• Checklists are the ultimate aide memoir

    by  • September 19, 2012 • Must Read Checklists, Personal Development


    Checklists are more than a set of instructions. Like a roadmap they show you the way forward step by step. They set out the sequence you need to follow to complete the task successfully. They are the ultimate aide memoir.

    The first checklist was invented in 1935. Because flying the new Boeing 299 aircraft was proving to be too complex for a pilot to remember. So two test pilots put together a checklist to make sure everything was done. In the correct order. And that nothing was overlooked.

    Ever since then aircraft pilots have used checklists to fly aircraft. Then engineers began to use them to build. And now surgeons use them to operate.

    All of these checklists have one thing in common. They help the users to achieve a faultless performance (Gawande,2012).

    Self-help checklists

    That checklists can improve performance to such a degree is great news. Maybe it is the consistency in performance that they achieve. Or the series of action steps and the sequence of what needs to be done. Or by being an ever-present source of information and guidance for us to follow.

    Checklists are spreading rapidly to many areas of business and education. And we are now using them for self-help.  And they are proving to be a very popular. You will find a number of them on this site. The Happiness: A how to checklist is the most popular of these.

    Checklists bridge the gap between theory and practise

    More people are using personal development than ever before. Thanks mainly to the work of positive psychologists. Who have changed the emphasis from being remedial to working on the development of our strengths. And we can read  all we need to know about it in their very readable self-help books.

    But reading no matter how well written it is will not improve our performance or make us more competent or happier (Bergsma 2008). We need to go a step further to achieve that. Checklists based on readings can bridge this gap for us. And help us to achieve our personal development goals. Because they present information in a sequence of learning steps. That we can follow and tick off as we work down the list.

    They give us the guidance we need. They are our resident coach. Always at hand. Giving us the information we need. Telling us what to do. And helping us to build our competence.

    There is more to checklists than meets the eye

    Checklists are more than a set of instructions. Their purpose is to help you to identify and correct errors that can occur in carrying out a procedure. They should be simple and easy to follow. They should also be measurable and make it possible for you to tell whether or not you have carried out the procedure properly. They should be easy to read and to understand.

    Checklists can be “Read -Do” or “Do-Confirm”. “Read-Do” Checklists ask you to read and do what the reading asks. While “Do-Confirm” Checklists ask you to do something and then confirm that you have done it.

    Read-Do checklists can have a Do-Confirm section asking you to confirm that you have carried out the steps previously requested in the checklist.

    For complex procedures you often have a number of checklists. With pause points built into them to enable you to take stock of what you have achieved. And to give you time to prepare for the next stage of the process.

    Checklists need to be tested and re-tested. This enables them to be refined and their effectiveness measured. Until you are satisfied they are capable of achieving what they set out to do.

    Self-help Checklists work

    Checklists are very easy to use. They can help you develop your self-help skills. Because they are designed by people who are expert in the field of personal development.

    They present the knowledge you need as a series of action points. This helps you to get the knowledge right. Use it in the right sequence. And in the right way. The way you need to get the results you want.

    It can be difficult to focus our attention on routine activities. When we are trying to fit self-help into our busy schedule. We can overlook things when we have more pressing events on our minds.

    And if we miss one key step it can set us back. And stop us from achieving our self-help goal. When under pressure. We can also decide to skip steps. Arguing that they are not essential. Even when we know we should do them.

    Checklists help us to avoid this mistake. By reminding us of the key steps we need to take. And requiring us to tick them off as we do them. Verifying our work in this way brings the discipline of high performance to the task.

    You can get the feel of using self-help checklists by using the ones on this site. My plan is to continue posting them as long as the demand for them continues. Each one deals with a different aspect of self-help. So if the topic you are interested in is not already covered it may come up in the near future.

    Finally to see an example of a professionally designed checklist you can have  a look at the WHO Patient Safety Checklist. It is an excellent example of the clarity, simplicity and power of a checklist. You will find it at http://www.who.int/patientsafety/safesurgery/tools_resources/SSSL_Manual_finalJun08.pdf.



    Gawande, A. (2012) The checklist manifesto: How to get things right. New York: Picador Books.


    Gorovitz, S. & MacIntyre, A. (1975) Toward a theory of Medical Fallibility; The Hastings Center Report, Vol. 5, No. 6 pp.13-23.

    Burler-Bowdon, T. (2003) 50 SELF-HElP CLASSICS: London: Nicholas Brealey Publishing. Bergsma, A. (2008) Do self-help books help? Journal of Happiness Studies, 1-20.


    We can use positive psychology to improve how we live our lives. So I love to share my understanding of it with others. To help them grow and flourish as I have. The posts on this blog set out to do just that. You need a lot of skill to make a relationship a happy one. So I write about relationship skills. Skills you can learn how to use in your own relationship. To keep it in good shape. To solve problems that may arise in it. And to improve the quality of your relationship. To make both of you happy.