The checklist manifesto

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In today's post we talk about the importance of avoiding mistakes for improvement in any discipline and of humanity in short, and we talk about the use of the checklist to achieve it and thus be more successful.
The checklist manifesto

One of the best books I have ever read is “The Checklist Manifesto” by Atul Gawande, therenownedAmerican surgeon, and writer. It’s a wonderful book that explains why today we can do amazing things that just a few decades ago were totally impossible. One of the keys to great improvement in whatever discipline is the ability to avoid mistakes. All of us make mistakes, but the majority of them are avoidable. And unfortunately, some mistakes can bring fatal results.

As Atul explains, the level and complexity of our collective knowledge have exceeded the capacity of any individual to get everything right. So, HOW CAN WE NOT ONLY SURVIVE BUT THRIVE IN THIS INCREASINGLY MORE COMPLEX WORLD? Gawande suggests that the key is creating checklists. Clear and easy-to-follow checklists that a trained person can follow and quickly implement can save many mistakes and also lives.

A checklist can prevent failure by addressing 2 main problems:

  • The first one is our attention to detail and memory are not reliable and often fail.
  • The second one is we tend to skip steps even when we remember them.

Consequently, a checklist can help lower significantly the mistakes in any human activity. Gawande, as a surgeon, knows perfectly well the power of the checklist. Medicine is one of the disciplines where checklists have played a significant role in improving the results.


  • The first step is to define a clear pause point or a break in the workflow at which is to be used.
  • The second step is to decide between a “do-confirm” or a “read-do list”. “Do-confirm” means what it sounds; do first, confirm after. In other words, execute the given task or procedure, then pause to confirm that every step has been correctly completed. “Read-do” is also as it sounds; it calls for doing the task in a step-by-step manner following the instructions of the checklist.
  • Besides, Gawande recommends keeping your checklist short (suggests 5-9 items and never more than a page).
  • It is also important to keep the wording simple and precise. And finally, concentrate on the most important items that will be the most dangerous if they are missed.

After having created the checklist, it has to be tested. Try it in the real world with other people (not you). Sometimes you will find some differences between theory and practice. Whatever activity you want to improve, a checklist is a great tool to help you make sure you stay on track and get the job done.

I highly recommend you to think about which activity you want to have better results, both in your personal or professional life. Focus on one single activity at a time. Spend some time thinking about how to define a checklist that can help you systemize the process of executing this activity. It will help you improve your results and also I’ll help you delegate some activities to other people with less knowledge or experience than you. It’s not a complicated process. You need to invest some time in order to create the checklist. I’m sure it will be worth it; it’ll free up your mind and it’ll improve your results and personal branding. Start with the most important activity you have to develop or with the activity that is causing you more problems.

I finish with an Atul Gawande quote that summarizes the importance of a checklist: “Under conditions of complexity, not only are checklist a help, they are required for success”. 

Xavi Roca

I am Talentist, I help organizations, managers and professionals to achieve high performance through enhancing their leadership and personal brand. I am passionate about leadership, high performance team management and Personal Branding, and I have dedicated my professional career to helping companies and professionals develop and enhance their talents and strengths to achieve their maximum development and performance.

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