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Within a sequence of decisions, your most hesitant and vague decision will have the greatest effect on the overall consequences. Alexander Cortes
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Dynamic Lists v. Check Lists

I’ve been talking a lot about dynamic lists recently, and it may have occurred to some of my readers to wonder what’s wrong with the good old checklist.

In fact, what’s the difference between the two anyway?

To answer the second question first, the difference is that a dynamic list is made fresh every day, while a check-list remains the same from day to day and will get amended only occasionally.

So again, what’s wrong with check-lists?

The answer is that there is nothing wrong with them at all. In fact they form one of the staples of good time management. In Secrets of Productive People I stress how important it is to build up good routines and systems - and frequently a checklist is the most effective way of ensuring that you stick to a routine.

I’ve described already how parts of a dynamic list can solidify into a constant routine. At this stage it turns into what is basically a mental checklist. There’s usually no real need to write it down because by this time it has become internalized. The exception of course is if you need to share it with someone else.

However most checklists are the result of codifying good practice. Some examples of checklists include :

Medical diagnosis

Action in Emergencies

Servicing cars

Aircraft pilots


A very simple checklist which deserves to be pinned up in everyone’s house or office space is the checklist for doing any task:

  1. Prepare
  2. Do
  3. Put Away

No task is finished until Step 3 is completed. Paying more attention to this step would save an awful lot of untidiness and disorder at very little cost.

Reader Comments (2)

Wondering whether you always shred all your dynamic lists at the end of the day, or whether sometimes you'll file a dynamic list with a project during or at the end of the day because it has turned into the pondering, dreaming, task list, etc. about that project?
February 19, 2016 at 22:52 | Unregistered CommenterSarah Jane
Sarah Jane:

A dynamic list is part of the questioning which is an essential part of creativity. Once you get to the stage that you no longer need to be creative about your project you can start turning the routine you've developed into a check list.
February 20, 2016 at 10:19 | Registered CommenterMark Forster

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