My interest in general checklists above and beyond the detailed lab notebook began after reading The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande, a surgeon and Harvard Professor (he also is the author of a New Yorker column on the same subject). The purpose of this book is to describe how a basic checklist can help us perform complex tasks consistently, correctly, and safely. Much of the book is told from the point of view of eliminating errors during surgery, but Gawande also draws on stories on how checklists have benefited those in construction, aviation, and investing.
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.
Checklists seem simple, Gawande says, and are sometimes hard for us to accept as a necessity when we're in high-powered jobs that rely on our skills and knowledge. But humbling ourselves by using a checklist can improve our performance and help us achieve more consistent results. "They remind us of the minimum necessary steps and make them explicit," writes Gawande. "They not only offer the possibility of verification but also instill a kind of discipline of higher performance."
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.
Introduction of a new tool without full consideration of its purpose, benefits and limitations may actually increase risk to patients, providers and the system as a whole. Overimplementation of checklists may erode respect for long-standing healthcare cognitive aids that are effective, have been iteratively improved, and are well suited to specific purposes. Overreliance on checklists as a safety net can lead to omission of other safety practices that may better support safety through reliability and resilience. Checklists are excellent ‘aides memoire’ and directives to correct procedures, but they are not a panacea.
Many prominent software development companies like Railsware are active users of checklists in their activities and processes. They do not limit their lists to 7 or 10 points. Sometimes, the number of points can stretch up to a couple of pages consisting of subsections for rather complicated processes. And here are some reasons why you should consider using checklists for your needs.

Checklists put everything you need to do right in front of you. You can see the beginning, middle and end of what needs to be done. Though this helps some people tackle tasks in front of them, it can also be distracting. If you are the type who prefers to take things one step at a time, you might enjoy working through a checklist. Big picture people might struggle with a large collection of isolated items, however, and might need other tools such as mind maps, ideas lists and deadline reminders to help them focus on what needs to be done.
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.
Non-boldface checklists are used to provide decision support when time is not critical. In complicated situations, such as multiple system failures, the checklist appears in the form of a flow chart or decision tree, helping the pilot(s) to navigate the process. In modern aircraft, the checklist is built into the electronic cockpit system, which leads the pilots through the appropriate steps on the screen. The steps are colour-coded for urgency and ranked in priority order. As steps are completed, they disappear from the screen. Checklist items are arranged in a systems operational sequence and are consistent with the patterns of motor and eye movements of the crew.
As you can see, the power of checklists is not an illusory phenomenon. A famous surgeon, Atul Gawande, even wrote a book dedicated to this topic. Despite their simplicity, checklists give an extraordinary boost to organizing things in the most effective manner. Though, maybe their very simplicity underlies their power? Anyhow, you should try a few out. That is the only way to realize why you need checklists.
My interest in general checklists above and beyond the detailed lab notebook began after reading The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande, a surgeon and Harvard Professor (he also is the author of a New Yorker column on the same subject). The purpose of this book is to describe how a basic checklist can help us perform complex tasks consistently, correctly, and safely. Much of the book is told from the point of view of eliminating errors during surgery, but Gawande also draws on stories on how checklists have benefited those in construction, aviation, and investing.
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.

NO, I don’t. I call them “to do” lists. LOL! They’re very helpful, they keep me sane and keep stress away. For many years now, I keep a daily list prepped the night before; and a weekly list that’s prepped every Sunday. Keeps things smooth-sailing all the time. So at the end of the day, if all items are crashed-out (as in “done”!), I feel so good about myself. :)
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