How and Why to Use Checklists

Checklists are indispensable when navigating a survival scenario. Here’s why you should use them in your games and how to create one for yourself.

Checklists are a way to make sure that you do everything correctly. They can be used for anything from cooking, to organizing your home or even in the event of an emergency. Checklists help people feel more confident and prepared. Read more in detail here: what is the importance of checklist.

Vintage pilot outside Airplane looking at checklist.

We know more than ever before in the contemporary era, and knowledge has never been more easily accessible.

Individuals and organizations, on the other hand, often fail to live up to the promise of all this knowledge. In truth, we are often the victim, as well as the architect, of head-slapping displays of stupidity when it comes to delivering on promises, or missing ordinary tasks that should not be ignored.

Why is it that there is so much of a disconnect between potential and application?

As our understanding of the world grows, so does its complexity. And as the level of complexity rises, so do the chances of failure.

Medicine is a fantastic illustration of how growing knowledge has improved things while simultaneously making them more complicated and prone to errors. Medicine was relatively straightforward before the mid-twentieth century. There was little specialization; when you went to the hospital, your treatment was mainly overseen by one doctor and a few general nurses.

When you go to the hospital now, you may expect to be treated by many teams. Nurses, nursing technicians, radiologists, dieticians, oncologists, cardiologists, and so on and so forth are all examples of healthcare professionals. Despite the fact that all of these personnel have the skills to provide excellent healthcare, studies demonstrate that failures are widespread, most commonly due to inexperience. For example, 30 percent of stroke patients, 45 percent of asthma patients, and 60 percent of pneumonia patients get insufficient or unsuitable treatment from their physicians.

These failures aren’t due to inexperience or malice. Our healthcare professionals are well-versed in a variety of topics. The issue is that, as medicine becomes more advanced and specialized, appropriately applying that knowledge across several teams becomes increasingly difficult. There are several streams of data to keep track of and manage.

And the terrible part is that it’s typically the “dumb” little things that kill individuals or put them in the hospital longer than they should be. My friend spent two weeks in the hospital after receiving the incorrect cardiac medication. Miscommunication was the root of the issue, which you’d think would be obvious considering that hospitals can transplant human faces and such.

Of course, this isn’t an issue specific to medicine. It can be found in almost every aspect of life, from business to science to just getting things done around the home or in your automobile. More and more of our job demands us to coordinate many teams in order to complete a task. If you work for a large business, you’re probably working on a project with a large group of individuals. And, much as in medicine, you’ve probably seen initiatives delayed or even fail owing to head-scratching stupidity rather than a lack of expertise.

The essence of the issue is that, although the world around us is growing more complicated, we still have a brain that hasn’t altered much in 100,000 years. Sure, we’ve worked out how to offload memory storage to books and computers so that we may learn more; we simply haven’t figured out how to get around our evolutionary biases, cognitive faults, and inherent forgetfulness. As a result, despite having a brain bursting at the seams with ever-increasing information, we continue to make foolish errors.


But, in the same way that data storage has helped us become more educated, what if there was a technology that could assist us avoid misapplying information and overcoming cognitive flaws?

There is one, and you’ve almost certainly used it today.

The ever-present checklist.

The Impact of Checklists in the Workplace

Your daily/weekly to-do list is probably what comes to mind when you hear the phrase “checklist.” You put down your most pressing things on a to-do list and work your way through them. You add new chores to the list as you tick items off.

To-do lists are great for getting things done, but there’s another kind of checklist I like to use: the “routine checklist.” You write down all the steps/tasks required to finish a project or procedure using a regular checklist. The to-do list is always the same. Every time you do that specific procedure or project, you utilize the same checklist.

While the checklist may seem to be very mundane, it is a valuable tool for surviving and thriving in today’s complicated environment. Do you have any doubts? Here are just two of the numerous instances highlighted in surgeon and author Atul Gawande’s book, The Checklist Manifesto, that show checklists’ remarkable power:

B17 Wwii aircraft midair Flight.

B-17 Bombers were used in World War II. You’ve probably heard of the B-17 “Flying Fortress” Bomber. But did you know that it would never have achieved its fame in WWII if it hadn’t been for a simple checklist? The US Army Air Corps launched a competition in the 1930s for aircraft manufacturers to win a contract to design the military’s next long-range bomber. Boeing developed a bomber that could carry five times the number of bombs demanded by the army and flew faster and further than earlier aircraft. The aircraft moved off the runway, halted at 300 feet, and finally crashed in a huge explosion on the day Boeing displayed its Flying Fortress.

Investigators determined that the disaster was caused by pilot mistake rather than a technical failure. The difficulty was that, although the new bomber could carry more and fly faster and further than any previous bomber before it, it was also a very difficult aircraft to fly. A pilot had to be aware of four separate engines, retractable landing gear, wing flaps, electronic trim tabs, and a lot more in order to fly it. The pilot was so engrossed with all of these devices that he failed to release a new locking mechanism on the elevator and rudder controls. The two men at the helm died as a result of overlooking something so basic.

The Air Corps decided that the Boeing model was too complicated for pilots to operate, so it gave another firm the contract to produce its long-range bombers.

B17 flight checklist.

Nonetheless, the military purchased a few Boeings for testing purposes. Some test pilots thought the Boeing bomber would be a much more effective warplane, so they banded together to find out how to persuade pilots to fly it. The test pilots devised a short pre-flight checklist rather than needing further training. Before taking off, it lay out all of the essential chores that were required to fly the aircraft safely, such as checking to verify whether the battery switches and radio were turned on. Pilots flew the Boeing bomber for 1.8 million miles without an accident thanks to the checklist. The Army ended up acquiring thirteen thousand Boeing bombers thanks to a “stupidly” easy checklist, and the B-17 rocketed into the annals of military history.


Construction. Consider the complexities involved in constructing a massive commercial skyscraper. Hundreds of professionals are required to complete the project, including engineers of all types, electricians, plumbers, carpenters, elevator installers, excavators, window installers, environmental experts, security experts, geologists, cement pourers, steel makers, and so on.

Despite the intricacy of contemporary construction, firms are erecting larger structures at a quicker pace than ever before, with an annual structural failure rate of less than 0.00002 percent.


Of course, there are checklists.

Every construction project starts with a long list of activities that must be completed, each with its own deadline. While the to-do list is vital in ensuring that tasks are completed, a checklist is also used. It’s known as a “submittal timetable,” and it’s all about communication. The submission schedule specifies which project managers should communicate with which other project managers at which phases and regarding which processes. The goal of the submission schedule is to encourage teams working on various but interconnected projects to meet on a regular basis so they may address any possible issues. For example, the checklist can include a need for carpenters and plumbers to meet at a specified time to discuss their progress on their separate projects. Perhaps an issue with the pipes has delayed the carpenters’ ability to begin their job, but there may be something the carpenters can do to assist the plumbers. The key is to keep each other informed so that each team can deal with these “known unknowns” as fast and efficiently as possible. When the teams have finished talking, they mark the communication task as completed and go on to the next assignment.

Contemporary construction is an excellent illustration of how checklists may aid in the management of modern life’s complexity. Most of our ineptness in today’s complicated and interrelated environment stems from an inability to communicate. Distinct people or teams have different pieces of knowledge that they need to execute a project, yet failure to communicate that information amongst the various groups and individuals may result in major breakdowns, setbacks, or full failure.

The Advantages of Checklists

PIF 2-10-1 flight checklist.

To-do checklists are well-known for their ability to aid in the completion of tasks. Routine checklists, on the other hand, offer certain advantages that have made them an excellent tool for traversing complicated systems. Here are four examples:

1. Checklists ensure that the bare minimum is completed. With increased complexity comes the temptation to ignore the obvious and concentrate instead on the “sexy” aspects of one’s profession and life. We sometimes delude ourselves into believing that the dumb simple stuff is unimportant in the great scheme of things because it is so stupid and simple. However, as we’ve seen, it’s typically our most fundamental activities that determine whether we succeed or fail.

Checklists serve as a sanity check for our egos, reminding us to do the silly, easy, but vitally required tasks.


2. Checklists allow you to free up mental space. People are sometimes hesitant to utilize a checklist because it seems restrictive. They want to be adaptable and innovative, but the checklist seems to limit their freedom. As a result, even though studies demonstrate that checklists drastically decrease the amount of avoidable, life-threatening mistakes, applying them among surgeons has proved challenging. Surgeons believe that their job requires an instinctive judgment based on years of training and experience, which cannot be reduced to a checklist.

These obstinate doctors are oblivious to the fact that checklists provide them greater leeway to use their professional judgment. They don’t have to worry about forgetting the little things since there’s a checklist for that. Offloading the burden of remembering simple activities allows the brain to focus on more essential tasks. For surgeons, this implies they’ll have more mental RAM to deal with the unexpected issues that arise often while chopping someone open.

Checklists don’t take the role of judgment; rather, they complement it.

3. Checklists help to establish discipline. In aviation, checklists are still very important. Pilots and co-pilots run though a checklist verbally every time they take off and land. Of course, a lot of what they look at is dumb easy things, but it’s crucial stupid simple stuff. When you’re in charge of 120 people’s lives, you have to be disciplined enough to make sure you get even the smallest details right. Whether an accident occurs in the air, investigators will examine to verify if the pilot and co-pilot followed the checklist. There’s no way around it. Either you did it or you did not.

Checklists develop discipline in the individual who utilizes them since they give a binary yes/no response. Giving someone a task checklist enhances their odds of doing it, according to research. Something about having a checklist motivates individuals to complete tasks. Maybe it’s the dopamine high that comes with crossing things off a list, or maybe it’s a mix of the two.

4. Checklists allow you to save time. One typical issue regarding checklists is that they take too long to complete. Running through a checklist, on the other hand, does not have to take a long time, and research suggests that it will save you time in the long run. You spend less time repairing mistakes and more time performing productive work when you utilize checklists to minimize errors caused by neglecting fundamental procedures.

How to Create a Useful Checklist

Making a list of the stages involved in a task does not constitute an effective checklist. Here are some suggestions from The Checklist Manifesto for making a genuinely effective checklist:

1. Look at your failures to see if there are any “killer things.” Examine your workplace or even your personal life. Are you not as productive as you’d want to be at work? Is the home usually in a state of disarray? Investigate why you aren’t obtaining the desired outcomes. Look for failure or friction in the chores you conduct on a regular basis. Your checklist will be built around these failure or friction spots.


 2. Concentrate only on the “stupid” yet vital information that is usually forgotten or omitted. You don’t need a checklist that outlines each and every step involved in completing a job. A checklist is rendered meaningless in this situation. Instead, concentrate on writing down the “dumb” yet necessary items that you typically overlook. There should be no more than 9 things on your checklist. The less time you spend on it, the better.

3. Determine whether or not you need a “communication” checklist. Most checklists are procedural (they spell out what you need to accomplish), but certain activities or projects are so complicated that collaborating with others is essential to keeping track of all the moving parts. Create a special communication checklist in this scenario, and make sure it contains who needs to speak with whom, by when, and about what.

 4. Determine if your checklist will be a “DO-CONFIRM” or “READ-DO” format. You conduct your work from memory and experience using DO-CONFIRM checklists, but you pause at a specific point to read over your list to make sure you did everything correctly.

READ-DO checklists demand you to read and complete each item on the list before moving on to the next.

If you want more flexibility, use DO-CONFIRM; if you want greater precision, use READ-DO.

5. Put your checklist to the test in the real world and make any necessary adjustments. If you’re still having problems, or if your checklist is making work so difficult that it’s becoming a stumbling block, it’s time to revise it.

Checklists I’ve Created in My Own Life

If the concept of utilizing more checklists in your life appeals to you but you’re not sure where to start, here are some examples of how I’ve personally used this tool that will maybe inspire you to think about where you could use them:

Exams for law school While in law school, I discovered the value of checklists for tackling difficult situations. In a law class, your final mark is determined by a single three-hour essay test. You’ll be given one or two complicated hypothetical circumstances to examine and identify all of the legal concerns that arise. Knowing the law isn’t enough to ace law school examinations. You must be able to apply it to a variety of legal situations.

I studied for these examinations by taking a number of practice exams with the same time limits as the actual thing. Professors often upload past legal examinations online, which I took advantage of. The most crucial aspect of these practice sessions was the post-practice evaluation. I’d check my response against the professor’s answer key. It helped me to identify which concerns I had overlooked as well as any analyses I had overlooked. I started to see trends in my failures after two or three practice examinations. I’d make the same errors again and over, and it was usually due to my inability to see the obvious.

So I prepared a checklist for myself to go through after I finished each essay question to make sure I covered all of the topics that came up in my practice sessions. I’d put my checklists through their paces on additional mock examinations and tweak them as required. When it came time for the test, I’d always find something I’d overlooked by going through my checklist.


YouTube videos are being shot. I’ve been working with Jordan Crowder for the last several years to create additional video material for our YouTube channel. While Jordan edits and shoots many of our videos, I sometimes do some filming of my own and submit the material to him to edit. Over the years, I’ve encountered a number of issues that have hampered the filmmaking process. It’s the simplest of things that I seem to overlook. So I developed a “READ-Accomplish” list of things I needed to do before I started recording, and it has saved me a ton of time:

  • Check that your camera’s battery is completely charged and that you have a spare fully charged battery in your bag.
  • Check to see whether you’ve brought any wireless microphones with you and that the battery is completely charged. Look for AA batteries that may be used as a backup.
  • Check to see whether the SD card is in the camera. Make sure you have an additional SD card in your bag.
  • Before you begin recording, conduct a sound check using your wireless microphone.
  • Make sure the music in the background is turned off.

Checklist for a trip I also have a checklist that I utilize before embarking on a long vacation. It’s a cross between a to-do list and a routine list. It’s things I need to get done, yet I always use the same list. It’s also a DO-CONFIRM list: I do my prep from memory, but I double-check the list before leaving to make sure I didn’t forget anything. These are the items on my list that I’ve had the greatest problems remembering in the past:

  • Request that your mail and newspaper be delivered by a neighbor.
  • Put a hold on mail and newspapers if a neighbor is unable to receive them.
  • Delete messages from your email inbox.
  • Get cash
  • Pack
  • Close the doors.
  • Turn off the heat and/or air conditioning.
  • Set the alarm.
  • Check to see that everyone has their airport ID.
  • Please bring a phone charger.

Mental checklists that help you think more clearly. Charlie Munger, vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, has a mental checklist of biases and cognitive weaknesses that he goes through before making each major decision to ensure he’s thinking properly. He’ll look over the list and see whether any of these biases are clouding his judgment, and if so, what he can do to counteract them. I’ve attempted to use something similar in my life since since I learnt about it. I’m still working on this list, but here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

  • Is it possible that I’m making this choice because of the sunk cost fallacy?
  • Is there a unitentional self-serving bias in the individual who is advising a course of action for me? (For example, “Never ask a barber for a haircut.”)
  • Is it possible that I’m making this choice as a result of confirmation bias?
  • Is it possible that I’m making a basic attribution mistake when I criticize someone’s behavior?
  • Is it possible that my fixation on one very appealing characteristic in something is forcing me to overlook the negative aspects?
  • Is it possible that I’m deceiving myself into believing I can’t deceive myself?
  • Have I twisted my recollection of what occurred in order to fit my actions into a story more neatly?
  • Is my choice influenced by the gambler’s fallacy?
  • Is it possible that cognitive dissonance is causing me to justify and excuse my errors?

(You Are Not So Smart by David McRaney is a wonderful place to start if you’re not sure what any of these concepts represent.)


In addition to the examples above, I’m attempting to create additional checklists for both my professional and personal lives. I’ve been experimenting with whether or not a checklist might assist with certain recurring sticking spots that arise during the day. This week, my challenge to you is to look at your own life and see if there are any areas where a checklist may be beneficial. It’s not a glamorous instrument, but it’s quite effective!

In addition to the examples above, I’m attempting to create additional checklists for both my professional and personal lives. I’ve been experimenting with whether or not a checklist might assist with certain recurring sticking spots that arise during the day. This week, my challenge to you is to look at your own life and see if there are any areas where a checklist may be beneficial. It’s not a glamorous instrument, but it’s quite effective!


Atul Gawande’s Checklist Manifesto 



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Checklists are an easy way to help you stay organized and on track. They can be used for anything from grocery lists, to packing your suitcase. Reference: benefits of checklist.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you use a checklist?

A: A checklist is a list of tasks, usually for completing an activity or project.

What is a checklist and why is it used?

A: A checklist is a list of tasks or items that can be checked off once they are complete. For example, you might create one to remind yourself to buy some milk before your next shopping trip. Checklists allow the user more time on their task instead of constantly thinking about checking things off.

Why are checklist useful in the workplace?

A: Checklists are a useful tool for ensuring that an activity is completed in a timely manner and to maintain good order within the workplace.

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