‘Normal’ checklists are effective whenever there are advantages to standardising performance, time is not critical, the series of tasks is too long to be committed to memory (or there are likely to be interruptions to execution of the task that might interfere with memory retrieval), and the environment enables a physical list to be accessed and used.


Law school exams. I stumbled upon the power of checklists for managing complex problems while in law school. In a law class, a single three-hour long essay exam determines your final grade. You’re presented with one or two complex hypothetical situations and are required to identify and analyze all the legal issues in them. To excel on law school exams, knowing the law isn’t enough. You have to be adept at applying it to different legal scenarios.

 2. Focus only on the “stupid” essential stuff that’s frequently overlooked or skipped. You don’t need a checklist that lists every single step on how to complete a task. That renders a checklist useless. Instead, just focus on putting down the “stupid” but essential stuff that you frequently miss. Your checklist should have no more than 9 items on it. The shorter the better.
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We may not like to admit it, but many of us can describe a time when we’ve made a mistake during the progress of a study. These mistakes can range from mixing up wires or forgetting to turn on an amplifier to forgetting to collect an essential piece of information that either requires additional processing time or prevents you from analyzing a certain variable altogether. Increased computing power and technological advancements have also made it easier than ever to collect data.
Filming YouTube videos. Over the past few years, I’ve worked with Jordan Crowder to produce more video content for our YouTube channel. While Jordan edits and films many of our videos, I’ll do some filming myself sometimes and then send him the footage to edit. Over the years, I’ve run into some regular problems that have mucked up the filming process. They’re stupid simple things that I just forget about. So I made myself a “READ-DO” checklist of things I need to do before I start recording, and it has saved me boatloads of time:
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.
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.
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.
If you're a fan of writing in Markdown and using keyboard shortcuts, Checkvist is made for you. It's a web app that lets you create checklists that you can print or share with others, and even set up daily reports. If you need collaborative checklist management, or you want a checklist that integrates with your favorite services like Evernote, try Checkvist.
I started to brain storm other areas that checklists could be beneficial. In the construction industry, Gawande explains that checklists are used so that key points are discussed between those in different aspects of the building process. For research, are there things that you always need to talk about with other experimenters or your supervisor when it comes to a study? Maybe a checklist can help there too. Also, when editing manuscripts or proofs, you could have a structured set of points to assess such as, “check to make sure data in tables/figures is correct” or “make sure reference list is up to date”. These all seem so basic, but if taking the time to go over them and know that once you’ve handed in the manuscript that these things have definitely been checked, it could prevent you from having to submit an erratum due to something like an improper figure.
Billed as a notebook for lists, WorkFlowy is an app to manage all of your checklists. Everything's listed on one sheet, where you'll keep all of your separate lists and sub-lists in order. Select on a bullet-point to focus on a particular sub-list, or the minus button on the left to collapse a list. That makes it easy to organize long checklists and still be able to focus on just the tasks you need to complete right now.
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.

 2. Focus only on the “stupid” essential stuff that’s frequently overlooked or skipped. You don’t need a checklist that lists every single step on how to complete a task. That renders a checklist useless. Instead, just focus on putting down the “stupid” but essential stuff that you frequently miss. Your checklist should have no more than 9 items on it. The shorter the better.
Checklists are valuable, and you need them if you want to succeed on your digital marketing journey. The checklists have been gathered and experienced by the expert online marketer himself, Kevin Fahey. To know how to start and what to do next, you need these checklists to have better results. You will get value for your monthly membership fee as you will gain full access to relevant steps that towards your online success. It also eliminates the frustration of forgetting something because you will be following a step-by-step process that can improve your business.

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.


Clinicians have long relied on an analogous form of decision support such as lists or algorithms for differential diagnosis. When a patient presentation is unusual (non-normal but not emergent), differential diagnosis lists (whether in old-fashioned textbooks or new-fashioned handhelds) support clinical performance by serving as a cognitive aid. The practice of reviewing a complete differential helps overcome anchoring and confirmation biases and can be a forcing function to ensure that every critical, and treatable aetiology is ‘ruled out’. Unlike non-normal checklists that are built into cockpit workflow, differential lists are often not well-integrated into clinical workflow and this may undermine their use.12
Sophisticated areas of focus like medicine, software development, numerous sorts of manufacturing, and others abound with complicated pipeline steps. Teams and departments interact to either complement or proceed with the production process in stages that require proper coordination. At first glance, the checklist's role is not remarkable. However, a deeper analysis shows that this tool stores trivial and easy-to-forget tasks outside your brimming-with-tons-of-data brain.

Aviation checklists are designed for modern aircraft that are complicated, not complex; it is usually possible to define a single process path that offers optimum performance for each flight condition. These process paths are flight tested, endorsed (with minor modifications) by airlines when they purchase a new aircraft type, and published in procedural manuals and checklists. There are two categories of checklist used in the cockpit: normal and non-normal (or emergency) procedures.


Agile software development leverages a technique called the user story to get enough information for implementing software features from an end-user perspective. Shaping acceptance criteria is an integral part of this process that can be improved with a checklist's help. You can create a special format containing categories, point assessments, labels, names, etc. For example, a Definition of Ready can be transformed in Definition of Done category after changing the story specification. On the picture below, you can see an implementation plan, which is, in fact, a ToDo list containing guidance on how to handle the user story written in the description section.

In healthcare, we need to get back to the basics with checklists and reserve the tool for processes that are simple, easy to follow, standardised and (perhaps) time critical. Expanding the term to cover briefings and other tools more suited to complex and variable processes is confusing, and may require communication and advanced team skills to implement and sustain. It is appealing to embrace a single tool to improve safety, and checklists have been found to be effective in some settings.16 However, the complexity of quality and safety improvement in healthcare guarantees that solutions will never be singular, straightforward or simple to sustain.
‘Normal’ checklists are effective whenever there are advantages to standardising performance, time is not critical, the series of tasks is too long to be committed to memory (or there are likely to be interruptions to execution of the task that might interfere with memory retrieval), and the environment enables a physical list to be accessed and used.
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