Checklists for Smart People

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Smart, capable people have a thing about checklists. Checklists are for dummies. They’re for people who’s grasp of the task at hand isn’t strong enough to get the job done without one. They’re for people without the wits, expertise and inventiveness just to wing it and succeed. Does that sound like you?

In a recent New Yorker article, physician Atul Gawande shows that being too smart, capable, inventive, etc. and disdaining anything as simplistic as a checklist costs lives in the hospital. Aunt Liz died not because she was too far gone for the operation to save her. She died because no one checked to make sure her IV drip line wasn’t infected.

Okay, maybe in your daily life following a checklist won’t save lives, but it can insure that your project doesn’t go belly up because you forgot one small detail. People often lament that life is getting too fast and too complicated, but they also take pride in keeping on top of it by wits alone. It’s not just doctors who are guilty of this.

Think of it this way: the best use of your smarts is to come up with great ideas, to devise better ways of doing things, to think outside the box. A checklist is just a tool to take care of the boring, everyday details that must be taken care of, but that don’t need to be thought about. Smart people use tools.

Checklists can be used for any sequence of repeated steps. Here’s a sample checklist for leaving the house, based on one in the book ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life. (This is a great book, by the way; you don’t need to be ADD to get a lot out of it.)
 

  • Find keys, cell phone, day planner and glasses and put in purse or pocket
  • Pack briefcase with files or paperwork
  • Turn off stove, TV, iron, etc.
  • Lock doors, turn on alarm
  • Stop and think: Did I forget anything?

5 thoughts on “Checklists for Smart People

  1. I have begun to write a bit about checklists on my own blog. I got particularly interested when I read that billionaire Charlie Munger considers them a major success tool. If it’s good enough for a billionaire, it’s good enough for me.

  2. I have begun to write a bit about checklists on my own blog. I got particularly interested when I read that billionaire Charlie Munger considers them a major success tool. If it’s good enough for a billionaire, it’s good enough for me.

  3. Manny,
    Thanks for your comment!
    I like the point you made about checklists helping to override second guessing. Following a checklist can help people develop self-discipline. If the checklist says to do 10 minutes of desk clearing a day, you just do it, even if you’re in a bad mood.
    Of course, something as important as an investment strategy, for example, should be revisited regularly to make sure it’s still viable, but rethinking it everyday is counter-productive and can even backfire in terms of getting you to your goals.

  4. Manny,
    Thanks for your comment!
    I like the point you made about checklists helping to override second guessing. Following a checklist can help people develop self-discipline. If the checklist says to do 10 minutes of desk clearing a day, you just do it, even if you’re in a bad mood.
    Of course, something as important as an investment strategy, for example, should be revisited regularly to make sure it’s still viable, but rethinking it everyday is counter-productive and can even backfire in terms of getting you to your goals.

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