10 Big Reasons Why Checklists Do Not Work

10 Big Reasons Why Checklists Do Not Work

10 Big reasons Why Checklists Don’t work

Every business has processes that are repeated time and time again but there are some huge reasons why checklists don’t work…

…and it has nothing to do with checklists!

“Do you want fries with that?”

Ever heard that phrase?

Of course, if you’ve ever been into McDonalds you will have heard it.

And that phrase is part of a process​ and effectively an item on a checklist, albeit an unwritten checklist. All new staff are fully trained in the McDonalds way and it becomes part of the job.

But for most businesses, it tends to be hit or miss​ whether certain tasks are undertaken because there’s no process or system ever taught to the staff or put in place…

1 – The checklist is in the owners head!

To be brilliant, you cannot have your business dependant upon you being there or remembering what has to be done.

Not having a written checklist that is followed on every occasion leads to inconsistency and poor customer service.

Of course it takes time to create your checklists but the time saving over the longer term when there is a set of procedures that are repeatable every time (such as bringing a new client onboard for example) far outweighs the upfront “cost”.

2 – The checklist is on scraps of paper

Dog-eared bits of old card or paper, post-it notes stuck to desks – I’ve seen them all.

The checklists themselves look awful so don’t expect them to be treated with any respect!

Your checklists should be vital components in your business. They are there so you and your staff can provide a replicable service each and every time. When done well, somebody who knows nothing about your business could undertake the role just by following your checklists.

3 – The checklist items have no timeframe

Sending a welcome letter to new clients a week after they’ve joined you, or maybe not if you don’t remember, is NOT a good advert for your business.

Or maybe in your industry there are legal requirements to action certain items within specified timeframes.​

​When creating your checklists, work out exactly when each task needs to be done and set specific timeframes where required. I suggest you do this by way of “offset” rather than date. For example, on Day 1 a welcome letter is sent. On Day 1 plus 1, an email requesting information (identification, customer agreement, payment terms) is sent. On Day 1 plus 5, a chaser for outstanding information is sent – I’m sure you get the picture!

4 – The checklist has no reminders to take action

It’s all very well having a checklist but if you forget to revisit it nothing much is going to happen!

​Paper records and diary notes to chase something up add to overwhelm and are easily overlooked or missed altogether.

You should be setting reminders (preferable electronic requiring no action on your part to initiate the alert) for each task on your checklist to ensure it is done and on time.

5 – The checklist is incomplete

We all start things and get distracted or when taking action realise there is a better way.

Tasks that should be completed in your process sequence need to be recorded. Missing an important step because it wasn’t listed is inexcusable!​

Ensure every steps is recorded and ensure your checklists are updated when you devise improved ways of handling your processes.

6 – The checklist isn’t always completed

We get distracted by email, by phone calls, by personal callers. We usually don’t mean not to do something but things get missed. Some very important.

We justify things to ourselves – “in this case it doesn’t matter” or “Mr / Mrs X will understand”​

Never allow yourself, or your staff, to miss items. For your business to work brilliantly you absolutely have to be consistent. If you find yourself taking shortcuts, revisit the checklist and decide whether any of the items are not required. If not, remove them. But if you can’t remove any then clearly it is essential they are completed!

7 – The checklist gets ignored when too busy

To work in your business checklists have to be seen as aids rather than an inconvenience.

We all get busy and shortcuts get taken. If ​people think they can “get away with it” or see something as unimportant they will very often try it on!

Making your checklists vital and essential parts of your business cannot be overstated. If they are seen as timesavers and aids rather than “jobs to do” in themselves they will be embraced and make your business run more smoothly.

8 – There’s no accountability for completing the checklist

If there’s nobody assigned to undertake any specific tasks on a checklist then there is no accountability for its completion. And guess what – items don’t get actioned!

We all need to know the extent of our responsibility and with such guidelines or boundaries we all understand our roles.​

If there are tasks that have to be completed  by certain individuals then those jobs have to be assigned to them and steps taken to ensure the completion of those tasks can be monitored – see point 9 below. If they’re not completed, the person responsible has to know they will be held to account.

9 – The checklist isn’t monitored

Perfect. We have a checklist and every task is listed with a timeframe and nominated person allocated to take action.

But if nobody checks to ensure tasks are completed and on time the checklist is useless! A checklist without action is as useful as an unread book.

To overcome this simply create an over-riding task to monitor each checklist (hourly, daily, weekly etc – as appropriate for your business needs) and follow up with anything overdue or outstanding.

10 – The checklist is never reviewed to ensure completed

If there are say 6 tasks to be completed during the process of getting a client onboard with your business you’ll want to know that each step has been completed. Never assume.

Just assuming things have been done “because they’re on the checklist” is a recipe for disaster.​

As business owner you undoubtedly want to keep on top of what is going on in your business. Set aside a little time each day (or delegate to a trusted member of staff) to check progress of all checklists. Ensure anything overdue or incomplete is investigated and sign off when complete. For audit purposes, and to avoid doubt later, it is wise to keep a record of when each task was completed and by who.

Checklists – not only a brilliant business tool, but a vital element in systemising and streamlining your business…

So despite the title if you overcome the 10 reasons outlined, checklists enable you to provide a repeatable outstanding service to your clients – every time.


P.S. If you’ve taken onboard what I’ve said I highly recommend you take a close look at our scheduling, planning and reminding business tool – Reminders etc.


Take a look at Reminders etc.

We believe in them so much that we’ve arranged for checklists to be fully integrated within our Reminders etc. program.

We’re in the final stage of testing right now and if you want to put the power of checklists to use in your business, sign up for your 30 day free trial – no credit card details are required up front so you have absolutely nothing to lose but everything to gain.

Put these brilliant tools to use in your business.

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