Checklist can be defined as: ”A list of all the things that you need to do, information that you need to find out, or things that you need to take somewhere, which you make sure in order to ensure that you don´t forget anything.”
Checklists help us to manage complexity
You and I live in the era, in which complexity has overcome our ability to remember all the necessary things for doing something which requires expertise. We have a natural ability to deal with approximately ten pieces of information. Bigger amount of information exceeds the capacity of our working memory. Simplifying things can help us, but sometimes things are too complex and the consequences too severe. For example, pilots need to have checklists for take-off, flight, landing and taxiing. The cost of failing to memorize all the items from the checklists could be a fatal accident with hundreds of people dying. Routines are easily forgotten under the stress or boredom. They can also be skipped, even though you remember them, because their importance can be dismissed. Checklists protect you from failures like these. My problem with a checklists are that I forget to have them with me or I forget to use them while I have them. I rely too much on my memory.
Creating a checklist
You need to make decisions concerning on the checklist you are creating. You need to define a situation where it is used. You need to decide a time a place and conditions to use and create it. For example, a shopping list is created at home, going through a refrigerator and a freezer to find out what is missing, used as soon as you get inside of the store by striking through all the items until they are finished. You must also decide whether you want to have a do-confirm checklist, in which you perform the action first and then see the checklist and overwrite all the performed actions from the checklist. You may want to have a read-do checklist, in which you first read the item from the checklist and then perform the action. Then, after the action you overwrite the item from the checklist. Choosing the right way of using the list depends on the situation.
You also need to choose which items belong to the checklist and how it looks like. Simplicity and avoiding the most crucial mistakes are the most important things. Checklists shouldn´t be too long. You shouldn´t have more than ten items, especially, when the failure to go through them could be fatal. You should keep the list shorter by focusing the most lethal items. These are the steps that are easiest to overlook and the most dangerous to skip. The reason for this is that your attention starts easily to disrupt, when the checklist takes too long to go through. It is better to have many checklists in that case. A checklist should be no longer than one page. It shouldn´t have any waste or unnecessary colors and can have both uppercase and lowercase letters.
Using and creating a checklist is not a fast and desirable routine
Without testing the checklist in the real world, it will probably fail to fulfill its purpose. Finding an optimal checklist for the purpose you create requires trial and error. You need to study the failures the first versions of checklists provide. You have them optimize it gradually. Start with one change. When you see it work make another change until you are done. You will probably need to continuously improve it. When things change, you need to change the checklist. A checklist is only a tool for helping you. If it doesn´t help, refine it. If you cannot make it work, forget it.
It also takes time to use the checklist. You must create a habit to use the list first. This takes time from weeks to months depending on the task and how often you have done things differently in similar situations. Most of the people do not like checklists. They make you feel like you are like a child who needs continuous help. They are embarrassing to some extent. Nobody wants to show their checklists to others. You should see it differently. Checklists help you to get all the routines away from your mind. And you can start concentrating on the things that require deep thinking. You have to accept that your ability to remember all the things is restricted. Checklists help you. See them as a tool, instead of humiliation or a sign of weakness.
I have a simple list of psychological biases that have effects on me, when I am making bigger decisions. It looks like this:
- Association bias
- Availability bias
- Authority bias
- Social proof
- Scarcity bias
I will get into these biases later, when I start going through them. What is your checklist for biases?
Have a nice week!