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The Power of Checklists

checklist, pen, and compass graphic - the power of checklists

My sister is the checklist queen and uses a camping checklist. She loves camping and goes a couple of times a year. The checklist affords her a certain amount of freedom: she focuses on enjoying camping and rather than worrying that she forgot something or having to come down from the mountain to buy what she forgot.

When you Google the word "checklist" you get lots of apps and templates as well as checklists for special occasions: wedding checklist, newborn baby checklist, moving checklist. These are great times to use checklists because they aren't things that happen too often, and you can use the collective wisdom of others who have done this before. But I have found that checklists are great tools for everyday use, too.

I ran across a book called The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande, MD, who is a surgeon, writer, and professor. In the book, he details the use cases for checklists and shares stories of how a variety of fields have made good use of checklists. He claims that using checklists prior to surgery has helped reduce major complications by 36% and deaths by 47%. just a side-note on this: when I had my ACL repaired, the nurses initialed my surgery knee while I was awake. I have a feeling this was part of their checklist, and I even commented how glad I was they did that!

Checklists aren't meant to be comprehensive process guides, although there is certainly a need and place for that kind of documentation. If you find you (or your family or colleagues) resist the idea of checklists because you have done something hundreds of times, make sure that the checklists are both concise and efficient. Gawande echoes this sentiment of resisting: "It somehow feels beneath us to use a checklist." Most of us do not have jobs that are life-and-death. But checklists can still save us time and aggravation. For example, I have a process that I run weekly. I've run this process over 50 times and still consult my checklist.

Here are some ideas for creating your own checklist;

1: Keep the number of items on your checklist small.

Aviation professional Dan Boorman recommends 6 - 9 items that can be completed in less than 90 seconds. I have started using a checklist when publishing my blog posts. Obviously, the stakes for publishing a blog post are not life-and-death, but by following the checklist, I make sure that I do everything I want to when I publish it. (For those who are interested, my 6 steps are SEO research, categories/related blog posts, email subscribers, post on Facebook/LinkedIn, post on Instagram, post on Pinterest).

2: Remember to use the checklist

It's one thing to have a checklist; it's another to remember to use the checklist! For my weekly process, I use a recurring calendar appointment as a trigger to remember. For my blog post, I use a Trello board where I keep track of upcoming blog posts, research, and other projects. You will want to find a way to remember to use your checklist.

3: Revise as necessary

A checklist is only as good as its accuracy. As you gain efficiencies or new knowledge, feel free to revise the checklist (and share it with your team).

4: Start with one

Anytime you start a new process (such as implementing checklists), you will have many things that could benefit from a checklist. I think it's good to start with checklists that deal with safety and then move onto checklists that have financial implications. Some checklists I have seen are for drawing blood, software upgrades, payroll processing, insurance claims, oil changes. The opportunities are endless!

Checklists work because you physically do the act of actually going through the checklist rather than the fact that you have a checklist memorized. What checklists are you going to implement in your life?


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