The Power of Checklists

We should probably keep a checklist to keep up with all our checklists.           

In his 2011 book The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right (Picador Press), author Atul Gawande lays out the case for checklists: “the volume and complexity of what we know has exceeded our individual ability to deliver its benefits correctly, safely, or reliably.”

Gawande is a surgeon. He developed his ideas for The Checklist Manifesto based on his experience in the operating room and from conversations with other surgeons about “wins” and catastrophic failures. Gawande’s anecdotal research suggests that sometimes we fail because of ignorance (not having access to knowledge or enough of it), and other times because of incompetence. We have the knowledge but fail to apply it correctly.

We are not perfect 100% of the time. We don’t always remember everything. Why is this?

We store our memories in three areas: first in the sensory stage; then in short-term memory, and for some things, in long-term memory. Because remembering everything would overload our brains, human memory has three areas of storage to help us prioritize what’s important.

Unfortunately, what we forget to do could be hugely important to our jobs. Think of surgeons, airline pilots and tree trimmers. Remembering the operating room protocol, the landing and take-off procedure, and the guidelines for operating a chainsaw is important, not only to the professional, but the patient, passengers and bystanders.

According to Richard C. Mohs, Ph.D. of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine Department of Psychiatry, your short-term memory has a fairly limited capacity; it can hold about seven items for no more than 20 or 30 seconds at a time.

Long-term memory, on the other hand, can store unlimited amounts of information indefinitely. But information must first pass through sensory and short-term memory before it can be stored as a long-term memory.

This is why we are so frequently forgetful and why we need checklists.

Gawande goes on to say “Good checklists, on the other hand are precise. They are efficient, to the point, and easy to use even in the most difficult situations. They do not try to spell out everything–a checklist cannot fly a plane. Instead, they provide reminders of only the most critical and important steps.”

Luckily, there is a reward center in the brain to help us with our tiny tasks.

When we experience even tiny amounts of success (“small victories”), our brains release dopamine, a chemical which is connected to feelings of pleasure, learning and motivation. When we feel the effects of dopamine, we want to repeat the actions that resulted in success in the first place

Checking items off of a checklist releases small amounts of dopamine that then fuel us to keep checking off more items. Neuroscientists call this “self-directed” learning.

Checklists can be especially useful in a workplace setting when dealing with highly complicated and collaborative projects.

Checklists should be made up of small, actionable tasks that feel doable to the individuals and teams working to complete them. They should be Smart (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-bound).

Another recent trend in checklist development is “gamification,” where you take normal mundane tasks and turn them into fun activities with competitions and rewards.

Gamification plays directly into many apps on smartphones. Your exercise app gives you a gold star for completing your step goal for the day. Chore Wars is a multi-player productivity app with obstacle courses, featuring monsters and treasures, that elevates mundane domestic tasks like doing dishes, taking out the trash or cleaning up your room. The project management productivity app Trello is developing an interesting approach to complex, collaborative workflows in the workplace,

We know the challenges of running complex restaurant and grocery operations, with thousands of static and moving parts, and a growing complexity due to customer preferences and regulatory compliance.

We spend a lot of time thinking about checklists as they relate to POS Software, especially intelligent checklists which were created for operators for:

  • High-quality outcomes
  • Ease of use
  • Employee compliance
  • Product safety and quality

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