The Power of Checklists

The Power of Checklists

Jan 25, 2017

Do you use checklists? Or are you the type who thinks they’re a waste of time?

I remember my first taste of motherhood in 1990 going back to work after my 45-day maternity leave. I required my yaya (nanny) to write down my baby Martin’s activities while I was away. It looked something like this:

7:00 am     – drank 8 oz. milk
7:15 am      – burp
7:30 am     – pina-arawan sa labas
8:00 am    – Vitamins
8:15 am     – ablon ablon (Ilocano term for massage)
8:30 am    – sleep
10:00 am  – take a bath


Marvin would laugh at the yaya’s notebook and ask me, “Hon, do you really think she writes down everything?” To that I answered, “Hayaan mo na, at the very least, she gets conscious of what our baby is doing, and if the notebook works as her checklist, reminding her of everything that she has to do within the day, then it has served its purpose.”

I was more into checklists when I was a lot younger. Even our meals were already listed and printed and displayed in four frames in our kitchen, one frame per week so that our cook will just follow what’s written. Each helper had a schedule cum checklist for the day. Over the years I’ve also gotten more relaxed on all these including my own to do lists and recording of expenses. I rationalized to myself, “I’m busy with other matters now and I know these things already, having done them for decades that I’ve definitely put in my 10,000 hours!” Am I right to claim this “expertise?” Well, I could be but in the past several months, I’ve realized that I’m also allowing some slippages just by doing away with some of my lists. sademot

During our family yearender in Waikiki, Hawaii where we assessed our 2016 and planned our 2017, I decided to get back my reliance on lists. For starters, my 2017 Checklist is now the screen saver on my devices. Part of that checklist is to re-do my old lists such as our meal plan, etc. emotcon1


Confirmed by a book:

And then I encounter this book by an Indian American surgeon and writer Atul Gwande entitled The Checklist Manifesto. This further enforces my decision to go back to my lists because they’re definitely not a waste of time but could actually save lives!



In his book, Gwande discusses that most fields, like his, are not very open to the systematic use of checklists. There is an implicit belief that success lies primarily on the honing of experts in the field of surgery.

Gwande studied the high-risk industries of skyscraper construction and aviation and found out that on top of the importance of advancement in expertise and technology, they are also big on checklists! And that is why these two industries, despite their complexity and high exposure to danger, have very low occurrence of catastrophic events due to human error. The construction industry has a building failure rate of only 0.00002% or 1 in every 50,000. On the other hand, the odds of being killed on a single airline flight are 1 in every 29.4 million. Yes, unknown to many, it’s still the safest mode of transportation. It’s just that a plane crash is big news, and it’s also its rarity that makes it big news.

Unfortunately, in most fields outside these two industries, the so-called “experts” find using a checklist demeaning, not worthy of their precious time as masters who have spent their 10,000 hours to become highly-skilled in their field.

But here’s what happened when Gwande created a 19-item 2-minute checklist for surgical teams and implemented it in eight hospitals around the world. It was good to see Manila, Philippines in the list. The others are Seattle, USA; London, UK; Toronto, Canada; Amman, Jordan; Auckland, New Zealand; New Delhi, India and Ifakara, Tanzania. After these hospitals adapted the checklist, their complications decreased by 35% and death by 47%! The positive effect of adding a checklist in the procedure is more powerful than a breakthrough drug and saved millions in money and anguish!

Surprisingly, despite the power of the checklist, it is still not implemented in a lot of hospitals. Gwande thinks that there is resistance because this simple tool forces us to behave with another set of values such as humility, discipline and teamwork. These are quite the opposite of what have been admired and aspired for values such as independence, self-sufficiency and autonomy.


Checklist for a Good Checklist:

There are good checklists and there are bad checklists. Here are the elements of a good one.

  1. Pause point – This is the trigger point, where you will routinely be reminded to go over your list before you send, publish or click anything that will release your work.
  1. Speedy – It should not be too long; otherwise, it would be tempting to skip going over it in the interest of time. The suggested duration for a typical checklist is 60 seconds or shorter. So just focus on 5-9 killer items. (A killer item is one that when missed makes your work look unprofessional)
  1. Short and concise items – Since a checklist is not a how to guide or recipe, the item are described concisely because it’s assumed that you already know how to do them well.
  1. Field-tested and revised – You will know its effect based on experience, so expect to grow with your checklist. Observe which part needs tweaking as you go on using it.



An Unusual Checklist:

For our 2016 yearender, I asked my sons to come up with an unusual checklist. I had not yet encountered this Checklist Manifesto at that time but I asked them to write a list of the Negotiable and Non-negotiable traits they’re looking for in a wife. Of course, they felt so weird and resisted a bit reasoning out, “Why Ma? Did you and Papa come up with your lists?” I said no we didn’t, but maybe we got lucky plus the work that we put in our marriage helps a lot. But in a world of endless options, distractions and shorter attention spans, this checklist may be of great help. It eliminates waste of time if you know what you’re looking for in the most important contract you will ever get into. It helps when you know which ones are negotiable and non-negotiable.



Using checklists may make us look not cool but robotic, but it’s precisely because we’re not robots that we need all the help to stay the course. I’m not saying that we throw away spontaneity completely. It’s just making use of a simple tool’s power so that we don’t miss out on the things that are important to us. It saves lives in the case of the surgeons’ checklist. In the case of our personal checklist, it will be our own life that we’re saving from being any less than the great one we aspire to have! purse




If you want to be systematic about your FQ, part of your checklist should be to watch the improvement of your FQ Score. Take the FQ Test now, then again after a period of time based on when think your behavior should have improved, say after six months? Calendar your next FQ Test after you take it today. Click link to take the test.


Rose Fres Fausto is a speaker and author of bestselling books Raising Pinoy Boys and The Retelling of The Richest Man in Babylon (English and Filipino versions). Click this link to read samples – Books of FQ Mom Rose Fres Fausto. She is a Behavioral Economist, Certified Gallup Strengths Coach and the grand prize winner of the first Sinag Financial Literacy Digital Journalism Awards. Follow her on Facebook and You Tube as FQ Mom, and Twitter & Instagram as theFQMom.

ATTRIBUTIONS: The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gwande, Video summary by Nathan Lozeron, Images from FreePhoto,,,,, Softonic put together to help deliver the message.