How To Create A Checklist - The Secrets To Making Great Checklists

I was wondering how to create a checklist, so I picked up the book The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right, by Dr. Atul Gawande.

how to create a checklist
Pilot Going Over His Preflight Checklist
Photo courtesy of irishmexi
I have to confess, the book was not exactly what I expected based on the title, because it mainly discussed how checklist use was being pioneered in the medical field, to help with medical care around the world. It drew a lot of comparisons with pilot checklists, and checklists used by the construction industry when building large scale projects.

Obviously, with this topic there wasn't too much discussion of how to create a checklist for use in the home, which is where I am interested in using checklists.

I didn't stop reading (OK, actually listening to the book on CD) though because I did end up enjoying it, just as an interesting read. What I found interesting was that in the medical community some really dumb mistakes that should be avoidable are made because of simple human error under pressure situations.

Therefore, doctors and other health care providers are learning how to create a checklist, and then use it, to keep them from forgetting the dumb and easy stuff, like to lay sterile gowns over all parts of the patient's body before inserting a line.

These checklists allows the medical providers to use their brains for the tough stuff instead.

That got me thinking -- that is basically what checklists are for in our homes too. Everyone knows we need to flip the mattress once a quarter or so, but who remembers this piece of useless trivia while trying to deal with more important matters with your family and home?

I believe creating schedules and checklists for our household notebooks is an important part of effective household management.

Our household notebooks become the "brains" of our homes, which keep the heart beating (i.e., clean clothing and dishes) without us really having to think about it.

That, of course, assumes that the checklists are actually well made and useful.

The Checklist Manifesto also had a very small section which gave some very useful advice on how to create a checklist, which is what I wanted to share with you here.

I found this information useful in drafting the checklists I have created for this site, although I am sure none of them are perfect.

Two Types Of Checklists

There are two types of checklists, a DO-CONFIRM checklist, and a READ-DO checklist, which have different functions.

When considering how to create a checklist for yourself you need to have clear in your mind which type you are creating, and make sure the task you want performed will fit within the framework.

DO-CONFIRM Checklist

A DO-CONFIRM checklist allows you to just get the task at hand done, and then to stop at a designated point and check the checklist to confirm all the steps were done.

This type of checklist is useful for when something is already a routine, but you just want to spot check and make sure you didn't forget anything.

Further, a DO-CONFIRM checklist will only work if the steps of the task don't have to be done in a sequential order, in case you forget one you can just do it at the end, instead of having to redo previous work because of the forgotten task.

READ-DO Checklist

A READ-DO checklist is one where you are meant to carry out the specific tasks, step by step, and then check them off as you go along, after completing each new step.

Once you think about it, we are all quite familiar with a READ-DO checklist because this is basically what a recipe is.

A READ-DO checklist is important to use when you don't know how to perform the tasks required, or when doing a step at a certain time is critical to the success of the entire project.

Good Versus Bad Checklists

There are some distinct differences between a good and a bad checklist, which can make the difference between the checklist actually helping you or just laying abandoned in a folder.

Good checklists have some or all of these qualities:

  • Brief (rule of thumb is 5-9 items) (this is more critical for READ-DO checklists than for DO-CONFIRM checklists)
  • Big, easy to read type (use uppercase and lowercase text for ease of reading)
  • Few lines on each page (for most things best to be only one page long)
  • Lists the most important (and/or most often forgotten items), while not having to list every single step and possible contingency
  • Precise
  • Practical

Refine Your Checklist

You won't get your checklist exactly right the first time.

When pilots create new checklists they don't just slap them in a binder and take them out the first time an emergency happens.

They test them thoroughly in a simulator, so they can confirm the directions are clear and concise, it is easily readable, and critical steps have not been left out, or take out extraneous steps which make a pilot lose focus on the true emergency issue.

Fortunately in our home our checklists are not dealing with life or death situations, but I have found I have to go back and tweak them when I first create them.

Further, even if the checklist worked fine for years, if there is a change such as a new baby or job or something you may need to change it or completely overhaul it then.

I hope these ideas will help you learn how to create a checklist for your household notebook or other area of your life that really does its job well, which is to help you do yours!

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