2. Checklists free up mental RAM. People often bristle at using a checklist because it feels constraining. They want to be flexible and creative, and the checklist seems to take away their autonomy. For this reason, implementing checklists among surgeons has proven difficult, even though studies show checklists dramatically reduce the number of preventable, life-threatening errors. Surgeons feel that their work requires an intuitive judgment that’s born from years of training and experience and can’t be reduced to a simple checklist.

Investigators discovered the crash wasn’t caused by a mechanical malfunction, but rather pilot error. The problem was while the new bomber could carry more and fly faster and further than any other bomber in history, it was also an extremely complex plane to operate. To fly it, a pilot had to pay attention to four different engines, retractable landing gear, wing flaps, electric trim tabs, and much, much more. Because the pilot was so preoccupied with all these different systems, he forgot to release a new locking mechanism on the elevator and rudder controls. Overlooking something so simple killed the two men at the helm.
Now when you go to the hospital, you can have several teams taking care of you. Nurses, nurse technicians, radiologists, dieticians, oncologists, cardiologists, and so on and so forth. All these people have the know-how to deliver top-notch healthcare, and yet studies show that failures are common, most often due to plain old ineptitude. For example, 30% of patients who suffer a stroke receive incomplete or inappropriate care from their doctors, as do 45% of patients with asthma, and 60% of patients with pneumonia.
One thing to remember: your checklist doesn’t have to take the form of a list. One checklist I use every day is my Daily bookmark folder. It’s a bookmark folder in my browser (I use Firefox) that contain the sites I want to visit daily. Every day, all I need to do is opening the bookmark folder and it will automatically open all the sites I want. Simply by opening it I can be sure that I won’t miss anything.
That’s it for theory. In practice, you can take advantage of checklists in project management (PM) tools. This sort of software is leveraged to keep the workflow organized and provide the team with the ability to see other stuff circulating in the working environment. However, the market abounds with versatile PM solutions, which is not always a benefit to an inexperienced user. Therefore, you have two paths to choose from - either take a look at a comparison post like this one, or consider the following must-have features in your search:

Reinforcement and sanctions surrounding tasks may distract performance from the intent of the checklist. In healthcare, there is often a need to adapt the procedure to the patient or the context. Recent findings show that the WHO checklist, for example, is often implemented differently within single organisations, depending on context. Clinicians may be discouraged from acting in a manner that is best for the patient if they perceive that they may be censured for not following the procedure ‘to the letter’.

We’ve mentioned debugging as a component of the deployment process. However, a process of removing existing and potential errors in the code can be optimized with checklists describing the most important steps for both novice and experienced team members. With that in mind, you will turn the never-ending process of fixing errors into an organized and tailored activity for product optimization.
Special Unicode Characters in Data Validation Lists: ☐, ☑, ✓, ✔ - This may be my favorite approach. You can include special characters like this in a Data Validation drop-down list. This isn't quite as good as clicking once to fill in a checkbox, but it is great for the mobile Excel apps. The only hard part is remembering how to insert a check mark symbol in Excel. For more information, see my article Using Unicode Character Symbols in Excel.
The crux of this problem is while the world around us is becoming more and more complex, we’re still stuck with a brain that hasn’t changed much in 100,000 years. Sure, we’ve figured out ways to off-load memory storage to books and computers so we can know more; we just haven’t figured out a good way to overcome our evolved biases, cognitive flaws, and intrinsic forgetfulness. And so, despite owning a brain brimming with ever more knowledge, we continue to make stupid mistakes.
This week I made my first checklist for setting up one of my thesis data collections. I listed specific essential tasks and supplemented them with common errors I had either made or had encountered in the past. After making this specific checklist, I decided to see if I could make a general list that could be applied to all studies. Surprisingly, it was easier to do than I thought, although I’m sure it isn’t perfect. I was able to group many of my tasks together under one common point. What is not easy so far is trusting and not deviating from the checklist. It’s been easy to throw the checklist to the side when I get frustrated. In more stressful situations or even when things are running smoothly, I may forget that I’ve come up with a structured way to make sure I’m managing my data collection in the best way possible.
Every construction job begins with a massive checklist of tasks that have to get done and each task has an accompanying deadline. While that to-do list plays an important role in ensuring stuff gets done, an equally valuable checklist is also used. Called a “submittal schedule,” it centers on communication. The submittal schedule details which project managers need to talk to which project managers during a specific phase and about a specific process. The submittal schedule’s purpose is to get teams that are working on different yet co-dependent projects to regularly connect so they can discuss any potential sticking points. For example, there might be an item on the checklist for carpenters and plumbers to meet up at a specific time to discuss their progress on their respective tasks. Maybe a problem has come up with the pipes that affects when the carpenters can get started on their work, but perhaps there’s something the carpenters can do to help the plumbers. The trick is to keep each other in the loop so each respective team can take care of these “known unknowns” as quickly and as effectively as they can. Once the teams talk, they check the communication task as complete, and move on with their work.
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Google Sheets beat Microsoft to the punch and introduced a Checkbox as one of the Data Validation options. You can go to Insert > Checkbox to quickly create one, and you can customize it by going to Data > Data Validation. I've updated most of the Google Sheets versions of my checklists to use that feature. I hope Excel gets smart and introduces a similar feature some day.

Most companies strive to arrange their best practices in the most convenient way. Checklists work well here. Providing essential information for repetitive tasks in the form of a list proves a company’s consistent approach to any level of activity. As an example, introducing specific rules and policies to new team members is quite practical when done through checklists.


Construction. Take a moment to think about the complexity of building a towering commercial skyscraper. Teams of contractors and subcontractors work on different parts of the building at different times and hundreds of specialists are needed to get the job done: engineers of all kinds, electricians, plumbers, carpenters, elevator installers, excavators, window installers, environmental experts, security experts, geologists, cement pourers, steel manufacturers – the list goes on.
Second, the roles of the team members in completing the checklist are not clear. Who will read the checklist? Who will verify that the actions have been completed? Each clinician's role in the checklist should be formalised for the surgical setting, so that when tempo is high, steps are not missed. Third, compliance requires that boxes be ticked. This means that at least one team member will be occupied with completing the checklist and thereby not be available for other tasks. Boxes are more suited to a shopping list format, where items must be completed but order is unimportant, rather than an aviation-style checklist. Problems arising from combining a memory support tool with an audit device are discussed below.
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