The Power of Checklists

I’m not a big fan of reinventing the wheel. Once I figure something out, I don’t want to have to waste the time to figure it out again in the future. For that reason, I am a frequent creator and user of checklists.

When I was younger, my memory was sharp enough that I simply remembered everything. When I was in high school taking geometry, I learned the acronym SOHCAHTOA which explains how to figure out the sine, cosine, and tangent of a triangle. I scoffed at this acronym, thinking that I would always remember how to calculate those three functions. At age 14, anything I learned appeared to be in my brain for good. (I have long since forgotten the formulas but still remember SOHCAHTOA!)

Once you get to be a grownup, the brain just isn’t so fresh anymore, and life is also more complicated. So I’ve been documenting things that take me time to figure out and that I suspect will stymie me again in the future. I’m also in the habit of updating my checklists after I use them — by clarifying items that weren’t documented as clearly as I thought, or by adding items that I realized were missing the last time I used the list. It’s a great relief to me to know that I can pull up one of my checklists and benefit from my past experience.

The Checklist ManifestoA few years ago, I read a book by Atul Gawande called “The Checklist Manifesto” which explained how checklists can save lives. As a surgeon, he discovered that creating checklists for the many steps required before, during, and after a surgical procedure, ensured that nothing was overlooked. He also applied his process to other professions and found that checklists can benefit many other areas besides surgery. It’s a fun book to read.

Here are some of the checklists I’ve created and used over and over again to save me time and be more efficient:

  • How to enter certain transactions into QuickBooks and Quicken (my business and personal financial software, respectively).
  • How to make modifications to my web site.
  • How to download specific reports from financial web sites.
  • What supplies I need to bring with me when I work the front desk at my theatre group for auditions or performances.
  • What to pack when I travel.
  • Instructions for the dog sitter who stays here when when we go away on trips.

I’ve even added pictures to some of my checklists, such as the software how-tos.  It’s a little time-consuming to create but saves me a lot of time each time I use it. Remember, a picture is worth a thousand words!

Next time you find yourself struggling to remember how to do something you once knew how to do, or neglect to bring something that you remembered but then forgot because you didn’t write it down, create a checklist so that it doesn’t happen again. Be sure to give your document an easy-to-remember name, since you don’t want to be frustrated in the future because you can’t find your checklist!

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