The Checklist Book: Set Realistic Goals, Celebrate Tiny Wins, Reduce Stress and Overwhelm, and Feel Calmer Every Day
by Alexandra Franzen
Publishing Details: Mango, January 2020
Back-of-the-Book Summary: The checklist is one of the world’s oldest―and most effective―productivity systems. If anything, author and entrepreneur Alexandra Franzen shares, it is just as valuable now as it was during the days of the Roman Empire. Writing out a simple checklist allows us to tangibly plan our day and set in stone what we want to accomplish.
When I first saw the title, The Checklist Book, I was both intrigued and nervous. I have a love-hate relationship with checklists, but I am slightly obsessed with self-help books, so I gave this book a shot. And I’m very glad I did.
What I Liked:
Overall, this is a wonderful, gentle, inspiring book that I truly believe can provide useful guidance for people who feel overwhelmed. Basically, it’s perfect for me.
I absolutely love that Franzen starts by asking you what you want from life. I think we all just want to live a life that feels a little more meaningful, a little more fulfilling, a little more life-giving instead of life-draining. But we get so bogged down in simply getting through our days, there’s rarely time to check in and see if we’re living up to our philosophical desires. I love that Franzen recognizes that in order to create checklists that you actually stick with, they need to fill a need beyond “getting things done.” They need to help you live the kind of life you want to live.
Okay, you say, but how???
Don’t worry, Franzen does a beautiful job of guiding you through the process of finding your approach to life, including incredibly useful journaling sections where you can write directly in the book.
I also really love that Franzen emphasizes flexibility when making and completing your checklists. Personally, I have tried and failed with checklists (which I’ll talk about more in the next section) and I think part of it is because I find checklists too rigid. But going into a checklist with some flexibility in mind makes them much more doable. I also love Franzen’s insistence that you not cross things out as you complete them, but rather add a check mark or heart or something positive. She says that when you cross things out, you hide your accomplishments, whereas when you add a check mark, you celebrate them, and I love that.
Finally, I want to add how much I love the “Survival Checklist.” Sometimes, you aren’t thriving, you aren’t growing, you’re just doing your best to exist without completely falling apart. And instead of trying to sort through what you can and can’t handle in the back of your mind, you can use the Survival Checklist to work it all out on paper.
What I Disliked:
As someone who heavily identifies with the symptoms of ADHD (though it’s worth noting that I have not been diagnosed) I struggled to get on board with everything Franzen was claiming about how rewarding checklists feel. Mostly because I’ve done checklists, and while they can be rewarding for a while, eventually they just become one more thing I have to do, or when I can’t make myself follow them, they become a testament to my failures.
Franzen actually touches on why this happens, indirectly. In Chapter 3, she talks about dopamine, the neurotransmitter in our brains related to rewards and motivation. Franzen talks about how seeing something checked off your list can boost your dopamine and help you form beneficial habits, but it’s this exact same neurotransmitter that causes problems for ADHD brains. Dopamine is wildly unreliable and difficult to consistently obtain in the ADHD brain, and checklists don’t usually get the job done.
But this is not a book about ADHD, it’s a book about checklists. Just be aware that your mileage may vary (especially if you are neurodivergent). Also, despite my past issues with checklists and the fact that my back kept involuntarily arching with anxiety as I read The Checklist Book, Franzen has actually convinced me to give it another go, using her advice and the promise of flexibility and forgiveness.
You Might Like This Book If…
- …you feel like you’re just surviving your life instead of making choices active, purposeful choices
- …you love checklists, but can’t seem to stick to them
- …you hate checklists, but need some kind of organization in your life
- …you enjoy gentle, inspiring books