The checklist. A simple, no-frills tool that can unlock productivity, increase cost effectiveness, and lessen stress. You may not think much of it now, but I’m here to show you what you’ve been missing. Find out how this one, simple, free mechanism can help improve your business and even your life.
The Truth About Checklists
Most people have used a checklist at some point in their life, but few have really understood what they are good for. And because of that, most of us have not implemented checklists where they can be most useful.
Checklists are not just a master list of all the items you need to do or an instruction manual on how to do them. The most productive ones are a list of steps that, if not completed, could lead to failure of the overall task.
Several years ago during an IT conference, I was recommended to read a book that helped me understand the real-world use of checklists. It’s called the Checklist Manifesto, and I’ve linked to it below.
The book covers when you should create checklists, how to use them, and importantly, getting your team to want to use them. At Infinity, we use SOPs and checklists to ensure high quality, repeatable results, and I now use them personally in all kinds of ways from planning a house repair project, organizing a photography shoot, or something as simple as preparing and packing what I need for a trip.
Case Study: The Life-Saving Checklist
I know you haven’t been converted yet, and I don’t want to take the best examples out of the book for you. So let’s look at the incredible effectiveness of a simple checklist in this article in the New Yorker by the author of the book. About halfway through, he talks about Peter Pronovost, a critical care specialist at Johns Hopkins Hospital in 2001.
Pronovost decided to use a checklist to tackle just one problem he saw among the many thousands that trauma patients can suffer from. He wrote down the 5 “no-brainer” steps medical professionals should follow to avoid infections when putting a line in a patient. These steps, starting with ‘wash hands with soap,’ have been taught and known for years. But after giving the 5 step checklist to nurses in the ICU who observed and recorded the doctors for a month, they found at least 1 step was skipped in over a third of patients.
With that information, they next authorized the nurses to intervene when they saw a doctor skipping a step. And while uncomfortable for some, the nurses had the full support of the administration. After monitoring for a year, they found the ten-day line-infection rate went from eleven percent to zero.
“So they followed patients for fifteen more months. Only two line infections occurred during the entire period. They calculated that, in this one hospital, the checklist had prevented forty-three infections and eight deaths, and saved two million dollars in costs.”
All that from writing down the 5 simple steps that “everyone knows” for just one procedure.
How to Implement Checklists
Now, many employees will, at first glance, balk or take offense to the idea of using a checklist. Like the doctors did initially, they see it as someone telling them they do not know what they are doing. But it is not about knowing how to do your task as much as it is verifying that each critical step has been accomplished prior to issues arising.
In our daily lives, with so many interruptions—far more, one could argue, than in 2001—it is easy to get off track and miss a step that could erode all the work you’re trying to accomplish. Especially when so many tasks have become increasingly specialized and require complex instructions to complete. This complexity increases the likelihood that you could forget a step, especially on repetitive tasks.
So why not remove the risk of having to remember? Why not document the process everyone follows and ensure better outcomes?
As I said, I’m a fan and user of checklists after reading this book. I would highly recommend it to anyone.
Get The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right. Please note, neither I nor Infinity have any affiliation with this book or will receive any compensation for sharing this link. It’s just included to save you a step if you are interested in it.