When I was a bed and breakfast innkeeper I created a checklist for the staff so that each of the jobs around the inn was done completely, correctly, and consistently — regardless of who was working which shift. There was a checklist for each of the breakfast, housekeeping, and evening shifts. We had a great team to start with and I knew these checklists were going to make their contributions and the inn shine even better.
What surprised me was the resistance the checklists met. The staff insisted they were smart people and didn’t need checklists. The longer they used them, the more they complained. I tried to reassure them the checklists weren’t a reflection of their intelligence, they were protection from brain farts.
Brain farts happen, I explained, when you get interrupted, like by a guest request. They happen when you interrupt yourself, for example, to get more supplies. They happen when your brain gets bored like when you are doing simple, repetitive tasks you’ve done numerous times, say serving breakfast or cleaning rooms or preparing for the next day. I further pointed out that when you can rely on a checklist to be consistent in your mindless job, it allows your brain to be creative in what it’s doing and in tending to guest needs.
The question of intelligence isn’t the issue at all. Consistency and thoroughness are the issues. If a checklist is good enough for an airplane pilot, it’s good enough for innkeepers — in my humble estimation.
None of my explanations appeased their incensed hearts. So, I made a deal with them. I told them, “You can do your jobs without the checklists. The first instance of a forgotten item means you are back to the checklists.” Agreed. The first employee working with the new deal didn’t finish her first shift when she came running into the kitchen where I officed, begging to have her checklist back. Interesting.
What the staff learned is that the rote, routine work made — or encouraged — their brains to check out, to wander. They’d forget to put the orange juice out, hang fresh towels in the rooms, or reconcile the reservation books. None of that was life-threatening, but it did create a bad impression that we didn’t want our guests to have of us; we worked too hard to develop a top-notch inn. We wanted to shine and offer the best hospitality possible. The checklists contributed to that service.
Years later, as I’m learning different time management tools, I find myself drifting toward using a To-Do List, like a mindmap of the day’s work tasks. I found the regimented, time-centered tools too restrictive for me. My ADD-self rebelled at being that tightly scheduled. My EMT-volunteer-self was aware that an ambulance call would throw my carefully scheduled day off — or out the window altogether. A simple list of projects’ activities I want to get done in a given day works like a charm for me.
As I have been reading The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande, I realized that my preferred time management tool is a checklist! That was comforting to me. I have long loved checklists for doing work more effectively and efficiently. I’d felt a bit shamed by the gurus touting their time management tools and guidelines as if I was a failure or lazy. Recognizing the value of checklists for a wide-range of successful professions and appreciating my approach to my productivity list, I no longer felt bad about using the checklist to get my work done.
Look at where you use checklists in your life and consider how effective they are for you. Recipes? Checklists. Packing lists? Checklists. Guides for getting a specific project completed? Checklists.
Now, look at areas of your life where you struggle in being effective because you skip a step, forget an important element, or even forget you had that project to do. Would using a checklist improve those areas of your life?
Checklists rock! Start using one today and see where that takes you. Maybe your life will start being more streamlined and tasks will be completed more thoroughly and with consistent quality. That’s one way to be your best.