Making Your List, Checking it Twice

by Starla J. King on June 21, 2011

I tried something different this time.

As usual, getting ready for a 2.5 day business-ish retreat (Big Fish Nation’s Starfish Retreat in the NY Adirondacks), I started stressing about the preparation process at the end of last week.   You know the deal, right?  Standard work week schedule gets turned upside down, and all the neat little pieces scatter to God knows where if you’re not paying close attention.

  • Deliverables for clients
  • Packing 34 different outfits for 12 activties in 29 different possibilities of weather
  • 42 books (must have THE perfect book available at ALL times for ANY mood)
  • 3 notebooks (spiritual journal, general note-taking, and the one reserved for my big soul-projects)
  • Goals and vision story
  • Directions (printed, in the smart phone, and in the GPS of course), and
  • Most importantly, 91 varieties of travel snacks. 

Oh shoot, almost forgot the cell phone charger.  And my iPod. 

Wait, did I pack my Kindle?  (why then need 42 paper & ink books? I like words! leave me alone!)

Hair dryer? ah, not needed after all. fresh haircut = scruff ‘n’ go.

You get the picture.

Just so happens I recently read The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande.  I think I love that man. And definitely love my coach who pointed out the book to me.

Because of this book, it’s the night before I leave for this trip (at 5:30 AM, mind you!), and I’m calmly writing a blog post (one day early, thank you very much!) instead of having a frenzied meltdown.  

I’m all set.  Ready to roll.  Time to spare.  Nerves resting like a pile of sleeping puppies.

All because I created — and used — a checklist.

Checklists are not a new idea, I know that.  But the incredible power of using checklists I think often goes unnoticed, glossed over because of their simplicity.  How can simple also be powerful and effective, right?

Well, I challenge you to read The Checklist Manifesto and come out without a certain reverence for checklists.  The plane that crash-landed on the Hudson and nobody died?  A big part of that was because the pilots used their “when birds fly into the engines” checklist.  I kid you not.

Lives get saved in operating rooms because of checklists.

Buildings get built safely because of checklists.

Investors make amazingly wise investments time and time again because of checklists.

And we remember to take our toothbrushes on a retreat with us because of checklists.

Our worlds are becoming more and more complex with each day (don’t look at my email IN box.  You WILL run screaming.  And my To Do list is actually a To Do notebook with tabs all over it). 

We can only retain a certain amount of information, and process a limited number of simultaneous information streams.  We are pretty much guaranteed to miss something if we rely on our memories and our “old” (pre- social media) ways to keep our wits about us.

My suggestion for dealing with this?  The checklist.

Use the checklists for our personal stuff.  Then take the checklist to our businesses.  To the errors we keep making.  To the things that seem to consistently go wrong.    As Gawande says,

“We don’t study routine failures in teaching, in law, in government programs, in the financial industry, or elsewhere.  We don’t look for the patterns of our recurrent mistakes or devise and refine potential solutions for them.

But we could, and that is the ultimate point.  We are all plagued by failures — by missed sublteties, overlooked knowledge, and outright errors…

[The pilots trying to figure out how to fly the ridiculously complex Model 299 bomber], “they chose to accept their fallibilities. they recognized the simp;licity and power of using a checklist.

And so can we.  Indeed, against the complexity of the world, we must. There is no other choice.  When we look closely, we recognize the same balls being dropped over and over, even by those of great ability and determination.   we know the patterns.  We see the costs. It’s time to try something else.

Try a checklist.”

Yes, what he said.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Nona June 22, 2011 at 7:41 am

Uhm, I love checklists. I have scads of them. They make me weep with joy.

And I always bring the kindle and 16 paper books and 4 journals. On every trip.

Thank god my husband puts the iphone charger on HIS list.



Starla J. King June 26, 2011 at 7:50 pm

No wonder I love you, Nona!!!


rebecca p cohen June 22, 2011 at 7:56 am

From the side of not having checklists except when absolutely necessary (which, when I do make one by the way, everything does get done!), I can see the benefit of having them more often. And from experiencing the road trip to the what will be an amazing retreat with such an organized person beside me, let’s hope your skills rub off on me!


Starla J. King June 26, 2011 at 8:03 pm

Rebecca, we’re back now… are you creating checklists yet?!?!?! 🙂


Priya June 30, 2011 at 4:00 pm

Yes! And the most empowering part of check-lists? When you can cross things off! What a great feeling 🙂


Starla J. King July 1, 2011 at 10:00 am

Priya, that is SOOO true!!! Amazing how such a small act (a check mark) can make the heart soar.


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