Checking my list, and checking it twice?
I’ve touted the power of lists on this blog many times. I use lists for almost every plan I make. But something I haven’t directly talked about are checklists. There is a whole bunch of science behind the saving power of checklists, and they come in handy, too.
A great podcast I’ve been listening to for a while now is NPR’s Hidden Brain with host Shankar Vedantam. Way back in 2017 they first aired an episode called Check Yourself, about how checklists can save lives in the operating room and behind the flight panel in a commercial airplane.
The idea is, when stakes are high, if you know what to expect (or even what not to expect!) you can plan ahead and be ready for most possibilities.
In fact, there’s even research that shows a decrease in catheter-related bloodstream infections in the ICU after implementing a checklist for how to insert and monitor IV lines. I know that I’ve seen posters at my local hospital that explain what an IV should look like and what are the classic signs it has gone wrong. If everyone knows what to look for and when to report to a nurse, then the outcomes have a higher chance of success.
So how do you implement these models in your own life and work? That’s a great question! Of course it will always differ depending on what you’re doing and what kind of outcome you are seeking, but lets run through some examples.
When I on-board a new client, I have a a checklist I go through. It includes the paperwork I need my client to fill out before our first meeting and after our first meeting, the opening of physical and digital folders on my end to contain that paperwork, and readying of the invoicing process. Depending on the type of client (reiki, mentoring, etc) it may include sending some info sheets or an on-boarding starter kit. But suffice it to say, I have a checklist to help me remember this process.
Another place I have created a checklist is for the writing and publishing of books. I recently self-published my first book through Amazon KDP and the process was easy enough that I have the next in the works already and several other ideas! My checklist looks a little something like this:
- write the book!
- page numbers
- front/back/spine cover
- find editor
- make edits
- format again (watch page numbering)
- table of contents
Each step can be big or small. For example, the reason step 10 isn’t somewhere closer to the top comes from my first run at this, when I realized after editing, some of my page numbers changed and I needed to update my Table of Contents again. Since I don’t use page numbers on the actual pre-amble parts of the book, it served me to move this step down in the checklist. And the note with step 9 is because of how complicated I found numbering different sections of the book in Google Docs (my preferred document formatting platform).
Somewhere you might use a checklist is when you host an event. Whether it’s a surprise 50th birthday party or a regular family holiday gathering, a checklist can be extremely important and keep you (and those you’ve delegated to) on task. You would sit down and create the checklist before even inviting the guests. The list could include setting a date, making a guest list, sending out invitations, tracking the RSVPs, ordering the supplies, organizing the food (especially if it’s pot-luck style!), arranging the venue (whether that’s to be at your home or out in the community), decorating, and etc. You would include any specific steps you need between inception and the event itself. Some things you might add to the contingencies part of the checklist: if there is a spill, did you bring/set aside a simple way to clean this up. If someone in unruly (especially if there is alcohol involved in the event) is there a designated place where they can chill out and calm down, or someone keyed in to the management role for this necessity. If guests are late to arrive, can you push the start of your event? A checklist can begin to get quite verbose, but I’m willing to bet you’ll thank your lucky stars if something happens that you’ve planned ahead for and you aren’t pulled away from your event to handle it yourself.
So, like I said, your checklist will be personal and specific to your task. But if you have a task you complete often, like chores, morning/bedtime routines, exercise, or hosting large events, the science behind checklists is known. If you plan for what you want to happen, and list what could go wrong and your contingency plans, you’ll be twice as prepared as if you just dove in to the task headfirst!