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Creating task-oriented onboarding checklists

There’s nothing like checking something off your list. In this playbook, we tackle the role of onboarding checklists in your product-led experience—and how to decide what to include.

What you’ll learn: 

  • How to prioritize and select key user actions for your onboarding checklist.
  • How to prioritize actionable tips to increase checklist completion rates.
  • How to gauge the impact of celebrating user achievements on user motivation and product loyalty.

What you’ll need: 

  • Knowledge of your product's user interface and flow.
  • An understanding of your product’s aha moments.

Suggested playbooks to check out before starting this one:

Why are onboarding checklists important for user onboarding?

A great checklist not only helps new users navigate your product—it also gets them to their aha moment faster and more reliably.  Checklists tap into powerful psychological principles, motivating new users to complete—and even enjoy—the crucial setup tasks required to get your product up and running. 

They can also turn complex, multistep processes—like scheduling a month’s worth of social media content for the first time—into simple, achievable tasks; e.g., choose 3 posting times, import your RSS feed, hit “schedule,” et voila! 

5 steps for creating a task-oriented onboarding checklist:

Step 1: Identify your product’s aha moments.

  • Understand what action or feature truly represents the core value of your product.
  • Be clear on what users should do or experience to realize this value.
  • Refer to our playbook on Identifying your product’s aha moment for more details.

Step 2: List the 3–5 things users need to do.

  • Identify the top 3–5 actions new users should take in your app to reach your goal.
  • Make sure these actions are closely tied to your product's core value.
Tip: Keep your checklists to five items or less in your checklist. The more tasks on the checklist, the more likely users would quit before starting. If you’re having trouble cutting it down to five tasks for users to do, consider breaking up your checklists into two stages. That’s what we did at Appcues, which resulted in our checklist completion rate going from 2% to 25%.
Bite-sized user onboarding
Source: Bite-sized user onboarding

Step 3: Organize the tasks from easiest to hardest.

  • Start with simple tasks to encourage user engagement and completion.
  • Progressively increase the complexity of tasks to challenge users and deepen their understanding of your product. This takes advantage of the Principle of Commitment and Consistency, which states that the smaller the initial ask from someone, the more likely they are to agree to bigger requests.
Tip: Begin the checklist with a few already completed tasks, such as "Set up your account." This plays into the Zeigarnik effect, a psychological principle suggesting people are more likely to complete a task once they've started it.

Step 4: Guide users to learn by doing.

  • Provide clear and concise instructions for each task.
  • Link each task to the appropriate page or feature within your app. This directs users exactly where they need to go to complete each action.
  • Use in-app prompts or tooltips to guide users through each task, where necessary.
  • For example, with DocuSign, a task to upload your first document could direct users to a page to upload a document.
GoodUX - Docusign’s motivating checklist and activation-focused onboarding
Source: GoodUX - Docusign’s motivating checklist and activation-focused onboarding
  • For Bynder Orbit (a cloud-based organizational app), new users could discover the app's main functions and capabilities through an interactive product tour organized in an onboarding checklist.
Bynder Orbit's mini product tours
Bynder Orbit's mini product tours
Source: GoodUX - Bynder Orbit's mini product tours

Step 5: Congratulate users.

  • Offer immediate positive reinforcement upon the completion of each task.
  • Use friendly and enthusiastic language to make users feel good about their progress.
  • Upon completion of the entire checklist, make the user feel valued and appreciated. This could be an in-app message, an email, or even a discount or reward.
  • Keep the dialogue open. Encourage users to explore more of your product and discover what else it has to offer.
Looking for more Playbooks? Go back to the Product-Led Growth Flywheel →