Why Use Checklists?
When you are working on your business you are probably multi-tasking and dealing with all sorts of distractions. This can make it easy to forget to do certain tasks or mean having to spend time trying to remember how to complete a specific activity. When you are under pressure or rushing to complete something it is easy to forget a small but important step in your process. This is where checklists can be valuable to help you get things done.
Checklists for business processes
In the context of business processes, we are discussing process/procedure checklists rather than checking off items on a to-do list. With a checklist associated with a process or procedure, you write down all the steps or tasks needed to complete an activity or process. The list of tasks does not change which means that you can use the same checklist every time you carry out that particular activity/process. To-do lists will typically have new items added once earlier ones are completed and additional tasks are identified.
Key Checklist Concepts
It is easy to forget the exactly what needs to be done to complete an activity or set of tasks. In many cases not only must you complete a set of steps but these must be done in a specific order. Checklists are a simple tool that can help improve the effectiveness of individuals or teams carrying out complex tasks.
A checklist will help ensure that important steps of a task are not missed out.
Perhaps the seminal, and certainly the best known, work on checklists is The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawunde. The author is a surgeon who recognised how useful checklists could be for patient care where a large number of staff are involved in the process, each carrying out different tasks and with different responsibilities. Gawunde introduced a simple checklist to a number of hospitals during a research study and patient deaths fell by 47%.
Examples uses for Checklists
- Pilots must complete a checklist before every take-off
- If you have ever listened to a shuttle launch you will have heard the controllers working through a checklist that ensures each part of mission control is ready
- Human Resources
- New employee ‘on-boarding’ processes
- Virtual Assistants
- Providing your worker with a precise set of steps to follow to complete their assigned tasks.
Benefits of Checklists
- Checklists ensure that the essential tasks get done. Even if a step is very simple it can still be forgotten. Checklists also stop the use of ‘initiative’ by those following them, i.e. where they think they know better than those who designed the process.
- They help avoid distractions by forcing you to only do the tasks that are on the checklist
- Checklists free the mind from having to remember the steps that need to be completed and worrying about the possibility of forgetting to do something.
- Checklists can save time. Having the steps written simply and in order makes them easy to follow and is likely to result in less errors, therefore avoiding time wasted needing to fix issues. They also help avoid the time-wasting “what-should-I-do-next” indecision as the checklist tells you what to do next.
- Checklists provide discipline and consistency. Depending on your business lives might depend on the process being completed correctly. The use of checklists can help when things go wrong – providing evidence of whether a particular step was completed.
- Checklists can improve productivity – there is something that humans find satisfying about ticking items off a list and research has shown that using checklists make us more likely to complete tasks. This fits well into the new theories of ‘gamification’.
Types of Checklists
There are two types of checklists, according to Daniel Boorman of Boeing, who was consulted by Gawunde:
- Read-Do: you read each step of the task, and then perform them in order, checking them off as you go
- Do-Confirm: you perform a number of steps of the task from memory until you reach a defined pause point, when you go through the checklist and confirm that each step has been completed.
- Start with areas of your business where you have been experiencing issues with processes you carry out regularly.
- Make sure the checklist focuses on the most important things that need to be done for the task to be successful.
- Each item on the checklist should be non-negotiable and be your single focus of attention, having only a yes/no or go/no-go style that prevents you moving forward in the list until you have checked off the item. This is how the checklists used by pilots’ work, ensuring that each item checked is air-worthy before continuing through the list. As a passenger you would not want the plane to take off unless EVERY item in the checklist had been confirmed as air-worthy. Imagine if the pilot marked one item as “maybe okay” or “couldn’t check this one”!
- Test the checklist to make sure it delivers the required outcomes. It is very likely that you will miss out steps when you first create the checklist. If appropriate, have someone else use the checklist and confirm that they can use it successfully to complete the activity.
Some advice for creating Checklists
- Keep it simple (1) – use short, precise, easy to understand descriptions of the tasks
- Keep it simple (2) – keep the list to one page if possible
- Make it easy to use – include a checkbox or leave a space to mark items complete
- Review it regularly – looking to edit and simplify the tasks involved
- If using pause points – no more than ten items between pauses, preferably five to seven
Where to build your Checklists
- Use a word processing program or a create a spreadsheet. Ideal if you want to be able to print out the checklists you create.
- Use Google Tasks, ToDo or similar task management applications on your laptop or smartphone. These options provide a useful digital alternative to paper checklists.
Other Checklist Resources
I recommend listening to these two great podcasts that discuss the benefits of checklists:
- Episode 6 of The Productivity Power Up podcast provides a number of useful examples of checklists and includes a cool story about how David Lee Roth of the band Van Halen uses checklists. Check out the podcast by visiting productivitypowerup.com
- Episode 78 of the podcast Teaching In High Ed: Faculty Development is another good introduction to the power of checklists