6. Saving lives: Checklists can literally save lives. When the U.S. Army Air Corps introduced the B-17 bomber during WWII an experienced aviator crashed the plane during its second demonstration flight. After this tragedy the Army required that pilots use a checklist before taking off. This is the same type of checklist we see pilots use today that helps to avoid crashes.
1. Checklists verify that the necessary minimum gets done. With increasing complexity comes the temptation to skip over the stupid simple stuff and instead focus on the “sexy” parts of one’s work and life. Because the stupid simple stuff is so stupid and simple, we often fool ourselves that it’s not important in the grand scheme of things. But as we’ve seen, it’s often our most basic tasks that can spell the difference between success and disaster.
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.
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.
3. Decide if you need a “communication” checklist. Most checklists are likely procedural (they lay out things you need to do), but some tasks or projects are so complex that communicating with others becomes vital to managing all the moving pieces. In such a case, create a dedicated communication checklist and make sure it includes who needs to talk to whom, by when, and about what.
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.
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.
Checklists support is another essential point that we decided to place out of the list. Some powerful project management tools have changed their attitude to this feature and enhanced their functionality with integrable plugins like Jira checklist. A bunch of capabilities including the creation of acceptance criteria, definition of done, and other ToDo lists, splitting, arranging, prioritizing, and others became available to multiple users. This superficially subtle innovation shows a growing demand for implementing checklists within PM tools as an integral element of workflow organization.
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’.
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.

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