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.
Modern construction is a perfect example of how checklists can help us manage the complexity of modern life. In today’s complex and interdependent world, failure to communicate is the cause of most of our ineptitude. Different people or teams have different bits of knowledge to complete a project, but failure to communicate that information between the various groups and individuals can cause big-time breakdowns that lead to setbacks, or abject failure.
Checklist compliance is increasingly monitored in healthcare.5 Often, institutions conduct internal audits of checklist compliance in anticipation of regulatory inspections. Using ‘compliance with checklist’ audits as a measure of safety or quality, however, is problematic, as high checklist compliance is no guarantee that the task is well-executed,18 or that patient safety culture is high.20 In addition, some of the benefits that have been found to be associated with checklist usage, such as enhanced team building and nurses speaking up, are likely to be negated if compliance audits lead to sanctions.
Pre-flight checklists are a good example. A regular pilot is aware of the importance of checking a list of tasks to prepare an airplane for takeoff. These include checking the operation of the altimeter, fuel gauges, flight controls, magnetos, engine idle, and other system parameters. Besides, preflight checklists are usually segmented in a way that the accomplishment of final items (status of doors/windows, mixture, lights, camera, and action) is completed after the set of initial tasks. The same thing is with the before-landing checklist. According to the FAA's practical test standards, these sets of tasks must be in a written form for pilots’ use.
4. Checklists save time. A common complaint about checklists is they take too much time to go through. But running through a checklist need not take very long, and research shows that doing so will actually save you time in the long run. Because checklists can prevent errors caused by skipping basic steps, you spend less time fixing mistakes and more time doing constructive work.
Modern construction is a perfect example of how checklists can help us manage the complexity of modern life. In today’s complex and interdependent world, failure to communicate is the cause of most of our ineptitude. Different people or teams have different bits of knowledge to complete a project, but failure to communicate that information between the various groups and individuals can cause big-time breakdowns that lead to setbacks, or abject failure.

It’s likely that the bulk of the audience doesn’t need any explanation of what a checklist is. In a nutshell, it is a list of questions or bullet points that characterize the status/progress of a certain activity or process. The list may contain any essential data regarding your accomplishments or plans. Due to their versatility, checklists can be leveraged in any industry regardless of the business focus. But what is the purpose and benefit of using this process organization tool?


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.
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Modern construction is a perfect example of how checklists can help us manage the complexity of modern life. In today’s complex and interdependent world, failure to communicate is the cause of most of our ineptitude. Different people or teams have different bits of knowledge to complete a project, but failure to communicate that information between the various groups and individuals can cause big-time breakdowns that lead to setbacks, or abject failure.


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.

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‘Non-boldface’ checklists form part of the normal framework of ‘job aids’, which might also include mnemonics and other rote learning tools, task visibility, context-sensitive help functions, decision support and instruction manuals. Mnemonics (such as ‘ABC’ for ‘Airway, Breathing, Circulation’ in resuscitation), for example, are sometimes used to retrieve procedural items where participants are likely to be subject to high cognitive load; however, mnemonics are more critical in situations where there is no later access to a physical checklist for confirmation.

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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.
Lastly, the checklist involves a Time Out: this requires that everything stops and no one interrupts. In an emergency, or under extreme time pressure, it is difficult to get everyone on the team to stop what they are doing and attend completely. The loss of team discussion under time pressure has been described by some centres implementing the Safe Surgery checklist.6 ,13 These are the times when mistakes are most likely to occur, yet paradoxically also when the Time Out portion of the checklist (the briefing to support complex work) is least likely to be performed as intended.
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.
Checklists make it easy to delegate tasks if someone offers to help you. If you are lucky enough to have assistance, you can refer to your list and know what to ask them to do right away. You can even share your list with them and let them pick what appeals to them. The disadvantage to delegating in this way is losing control when other people choose what they want to do. If you are concerned about giving away easy tasks and getting stuck with the challenges, keep your list to yourself.
Mental checklists to improve thinking. Berkshire Hathaway vice-chairman Charlie Munger uses a mental checklist of biases and cognitive flaws that he reviews before making any big decision to ensure he’s thinking clearly about it. He’ll go down the list and ask himself if any of these biases are clouding his thinking and what he can do to mitigate it. Ever since I’ve learned about that, I’ve tried using something similar in my life. Crafting this list is still a work in progress for me, but here’s what I have so far:
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