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Checkmate your tasks with a checklist

Imagine you started each day with a clear, calm mind and finished it with a sense of accomplishment. Please don’t stop reading now, it won’t be a post on finding your true self by drinking green smoothies and daily meditation! It is about a practice your grandparents have probably used too, but as we already learned, old school methods shouldn’t be dismissed.

I wanted to continue by saying that lately checklists have been making their comeback, but have they ever really gone anywhere?

In the book The Checklist Manifesto Dr. Atul Gawande refers to a study where the use of checklists helped to reduce the cases of hospital deaths. There are countless productivity blogs and books praising the power of checklists. Maybe it’s time to jump on the trend and apply checklists to language learning?

Checklists replace your mind

Sounds like something from the Terminator? Well, we definitely don’t want to lose our minds and the best way to avoid it is to clear them up.

By writing things down you make the list an external place for your memory. What can feel like an unordered mess in your head finds a nice structure on a piece of paper. Spilling all your tasks and ideas on paper frees your mind form cluttered thoughts and… from stress that you might have forgotten something.

Do This: What kinds of language related goals do you want to accomplish? List the big ones and little ones—empty your mind. This will allow you to see the size of your tasks and better judge the importance of each single one.

Checklists guide your thinking

Once everything is on a checklist you can further subdivide bigger goals into smaller steps. A large goal, like “clean the living room” or “learn to speak a language” can be intimidating. It is also very imprecise, which means that you don’t really know where and how to start tackling it.

Try to picture yourself in a reality where the goal is accomplished. What is different between then and the present moment?
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To use an example of cleaning the living room, you may say that in the world where this task is already accomplished:

  • the floor is hoovered
  • the shelves are dusted
  • the flowers are watered
  • the curtains are washed
  • the magazines are ordered

Imagining the future is a good guide of what actions have to be taken. Maybe you won’t be able to clean the living room in one day, but if you dust the shelves you will be able to say that you have accomplished precisely 20% of your goal.

Do This: What steps do you think are involved in learning a language? The answer will be different for each of you. Let us know your first step on Twitter!

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Checklists help keep focus

I just started writing this post when I noticed an email came in; I had to reply by sending a file. Worse yet, I had no idea where to find that file. It then took me a good 5 minutes to get back to the flow of writing and this was just one instance of distraction. Research shows that even just receiving a notification on the phone can be disruptive for a task you’re trying to complete, even if you don’t interact with the phone.

Having a checklist of the most important things to do in a day helps keep focus and gives you a licence to ignore everything else. If replying to emails is not on top of your list, you can safely ignore them until you accomplish your more pressing goals.

Start the day by writing down three things you want to accomplish. For best results, make these goals absolute priorities for the day. Devote specific blocks of time in your calendar to your recurring distractions such as email or social media activity. This way you will know that there will still be time left to answer emails, and at the end of the day, you will go to Facebook with a sense of accomplishment—not of procrastination guilt.

Do This: If you can, try applying a sense of urgency to accomplishing your tasks by setting yourself small deadlines during the day.

Checklists increase productivity

Even the highly skilled get lost in the overflow of daily tasks. They are engaged in multiple projects at the same time, have multiple interests, constantly learn new skills. The more tasks you have, the easier it is to lose track of them, and the more helpful a simple checklist can become.

We all want to achieve great things, but it’s impossible to make large accomplishments on a daily basis.

The key is to realize that even the biggest and most complex goals can be broken down into smaller chunks and those are built of yet smaller pieces (think of an orange).


Imagine two people want to go up the Angkor Wat temple stairs in Cambodia. One wants to avoid all the hassle, skip the climbing, and just jump up. He can spend time tensing his muscles for the big jump while their friend takes the first step. After 10 minutes, one will be ¼ way through the climb and the other will not have moved an inch upwards.

Advancing step by step allows you to make progress in increments, which, I’m sure you’d agree, brings better results than standing paralysed.

Do This: Don’t rely on the big jump—take the first step today.

Some tasks may seem like behemoths, but with the power of a checklist you can tackle them smarter, faster and better.

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