How do you decrease infections in an intensive care unit, ensure an aircraft is correctly configured at take-off, and serve the same burger at every MacDonald’s around the world? The secrets to these successes lie with the humble checklist.

Checklists are well recognised as a simple, but powerful tool to ensure consistency and help eliminate human error. Most notably, checklists have been introduced in medicine and piloting planes. These are two areas where the complexity or urgency of a situation make it more likely for the basics to be forgotten. Even the most proficient experts can throw established best practice out of the window and start to trouble-shoot based on instinct when faced with a crisis. Checklists have been shown to make sure the pre-planned, strategically considered fundamentals are followed with discipline whatever the unique circumstances might be.

And if a brain surgeon or a jumbo jet pilot can benefit from a checklist, surely a mere mortal can? It might not be the difference between life and death, but ordinary existence has its fair share of complexity and ‘emergencies’. Many of us overlook the basic steps that need to be repeated over and over in order to achieve long term goals. Instead, we look for the uniquely genius insight and fail to build upon tried and tested methods. After all, it’s way more appealing to spend the day researching new stocks to trade in than sitting down every fortnight to create a budget, but which one is more likely to help you achieve your financial goals? And how often do these tasks fail to become habits, because life itself keeps getting in the way?

I’ve introduced a number of regular checklists, to help me ensure that I’m on track with what I want to achieve and that my daily, weekly and annual activities line up with my long term goals. It also help me set and forget things that I want to do at less regular intervals, such as my annual dental check-up.

My checklists are ‘Do-Confirm’ style, in that I use them to check that I’m not overlooking anything that I consider important but might not necessarily need to take action on every single item. I have tweaked them over a number of years to put items under the right frequency of checking and are not ‘over-checking’ items. Finally, each of these checklists appear as a recurring item on my Trello board, under my ‘scheduled’ to-do lists.

Further reading