The Power of Checklists

I am a private pilot.

I’ve had my license since 2008. I don’t fly as much as I’d like (it is a rather expensive hobby) but when I do fly, it’s an amazing experience. I’ve learned a lot about myself in the process, too. I can multitask, I can handle myself under pressure, and I can make decisions quickly based on the available data. All things a good pilot – and a good leader – should be able to do. And I owe much of that to checklists.

I receive a magazine each month called Flight Training produced by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (www.aopa.org). It’s full of great articles that keep me apprised of new legislation or rules regarding flying, new products and services that are available, and, of course, toys and gadgets for the discriminating pilot.

In the March issue of Flight Training, there’s an article by David Jack Kenny called “Time to Think.” The article was about checklists and why all pilots rely on them to ensure not only safety but also efficiency in the cockpit. Checklists take undue pressure off the pilot and crew when a crisis arises and they need to make decisions quickly. Kenny points out some of the harrowing incidents that happen when checklists aren’t followed.

Pilots use checklists. Doctors use checklists. SCUBA divers use checklists. Curiously, most businesses and business owners do NOT make use of checklists.

“(Checklists) not only offer the possibility of verification but also instill a kind of discipline of higher performance.”

– Atul Gawande, MD, “The Checklist Manifesto”

Immediate Benefits of Checklists

Checklists definitely have a place in business. I use checklists all the time; things to do, shopping lists, and when I want to remember the formatting for ads or to remember all of the steps required to update my website. Checklists actually relieve some of the pressures and allow me to be more productive. I don’t have to re-learn things; I just follow the steps!

Here are three ways checklists can help your business:

Organization

If your business requires certain procedures to be done in a specific order, that’s a perfect opportunity to create a checklist. Intake forms, customer order forms, inventory control forms are all types of checklists that will help you stay organized and make sure you don’t miss an important step. A key piece of information missed could cause major headaches down the line.

Productivity

Checklists will help keep your teams running smoothly and efficiently. They define who does what, when, and with what specific tool or application or machine. Repetitive tasks can become mundane and it’s easy to let critical steps fall through the cracks. Checklists ensure that things are done in their proper order and that nothing is missed.

Delegation

Sometimes, it’s hard to let go. If you’ve ever struggled with turning a task over to an employee, you know what I mean. You’ve done the task so often, it’s something you enjoy doing, or it’s something that is crucial to your business and you want it done right; every time. It’s hard to just hand that responsibility over to someone without feeling that sense of dread in the pit of your stomach.  That’s where the checklist comes in. By handing over the task plus the checklist that outlines the steps to complete it the way you want it done, you can sit back and breath a tiny sigh of relief.

Checklists are easy to create. Simply write down each step you take when completing the task. Using that draft checklist, go back through the steps- or better yet, have someone unfamiliar with the task go through the process using your checklist – and verify the accuracy. Make any final adjustments and you’re done! Repeat this for all of your tasks.

And, if you’re going to be smart about it, have all of your employees document the steps that they follow to complete their tasks. Verify each checklist before publishing them and making them available to your team.

You’ve just created a major part of your Operations Manual and Training Manual. Imagine how easy it will be to onboard a new employee. Just assign them tasks, hand them a checklist and they are will on their way to productivity.

Checklists will keep you organized, productive, and give you the ability to delegate tasks to employees or colleagues. If the task is something repetitive and something that needs to be done right every time, make a checklist.


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