Books We Love: The Checklist Manifesto

Reviewed by Emily D. Tisdale

For most of us, it’s a fact that if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing right.

But when you have a dozen important and increasingly complicated somethings and a (very) limited amount of time in which to do them, mistakes can happen to the best of us.

No matter what industry you’re in, there’s probably a task or two that always seems to take longer than you think, but still doesn’t turn out exactly as you planned. You know there must be a better way to do this, but how?

According to the author, Atul Gawande, the answer could be as simple and easy as creating checklists for some of your tasks.

Things We Learned

Not All Checklists are Created Equal

A checklist is a tool, not a dictator. Above all, it should help you finish a task, not bog you down.

In the past, we’ve had problems creating and implementing our own checklists because we believed that every single step had to be spelled out in excruciating detail. The results were long, tedious, overly complicated checklists that actually made some tasks more time-consuming.

But the truth is, a good checklist should turn your brain on, not switch it off.

Your checklists can be efficient, precise, and easy to use without explaining things in unnecessary detail. Don’t think of your checklists as step-by-step instructions. Think of them as guides that provide reminders of only the most critical and important steps – ones that even highly skilled individuals could miss. Which brings us to our next point…


There’s No Shame in Needing a Guide

You’re probably already using a to-do list in one form or another, but many of us balk at the idea of creating a checklist for even a very complex task.

In Western culture, from the time that we’re young, we’re told that after just a little bit of practice, we should be able to perform a task perfectly… Anything less is just asking for the dreaded Imposter Syndrome to rear its ugly head.

And to that, we respectfully say, “Kiss our grits.”

By ensuring that we’ll never have to worry about leaving something undone during a complex task, checklists free us to focus instead on problem solving and innovation.


Checklists Aren’t a Complete Solution

A well-written checklist certainly can feel like magic, but they are just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to efficiency.

You may have the perfect checklist, but if you can’t make someone follow it, then the checklist is useless. In the end, nothing beats actual communication with your team.

For example, a good checklist will assume that your team member has a basic, working knowledge of her subject area. But what if your employee is unfamiliar with some part of the process? Simply handing someone a checklist and expecting that to be the end of your conversation is not only unfair, it invites many potential problems.

And as time passes, your team members should be comfortable with suggesting changes to the checklist so that it continues to function well in the real world.

Favorite Quote

It somehow feels beneath us to use a checklist, an embarrassment. It runs counter to deeply held beliefs about how the truly great among us—those we aspire to be—handle situations of high stakes and complexity. The truly great are daring. They improvise. They do not have protocols and checklists. Maybe our idea of heroism needs updating.

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