Wherever you go, whatever you do, someone nearby is probably using a checklist. Whether it’s a personal to-do list at home, a safety inspection at the job site, or quality control inspections in the workplace, checklists improve business performance and remain an essential part of getting things done and getting things done properly, safely, and effectively.
Although the tools we use for checklists may have changed over the years – most of us have moved from writing things down on paper to using tablets and smartphones or even speaking directly into our phones – the need for checklists hasn’t changed. In fact, with the complexities of modern-day life at home and in the workplace, checklists have become more essential than ever.
So, why do people use checklists so much? Well, it’s simple – because they work and checklists have been shown to:
- Be motivational;
- Reduce stress;
- Improve focus, creativity, and personal performances;
- Reduce complexity and human error; and;
- Improve overall business performance.
Completing, Checklists Gives Us a Motivational ‘Buzz’
“When we finish a task or tick something off a checklist, there is a neurological response. Our brain releases dopamine which makes us feel good and this feeling acts as a reward and motivates us to do it again!”
Over the years, social scientists have done a considerable amount of research on the use of checklists and determined that there are psychological reasons that people like using checklists. When we finish a task or tick something off a checklist, there is a neurological response. Our brain releases dopamine which makes us feel good and this feeling acts as a reward and motivates us to do it again! It is this motivational ‘buzz’ that encourages us to use checklists and this is the reason we feel good when we tick items off a list.
Checklists Reduce Stress and Improve Focus, Creativity, and Performance
In addition to the fact that completing a checklist triggers a feeling of satisfaction, the use of checklists has also been proven to reduce stress and consequently improve focus, creativity, and personal performance. The reason for this is simple and known as the Zeigarnik Effect – after the Lithuanian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik who first described it in 1927. The theory holds that our brains can only process a set number of tasks at a time, that unfinished tasks lead to stress, and that people with unfinished tasks and no clear way to finish, close or reconcile them become stressed.
Stress then triggers an automatic hormonal response in the brain known as the ‘flight or flight’ response. This is the natural response that intentionally leads to an increase in heart rate and blood pressure to enable us to deal quickly with perceived danger, attack, or threat to our survival.
In this state, we are in ‘emergency mode’ with only survival in mind and, as we all know, this is a stressed state of inattentive fear, the opposite of focussed creativity! Unfinished tasks lead to stress, stress triggers the fight or flight response which in turn puts us in a distracted state of almost bewildering panic, unable to focus and perform effectively which itself leads to more stress. It’s a vicious cycle!
Consequently, in situations where a checklist can define tasks and the steps to completion, not only does it provide the blueprint for success, it also reduces ‘Zeigarnik Effect’ stress and improves focus, creativity and a person’s ability to successfully complete the tasks at hand. The completion of the task then simultaneously triggers a reward-driven and motivational ‘buzz’ that encourages us to repeat that performance! This is why checklists are the catalyst for the perfect positive feedback loop for improved personal performance!
Checklists are the catalyst for the perfect positive feedback loop for improved personal performance!
Checklists Improve Corporate Performance
In addition to reducing stress and improving personal performance, checklists are proven tools for reducing the complexity of our increasingly complex workplace, minimizing human error and forgetfulness, and consequently improving overall corporate performance.
Whether it’s driving a forklift, working on a production line, or landing a plane, checklists help define exactly how to complete tasks properly, safely and as expected. As eloquently noted by Dr. Atul Gawande in his book, The Checklist Manifesto, “checklists seem to defend anyone, even the experienced, against failure. They provide a kind of cognitive net. They catch mental flaws inherent in all of us – flaws of memory and attention and thoroughness.”
Regardless of how checklists make us feel psychologically when it comes to improved business performance, there is no denying that checklists work and you don’t have to look far to see many examples of checklist-based corporate performance management.
From successfully managing safety or quality in the workplace to excelling as a financial investor, there are endless examples in the corporate world around us that attest to the fact that the effective use of checklists is a recipe for improved corporate performance.
Looking further at the research of Dr. Gawande and the use of checklists, in the aviation industry is one such example. “Pilots turn to their checklists for two reasons. First, they are trained to do so. They learn from the beginning of flight school that their memory and judgment are unreliable and that lives depend on their recognizing that fact. Second, the checklists have proved their worth – they work!”
Another stunning example of checklist success is Dr. Gawande’s own pioneering use of checklists in the health care industry. By implementing the use of checklists in surgery, he witnessed an incredible drop in both major surgical complications (by 36%) and deaths (by 47%).
Checklists are proven tools for reducing the complexity of our increasingly complex workplace, minimizing human error and forgetfulness, and consequently improving overall corporate performance.
Checklists: The Self-Motivating Solution to Reduced Stress and Improved Personal and Business Performance
Over the years, experience has shown that from airlines to hospitals and manufacturing to finance, the use of checklists improves performance. They reduce human error, and help avoid inevitable human fallibility and forgetfulness while simultaneously providing a clear roadmap for the completion of tasks properly, safely, and as expected.
Furthermore, research in the field of social science and human behavior has proven that the use of checklists reduces stress, and improves focus, creativity, and personal performance. Better still, we now also know that using checklists and completing identified tasks releases the ‘feel good’ hormone dopamine which motivates us – by nature – to seek the rewards associated with completing a checklist.
Using checklists creates a self-motivating environment that reduces stress and improves focus, creativity, and personal performance while also providing the blueprint for improved performance in the workplace!