An Under-Used Way of Listing

I recently completed Atul Gawande’s book “The Checklist Manifesto” and thought so highly of it that I immediately changed my teaching materials to include the topic in every program that I lead.

He makes some powerful points about the need for doctors to take a leaf out of the book of pilots who make extensive use of this technique.  He has been experimenting with checklists for some time himself, and found that they reduce the errors that surgical teams make, and he even shares mistakes that he has avoided by using them in his practice.

It’s compelling stuff, and in the world we live in a checklist is one way to reduce the complexity that we deal with every day.  I have used one for some time at the start of each day, but didn’t quite appreciate the distinction “checklist” until I read the book and started to see places where I could implement them easily.

My first experiment was to set up a “sitting down to write my book” checklist.  It has only 4 four items, but it worked just as Gawande predicted.  I start my writing at 3:30am, and when I get to the computer in my office, my head is sometimes not at its sharpest.  (No, I don’t drink coffee.)

My checklist has helped me to reliably complete a little pre-writing routine that I use to get into the right frame of mind.  Without the checklist, I’ve likely to forget a few steps because there are too many things to remember too early in the morning, but when there’s only one thing, a checklist, I don’t have to think as hard.

I also noticed from the comments on Amazon, that reviewers were confusing checklists and To-Do Lists, so perhaps there needs to be some clarification of terms.  Here’s the definition I’m using:  A checklist is a repetitive list of actions that are initiated whenever a triggering event takes place.

For example, when a pilot loses an engine, there is a checklist to follow to ensure that all the steps taken to fly the airplane do, in fact, take place.  The non-flying pilot is the one who goes down the list, which is stored in the plane’s computer as well as in a binder.

The book has led me to see all sorts of applications, and given my focus this year on assisting  time management coaches, professional organizers, trainers and managers, I’m making checklists an important part of the process of consulting with a professional who is undertaking an upgrade.

P.S. There is an excellent summary of the book over at the New Yorker.