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Here’s How a Checklist Can Help You Stay Sane in Quarantine

A woman checking off a list in her planning notebook.

Are your quarantine days starting to blur together? If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the lack of normal structure and routine, a checklist might help.

Social distancing affects everyone differently. You might still be going to work, but with protective gear and precautions that make it feel anything but normal. You might be struggling through an unexpected transition to working from home. Or, you might be suddenly unemployed, with plenty of free time but no shortage of stress.

No matter what, a checklist can help you keep a sense of structure and normalcy. It’s a gentle way to remind yourself to put down the news and do something necessary—or something fun! Here’s how to get started!

Why Make Quarantine Checklists?

We know you’re probably tired of hearing people say you should use your quarantine time productively. While some are delving into work and personal projects right now, many are struggling to get things done when life feels so strange.

However, a checklist isn’t about becoming more productive. It’s about structuring whatever you’re already doing (or want to be doing) in a more approachable way. Instead of losing all day to mindless phone scrolling, a checklist helps you accomplish what you wanted to do that day—whether it’s two things or 20.

Plus, a checklist helps life feel a little more normal. Most of us are used to structure—commutes, start and end times for the workday, regular weekly get-togethers with friends. But right now, those normal structures are either wildly disrupted or gone completely. With a checklist, your days won’t feel so much like vague, confusing blurs.

Even in ordinary times, a checklist is a great tool for organizing your tasks. There’s a reason The Checklist Manifesto is such a popular productivity book. As the author notes, our modern workplace responsibilities tend to be more complex than they once were. With a checklist, you can break down complicated tasks into simple, individual steps, so nothing is missed.

The video below offers a good summary of the book.

However, even if your quarantine responsibilities don’t seem particularly complex—maybe you’re not a surgeon or an aircraft mechanic, like the two examples in the book—a checklist can still help. In stressful times like these, simple tasks, like remembering to do the laundry or order cleaning supplies, can become overwhelming. On top of normal responsibilities, you might have unexpected new ones, like helping your kids navigate online school or filling out unemployment applications.

In short, even if your schedule looks more open right now, you probably still have a lot to do—and a checklist will make it easier.

How to Make Your Checklists Work

The simple act of writing down tasks can make quarantine life more manageable. However, for the best results, try these checklist best practices.

Break Down Large Tasks

A checklist takes the standard to-do list concept a bit further. Rather than just writing down what you need to get done, a checklist is all about breaking bigger tasks into individual steps. This makes those much more approachable.

For example, if one thing on your to-do list is to do your taxes, you don’t want to just write “do taxes.” Instead, make a tax checklist that includes each step, such as “gather tax paperwork,” “download tax software,” and “file taxes.”

These in-depth checklists can be valuable for repeated tasks, so make sure to save them. They prove even more valuable for infrequent tasks (like filing your taxes). Rather than trying to remember the details year after year, you can simply refer to your list every tax season.

Write Down Simple Things, Too

Although complicated tasks make the need for a checklist apparent, writing down your most basic responsibilities can also be helpful.

When you’re stressed or anxious, you tend to become more forgetful. This can leave you forgetting even simple things. If your checklist includes tasks like “start dinner,” “wash dishes,” or “call sister,” you won’t lose track of what you need to do. Plus, the structure can make each day less overwhelming.

Include Fun Activities

Doing things you like is important right now, too. If it feels right for you, try writing fun activities on your checklist alongside your responsibilities. You won’t feel as tempted to waste hours on your phone if you have “start new book” or “do one YouTube art tutorial” written down.

Use Technology as Needed

If you’re a pen-and-paper type, writing a checklist by hand is great. However, there are plenty of digital checklist tools you can use if that’s more your style.

Download an app like Checklist or TickTick to give digital checklists a try. The templates and structure can be helpful if you’ve never used checklists before.

Actually Check Things Off

The most important part of using a checklist is actually checking things off.

First, this ensures that you refer back to your list to see if you forgot anything. But more importantly, checking off your list gives you a little dopamine boost that will motivate you to keep going.

That’s right—checking things off actually makes you feel good. This creates a positive cycle, in which the more you get done, the more you’ll want to do.

Checklists can be helpful at any point in life. But right now, with so many sudden and strange changes in the world, we need checklists more than ever. Whether you want to accomplish big projects or are just trying to stay on top of the daily minimum, now’s the time to make a checklist and discover how much it helps.

Elyse Hauser Elyse Hauser
Elyse Hauser is a freelance and creative writer from the Pacific Northwest, and an MFA student at the University of New Orleans Creative Writing Workshop. She specializes in lifestyle writing and creative nonfiction. Read Full Bio »
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