Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Interactive Checklists in Google Docs

Checklists are a convenient and effective way to stay on track and get things done. For our students, checklists can be used in many ways to keep track of items such as:

  • Steps in a science experiment
  • Self-monitoring of behavior
  • Mastery of subject content and standards
  • Tasks when composing and editing their writing
  • Working through a math procedure
  • And many more…

Although paper checklists are convenient, when done electronically, checklists can be collaborative, edited as needed, accessed by multiple people, and hopefully not eaten by the dog.

There are certainly a lot of mobile apps, web extensions, and websites that provide checklist tools, such as Google Keep. However, for many years Google Docs did not offer a built-in option for an interactive checklist. There was a workaround where you could change the bullet style to a box and then do several steps to check a box, but it was a lot of hoops to jump through for a feature that should have just been a normal part of Docs.

Thankfully Google has now added a real interactive checklist feature to Docs! With this new checklist tool, when a user checks off an item, the corresponding text gets crossed off with strikethrough formatting. If you prefer not to have the text crossed off, I came up with a workaround for that. 

See below for a short 6-minute video and written directions on how to use the checklist tool in Docs with and without strikethrough.

Tutorial Video (6 minutes)

Checklist with Strikethrough

First let's look at how to use the checklist tool as normal with the strikethrough formatting.
  • First type up the list of items you want in the checklist, with each item on a new line.
  • Next select the full list of items.
  • With the items selected, now just go up to the toolbar and click on the "Checklist" button to apply the new formatting.
  • You will now have a checkbox at the beginning of each item.
  • If you click on a checkbox it will check the box and cross off the text for that item with strikethrough formatting.
  • If you click the box again, it will remove the check and remove the strikethrough formatting.

And that's it! Like I said, the typical use of the checklist tool is very simple. Where it gets more complicated is if you do not want the text crossed off when you check a box. Let's take a look at how to do that.

Checklist without Strikethrough

At the moment there is no simple setting to just turn the strikethrough on or off when using the checklist tool. When you check a box, the text will get crossed off whether you like it or not. The normal formatting option in the toolbar for "Strikethrough" does not override the way the checklist tool works.

So how can we use the checklist tool, but not cross off the text for each item?

My workaround for this is to use tables and some special table formatting to make this work. Here's how we do it:
  • First create a two-column table to hold our checklist.
  • To do this click "Insert" then click "Table" then drag your mouse to select two-columns and as many rows as items in your checklist.
  • This will insert a table into your document.

  • Now use the column on the right to type in your list of items, with one item per cell.
  • By the way, if you end up needing more rows or fewer rows for your list of items, you can always right click on the table to insert or delete rows as needed.
  • Next we need to add the checkboxes, but we will do this in the column on the left.
  • To do this, start by clicking and dragging your mouse from the top cell to the bottom cell of the left column to select all of the cells in the column.
  • With the cells selected, now just go up to the toolbar and click on the "Checklist" button to apply the checklist formatting to those cells.

We still need to clean up the formatting of the table so it looks nice, but you can already see how this is going to work by clicking on the checkboxes. The checkboxes can now be checked without crossing out the text, since the checkboxes and the text are separated in different columns in the table.

All we need to do now is adjust some formatting in the table to make everything look nice.
  • First, we want to shrink the size of the left column since the checkboxes don't need that much room.
  • To do this, simply hover your mouse over the vertical line between the two columns, and then click and drag the dividing line to the left as far as you like.
  • Next we may want to get rid of the table border lines.
  • To do this right click on the table and select "Table properties".
  • In the "Table properties" settings panel, expand the section titled "Color".
  • For the "Table border" setting, change the width to "0 pt".

And that's it! You now have an interactive checklist, that doesn't strikethrough the text when you check off an item.

Post by Eric Curts. Bring me to your school, organization, or conference with over 50 PD sessions to choose from. Connect with me on Twitter at twitter.com/ericcurts 


  1. Very nice summary. What I would love to be able to do next is search for "unchecked" items. I don't think it's possible but thought I'd ask.


    1. You can use ctrl+f and type the item you would like to search for in the box that pops up. Hope that helps!

    2. @Anonymous (other) The OP is asking how to search UNCHECKED items, not everything in the doc. I would probably write an app to search specifically for bulleted items with the box symbol. See api's here: https://developers.google.com/apps-script/guides/docs

    3. they've updated it, so now it's above the 6 in the tab stop.

  2. Thanks for this super set of directions. Just did learned this at a recent Google Summit, but your directions rock!

  3. How does this work for IOS? On my ipad I can create the checklist but I can't change the boxes to a check. I can't even select them. Right now I have to delete the checkbox and insert the check character.

  4. Thanks for this. Unknown: in iOS use control and click

  5. I can't believe that with all of the requests in forums for this feature that Google has yet to add it. It's such a foundational function for any doc.

  6. I can't believe that with all of the requests in forums for this feature that Google has yet to add it. It's such a foundational function for any doc.

  7. Big thumbs up for this! Very helpful!

  8. I think this is too much work. So far I've just been using standard lists and using the strikethrough shortcut to show that they are done.

  9. Thanks you for writing this. You helped me improve my productivity rate.

  10. Thanks so much! Hey Google - you should add a checkbox option!

  11. Sweet! This is great! Thanks for sharing your knowledge!

  12. Super helpful. Always wanted to know how to do this, as I make "To Do" lists all the time. Thank You!

  13. Excellent idea. However on my "more bullets" box there is no check mark available, even on the extended list. Would anyone know how to add the check box to the first list of symbols that pops up, as shown in this tutorial? Thanks!

  14. Thanks for sharing. It was very useful.

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  16. Thanks for this tutorial, very helpful so I can keep my checklists in my Google docs!

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  18. I'm having a problem where if I check off one thing it checks them all off - suggestions?

    1. Morgan, I did the same thing.
      Click one time on a checkbox, which will select the entire group (you already found this). Then click one more time on the same checkbox, which will now just select the single checkbox you have clicked on. Now you can right-click and select the check mark for that one item.

    2. This approach actually worked for me a month or two ago, but now it doesn't. Did Google change something?

      In my hands, left-clicking once selects all boxes at that indent level. Left-clicking a second time selects a single box (so far, as advertised). But right-clicking on that single selected box re-selects all boxes at that indent level.

  19. Will the checklist still work like this if it is downloaded to a PDF?

  20. Here is very useful blog with some good advice's abot tracking applications

  21. How about if i do more checkbox in a line?

  22. I was searching for any addone for google docs to have the checklist system. Never thought this. Anyway, it's a good idea. Thanks for sharing.

  23. Such a great article, it's exactly what I need. Thank you! :-)

  24. This was really helpful. Thanks!

  25. Rock on! This is fantastic!