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When you are undertaking an invasive and complicated process, you should have a checklist to go by. This will help you make sure you cover all the bases and don’t forget anything. I’ve written about this before.

However, how do you build a checklist that will be of the most assistance?

First, “build” is the right term: in the days or weeks leading up to your process (system maintenance, for example), come back to the checklist over and over. Review it several days in a row, or better yet, several times a day. You’ll think of new things to add to it, and you’ll be fleshing it out until it is comprehensive and complete. You might want to leave it loaded in your workstation so you can come back to it whenever the mood strikes.

Secondly, break the checklist down into major sections. For example, in patching a system you might have sections for: 1) preparing the system; 2) patching the system; 3) rebooting the system. Other processes will have different major sections. These major sections should be set apart on your checklist, preferably with titles and bars that segregate the checklist into its component parts. I recommend a different color background and a large bold font to set it apart.

Thirdly, there should be a “point of no return” – which should be at a major section break. This is the point where you cannot turn back and return to the way things were. At this point during the process, you have to choose: have things gone smoothly enough that completion is likely – even inevitable – or is the process in such disorder and disarray that a return to the status quo would be better? At that point, one must choose.

With such a checklist, your process will be much smoother, and you won’t have to explain to the boss why you missed something critical. It’ll also document what you did (along with the notes you take).