Whenever I notice that I need to do something routinely which has a bunch of steps based on certain conditions, I turn to creating a checklist. Having a checklist helps me immensely. If you follow a checklist you can avoid mistakes and complete the work quickly. Take for instance doing taxes. If I did not have a checklist, I am certain to miss something or the other and then will have to file a revised tax form. Of course when there are new entries in the tax form, or if your incomes have changed, I update the checklist. I have similar checklists for making backups of my media (photos, music, movies etc), laptop (code, libraries etc) and even for investing.

A checklist can be as simple or complex you want it to be. It could just be a bunch of steps that you need to follow without thinking much, or it could be that each step needs a lot of thought and decisions. Here is one example of how part of my tax checklist looks like

  1. Make a copy of this README file from previous tax year
  2. Make a copy of Income spreadsheet from previous tax year
  3. Login to child bank account and fill the Bank Interest - Child tab in Income spreadsheet
  4. Login to personal bank account and fill the following tabs in Income spreadsheet
    • Bank Interest - Mine
    • Google Pay (cashbacks and deposits)
    • Dividends
  5. Download credit card transactions and fill the following tabs in Income spreadsheet
    • cashback
    • Amazon Pay
  6. Make a copy of ESOP spreadsheet from the previous tax year
  7. If you sold any ESOPs in the previous financial year, then update both tabs in ESOP file
  8. Get capital gains statement from CAMS

I will not bore you any further, but I have another 70 or so more steps (and a lot more sub steps) explaining what information to collect and which tax schedule to fill and how. This makes my life easy when doing taxes. I won’t forget to report all sources of income, even things as small as GPay or credit card cashbacks. I don’t have to think too hard when entering information into the schedules. For example I have the following steps when filling in schedule CG (for reporting capital gains) online

  1. In Schedule CG select the following
    • 111A (equity short term)
    • 112A (equity long term)
    • From sale of assets other than all the above listed items
  2. Click continue button
  3. Open equity share 111A section
    • Click Add Details button
    • Check section 111A checkbox and enter the following
      • a(ii): use value of A 2 1 a from future.re-ynd (check FY is correct)
      • b i: use value of A 2 1 b i from future.re-ynd
    • Click Add button
  4. Open from sale of assets other than all the above listed items
    • Click Add Details button
    • Enable checkbox Short - Term Capital Gain and enter the following details
      • a(ii): use value of A 5 a ii from future.re-ynd
      • b i: use value of A 5 b i from future.re-ynd
    • Enable checkbox Long - Term Capital Gain and enter the following details
      • a(ii): use value of B 9 a ii from future.re-ynd
      • b i: use value of B 9 b i from future.re-ynd
    • Click Add button
  5. Click Confirm button

It continues further, but you get the idea.

I have a similar but much much simpler checklist for doing backup of my laptop data and my media files such as personal photos, music etc

# clean up files in laptop

# NOTE! From local machine backup laptop stuff to media drive
$ sudo rsync -aShEWlHx --no-compress --delete --info=name,progress,stats / \
root@IP:/media/usb/.backup/chandan/laptop/ 2> /tmp/backup.err; cat /tmp/backup.err

# NOTE! From media center PC
# Run the following and make sure all the 4 disks are listed
blkid | grep sd

# Run this and make sure "backup" logical volume is visible
LVM_SYSTEM_DIR="/tmp" vgscan

# Next activate the volume and make sure it is "active"
LVM_SYSTEM_DIR="/tmp" vgchange -ay

# Mount the lvm partition
mkdir -p /media/backup
mount /dev/backup/backup /media/backup

# Do the actual backup
cp -r ~/bin /media/usb/Other/kodi\ backup/bin_`date +%F.%H.%M.%S`
cp -r ~/workspace /media/usb/Other/kodi\ backup/workspace_`date +%F.%H.%M.%S`
rsync -aShEWlH --no-compress --delete --info=name,progress,stats \
/media/usb/ /media/backup/ 2> /tmp/backup.err; cat /tmp/backup.err

# Unmount the drives
umount /media/backup

# Deactivate volume
LVM_SYSTEM_DIR="/tmp" vgchange -an

I do my backup on every Saturday. This helped me immensely when my media center PC hard drive failed and I lost all my media. Thankfully, since I have a backup, I could restore everything from my backup drives. I may have lost some data during the week between backups, but it is nothing compared to the total loss of media. Of course I do backup my photos on Google photos at reduced resolution and quality. I also backup my code to Bitbucket.

Finally, another example of a checklist which is neither as long as the tax checklist nor as simple as the backup checklist is the investment checklist. The checklist while short, requires me to do a lot of thinking and making sense of data. The checklist is mostly a bunch of conditional statements like if Nifty 50 PE > X then go for asset allocation of Y and such things.

So everyday I go through the checklist quickly and decide whether to do anything about my portfolio. If there is some buy and sell trigger, I take the necessary action, otherwise I move on to other things in life :). Usually these buy/sell triggers are bunched up and I have to actively take a call everyday for a few days, followed by a very long no action days.

So I suggest you too make a checklist for any repeating task and reduce the burden on your brain because all you need to do most of the time is just blindly follow the checklist. Once in a while the checklist might need an update, for example if the tax forms change etc, but generally it saves a lot of your time. If you are still not convinced, I suggest that you read the book “The Checklist Manifesto” by Atul Gawande. I read it a very long time ago. I might need to reread it again sometime soon.