A Day For Making A List, Checking It Twice

by Kevin Burton

   In the aftermath of a Boeing B-17 plane crash in 1935 administrators and pilots invented a way to make sure all safety procedures have been followed, and stopped relying on the pilot’s memory.

   This was the birth of the mighty checklist, according to the National Day Calendar.  Today is national Checklist Day.

   Will you be participating? I will.

   Those who know me well laugh at many of my quirks.  I am famous for carrying a notebook (or two) around, “in case someone says something interesting.”

   Those notebooks contain checklists, usually not steps to complete one task, but a series of reminders of things to accomplish in a given day.

   How do you keep yourself on task and on time?  

   “If you pride yourself on organizational skills, then put a checkmark next to National Checklist Day, a cherished holiday which keeps our lives together,” is the message on the Calendar Day website. “The more complex our lives get, the easier it is to make mistakes. Today we celebrate the humble checklist as the innovative tool that has stood the test of time.”

   Look, checklist day is not a holiday and it’s not cherished. But a checklist is useful as Boeing found out, after the fact.

   “Boeing discovered that the pilot had forgotten to do a simple task, turn off the elevator lock. This simple omission caused the plane not to respond to pitch control, leaving the plane vulnerable,” according to the calendar day website. 

   “According to a report by two university professors in a 1990 study, cockpit checklists serve several key functions in aviation safety, to ensure that the crew will properly configure the airplane for any given segment of flight and to create standardization in the cockpit.”

   “So, if a checklist can keep us flying safely in the air, what better way to keep our lives organized and running smoothly on the ground?”

   The website cites professionals making formal use of checklists to avoid mistakes.

   “In 2001 Dr. Peter Pronovost, a physician and researcher at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, created a checklist to assist medical staff who use catheters to give blood or drugs to intensive care patients.”

   “In 2009, writer and surgeon Atul Gawande wrote “The Checklist Manifesto: How to get Things Right,” a book detailing how surgeons and educators need checklists to help patients and students.”

   “Checklists seem lowly and simplistic,” Gawande said “but they help fill in for the gaps in our brains and between our brains.”

   “In 2010, school administrator Thomas R. Hoerr published ‘Educational Leadership’ an article explaining the different ways to use checklists to innovate education and measure student progress.”

   “The more complex our lives get, the easier it is to make mistakes,” the calendar day website reads. “Without checklists we can feel like we’re juggling a bunch of balls in the air trying to keep them from dropping.”

   “Although success in any endeavor is not guaranteed, armed with an organizational checklist, you stand a better chance of achieving your goals.”

   The problem is, these checklists have no memory enhancement or policing authority.  Many times I’ve looked in my notebook, only to discover checklists I have forgotten or ignored when life reached up and grabbed me. 

   “Excessive dependence of checklists may hinder performance when dealing with a time-critical situation, for example a medical emergency or an in-flight emergency,” is a concern raised on the Wikipedia page for checklists.  “Checklists should not be used as a replacement for common sense.”

   Here, here!

   “Sometimes our stop-doing list needs to be bigger than our to-do list,” said Patti Digh, an expert in the fields of diversity, inclusion and equity.

   “Rename your to-do list as your ‘opportunities’ list,” suggests philanthropist and speaker Steve Maraboli. “Each day is a treasure chest filled with limitless opportunities; take joy in checking many off your list.

   If say, washing the dishes doesn’t seem like much of an opportunity, remind yourself that you are providing for healthy nourishment for your loved ones.

   The day calendar website wants us to be methodical about checking off tasks completed and to celebrate our victories. It says the visual aspect of checklists is key, and suggest color coding your lists.

   Wikipedia cited a study showing that memorized checklists are not as effective as physical checklists. Hello! A memorized list is not a checklist. That’s not rocket science. Just ask Boeing.

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