Simply put, a checklist is a list of items for consideration. They can come in several forms, like a list of questions or actions to be carried out. They can be accompanied by check boxes that can be ticked off when that list item has been completed. People accept the results of a completed checklist as reliable and true. Thus, it is used as a memory aid or a job tool to make sure all issues have been considered.

Why We Fail

The human brain is said to be capable of holding 4.7 million books in memory. And yet, there is no lack of documented failures in our history. So, why do people still fail, even though we are capable of holding a great amount of information and use a considerable number of skills? According to philosophers, we fail for 2 reasons: ignorance and ineptitude. We fail, firstly, because we do not have the information to perform a task. We fail also because, although we have the information, we are unable to apply it consistently and correctly. The real problems are getting the information and methods in our brain, and managing them effectively once they are inside.

Getting Information In

Getting information in our brain to help us succeed is a problem of effort and attention. A psychologist who won a Nobel Prize tells of 2 systems in our brain. System 1 is a fast system that lets us function with minimal effort. We use this system automatically to do things that feel natural and intuitive. System 2 is a slow system that requires conscious, deliberate thought that takes much effort. We use this when making big decisions and solving problems. Instinctively, we prefer to use System 1, and that is why our brain loves checklists. Checklists are familiar and concise.

Managing Information Within

The other reason we fail is because the great amount of information in our head becomes unmanageable sometimes. People with complex jobs hold an enormous amount of knowledge and experience. These highly trained, highly skilled people are usually also the hardworking people with important or critical responsibilities. Over time, they become prone to make mistakes when the need to apply these knowledge and experience comes. This is where a simple checklist can make them better at their jobs without having to spend more time than necessary.

Effectiveness of Checklists

Using a checklist in the workspace can save lives in the operating room, can prevent a building from collapsing, or stop an innocent person from going to jail. Checklists can improve performance in the job and help people achieve more consistent results. They are explicit reminders of the minimum necessary steps. They are methods of verification, and they support a discipline toward higher performance. Checklists are designed carefully to ensure basic checks are always completed before performing an important task.

Characteristics of a good checklist

Atul Gawande, author of The Checklist Manifesto, made some suggestions what a good checklist looks like.

  • First, it is unique to its users. Having a standard checklist is a start, but users need to customize it to fit their exact requirements and workflow.
  • A good checklist promotes a culture of teamwork and discipline. Checking off boxes is not the ultimate goal.
  • A good checklist is reviewed and refined. The only thing constant is change, as they say.
  • A good checklist is precise, efficient, and easy to use, even in the most difficult situations. It should be practical enough to remind users of only the most important steps. It should not replace experience, training or skills.

Using checklists in your favorite apps

Today’s project management software and productivity tools include some form of checklists to help users in managing their work efficiently. Asana teams who normally follow certain workflows can create their own custom template or use a pre-built template. Therefore, they can set up a workflow without having to start from scratch or miss any step.

Trello users can add a checklist to their cards to keep track of subtasks in their cards. Furthermore, they can add multiple checklists in a single card. Basecamp users can use To-do lists to divide their tasks in their Project, Team, or HQ.

AceProject has a recurring task module that takes away all the burden of creating and editing repetitive work assignments. Whichever app you are using, Bridge24 can integrate with any of them and provide enhanced reporting and exporting capabilities.

Is there a danger from using checklists?

Checklists help prevent failures and promote productivity. The danger is not in the checklists themselves but in how people use them. Sound management practices are not interchangeable with management by checklists. When people use checklists for everything, they develop a fatigue for them. As a result, they just ignore them, which defeats the very purpose of checklists. Checklists are primarily for reference. It is not a replacement for good training and well-developed skills.

Benefits of using Checklists in the Workplace

A checklist is a standardized list of required steps developed usually for repetitive tasks. It provides several benefits. It helps people stay more organized, assuring them they will not skip any important step in the process. A checklist motivates us to take action and complete tasks. Small wins and the goal-gradient effect encourage us to reach our goals. Checklists help us move quickly, be more efficient, and save time. This in turn allows us to focus on more creative activities. It helps us be more specific, and be more confident when delegating tasks. Evidence shows that the simple checklist can help save lives. It enables us also to be better in taking care of our customers.

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