The Value of a Checklist

I feel vindicated. Checklists are a good thing. In fact, we should be “ready to accept the virtues of regimentation.”

“The Checklist” is an article written by Atul Gawande and published in The New Yorker on Dec. 10, 2007. It explores how checklists transformed intensive care. I became aware of the article through a book club I belong to at work. (We agreed we could also read articles.)

The article highlighted that intensive-care medicine had become “the art of managing extreme complexity.” The way to manage that complexity, says Peter Pronovost of John Hopkins Hospital is a checklist, which helps establish a higher standard of baseline performance. Pronovost was named a 2008 winner of a MacArthur Fellowship, the so-called “genius grant,” which recognizes recipients for their creativity, originality and potential to make important contributions in the future. He also was named by Time Magazine as one of its 100 most influential people in 2008.

Peter Pronovost (Photo:

In the article, Pronovost says checklist help with memory recall, especially with mundane matters. A second benefit was to make “explicit the minimum, expected steps in complex processes.”

I had never thought of checklists as having the ability to save lives but it makes sense. Of course, checklists also have practical purposes in other areas, whether the checklists save lives or not.

When I worked in law enforcement, one of the first things I did was create a call-out checklist. One of the items on it was to grab a bottle of water. This might seem trivial, but it’s not, especially when you are standing in 90-degree weather for several hours at a crime scene. Dehydration can set in quickly.

The checklist also included key phone numbers, talking points, and media contacts, all of which made it easier and more efficient to perform our jobs. When you’re being called out, a checklist keeps you from forgetting any important steps.

In my current job, I created a checklist for distributing press releases. It includes check-offs for approving the release, posting the release and distributing it internally. None of the steps are life-threatening, but if overlooked could prevent the press release from being fully visible.

Do you think a checklist can transform your work?

One thought on “The Value of a Checklist

  1. Sadly, I am not that organized. Shawna is. She has everything written down. I know people who make lists and then, if they do something else, they ADD IT TO THE LIST and check it off!

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