or simply individual work requests from Clients. The board is a series of vertical lists, onto which you place cards which represent various tasks.

Each card starts on the leftmost list and moves from list to list across the board to the right until the task on the card is successfully completed. The cards for the completed tasks are then removed from the board and archived.

A kanban board typically contains the following task lists: Backlog, Task Queue, In Progress, Testing & Review, Done, and Blocked. Backlog and Task Queue may seem synonymous. For a kanban board, however, a Backlog list is often included as a temporary placeholder for tasks that can’t be started until all of the pertinent information is gathered. Or sometimes, tasks cannot be started until another task is complete.

Once the card contains all of the information needed to start the task and/or the predecessor tasks are completed, the card can be moved to the Task Queue. When a team member is ready to start a task he or she moves the card to the In Progress list.

Once the task is done, the card is moved to Testing & Review for quality control. When another team member reviews the work and determines it acceptable, they move the card to Done.

At some point in the process an issue or question may come up that prevents further work on the task. When that happens the card is moved to Blocked until the issue is resolved or the question answered. Once the work on a task can be resumed the card is moved back to the Task Queue or In Progress, depending on the situation or the team’s preference.

Much like the Shopping List and the Process Checklist above, a kanban board can be low tech. You can simply draw vertical lines on a magnetic whiteboard to form your lists, and add task details with index cards and magnetic clips. The cards are then physically moved from list to list across the board. You can add notes to the cards during the process, and file the cards into boxes once the tasks are complete.

For teams whose members are not in the same location a physical board is not very effective. For those teams (and for teams that just want a paperless solution) there are kanban board applications available. Two popular, and very good, solutions are Trello and Asana. Both of these applications will allow you to create kanban boards with as many lists as you need and to create detailed cards for those lists.

Each solution allows for team members, comments, due dates, files, and checklists to be added to the cards, among other features to facilitate your workflow process. Each solution can also connect to other popular applications, such as ticketing systems, email, calendar, and Gantt chart software.

Other Types of Lists

For times when you are not keeping track of items or tasks that involve other people and require collaboration, there are the to-do list and its sublist, the priorities list. Like the other lists described above you can go the low- or high-tech route.

You can keep a small notebook or journal to jot down the tasks you need to complete. If they are time-sensitive, add them to your pocket calendar. And use colored highlighters if you want to identify your items by context.

Alternatively, you can use any one of thousands of applications available to keep track of your list of things you need to do. OneNote, Evernote, and Google Keep are good solutions for making your daily to do list and checking off completed items. There are also context specific list applications such as FacileThings if you want to follow the Getting Things Done approach to task management.

There are many ways to create a priorities list. You can simply use a particular color to highlight the highest priority items of your low-tech to do list. For the high-tech to do list you application will most likely have a way to identify the high-priority tasks. It may even have a way to show them to you in isolation.

Regardless of what solution you or your team adopt for creating the different types of lists described here, make sure your processes are clear. Ensure that each team member uses your tools the same way. And don’t be hesitant to adapt or change your process or tools when necessary. Making the most effective use of these lists will ensure that you and your team will be well on the way to achieving your long-term goals.

Meet the Author

Melinda brings several years of experience to ThirdSide to help navigate the challenges of growth.

When not working to keep project tasks flowing, Melinda finds time to nurture her creative side (yes, even project managers have a creative side) by trying out new recipes on her husband and three daughters.

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