A couple of weeks back, a colleague visited my office for some support and advice regarding the process, and documentation for student advising at the university.
We went through the policies and procedures as outlined in the institutional documents, and as I was explaining the practical aspects of these to him, I was writing a checklist. The checklist was simple, consisting of ascending numbers down the left side of the page, and two or three words with a little tick-box at the end of each line. I also showed him how to take each step online as we progressed.
When we finished, he said, “Okay, I think I’ve got it, but I should have been taking notes I guess.” I told him not to worry, that I had a better idea, and showed him the rough checklist I had created as we were going along. “You always have lists don’t you? I don’t have time for that.” He said, and my response was, “That’s funny. I don’t have time not to.”
Later, when we were talking less formally, he said, “It’s actually a bit of a chuckle around the place that you are always working off notes and lists. Why? Nobody else does. Is it because you’ve got a bad memory, or what?”
I am something of an advocate of Atul Gawande, who wrote ‘The Checklist’, when he says that in a complex world even experts are challenged, and he explains how checklists can “effect striking and immediate improvements”.
The fact is that whether I have a bad memory or not, I do have lists, most days, on my desk. If I have e-mails that require task completion, they go on the list. If anyone calls me, or comes to see me, I always take a note, and if they want me to do something, I’ll write that down, with a little square tick-box next to it.
When I do that, ‘thing’, I will put a tick in the box. Then, towards the end of the day, I will check that I have successfully documented, or saved whatever tasks I have completed, and put a line through it.
Then, the items still left on that list will go at the top of a new list for the next day, ensuring they get priority treatment.
I also appreciate the assistance that flow-chart type lists give in learning any new skill, task or procedure.
From 1935, when the US Air Force held a flight display to confirm the Boeing Super-Fortress B17 as the key military bomber and transport choice for the Army and Air Force.
The Boeing took off, stalled, and crashed. An inquiry found that the pilot had ‘forgotten’ to release the elevator and rudder locks after take-off, thus causing the stall and crash.
The aviation industry’s response was to implement checklists at all levels of flying from recreational, through private and commercial flights, to military activity. Charlie Munger wrote that, “No wise pilot, no matter how talented, fails to use his checklist.”
The most precise of our occupational sectors, health, science, and manufacturing, now widely utilise checklists as a requirement for safe processes, and that’s not because those involved are forgetful, but because it assists in accuracy and certainty.
I reckon, if it’s good enough for the brainiest people on the planet, it’s good enough for me.
How about you? Is there a way that you can implement checklists? Who knows, it may make you more efficient. And um, have I got my phone, keys, wallet and lunchbox?
By Ray Petersen