Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Checklists Will Save Your Butt

One of the things that makes preparing for travel the most stressful for me is worrying about forgetting to pack something. There's too many things to keep track of, and I have in fact forgotten very important things on numerous trips. Including my underpants. (which is why to this day some of them have tags in swedish)

This time I'm using checklists, and it's made all the difference. Whenever I thought of something that I need to remember to take on my trip, I added it to a "to do" list on my phone. Then in the last frantic minutes before I left all, I had to do was to go through the list.

This is an obvious idea, but I think it's more powerful than I realized. I read a whole book about it, called the Checklist Manifesto. It wasn't very good, but I got the main point, which is that you should use checklists. Super highly trained professionals with thousands of hours of experience, like airline pilots and surgeons, use them, so there's no shame in it.

I keep a checklist for things to pack, and one for leaving hotel rooms, and one for before I run a participant on my experiment and one for after they finish. I'm sure I'll find lots more uses for them in the future.

The most important point is that it be a physical list, and that you physically check things off. A "mental checklist" doesn't count. At all!

The whole point is to stop that feeling of constantly rereminding yourself of important things - what David Allen in Getting Things Done calls "open loops". That's stressful, and that takes away from your focus. Also, your brain sucks at it.

But really keeping that list, and really checking it off, always takes willpower for me! There is always a voice in my head that says, "this time, you've got it - you don't need to actually go through the list". And that's when things go south.

Look at it this way: say you have a list of 8 items. Even if you would only forget one item, one time in five (although for me it's more like one time in one) that one item will still be worth the few seconds it takes to check it. Especially if that item is your passport or visa. I'll just keep telling myself that.

More checklist tips:
  • Start making it right away. As soon as packing is on your mind. And throw things on there as soon as you think of them, thus closing the "open loop".
  • If you use an electronic checklist, like a "to do" app on your phone, then it is easier to always have on hand. I use a nice basic open source one called Simply Do.
  • With an electronic one you can also reuse it: simply uncheck all the items.
  • Keep it pruned, complete and current. Try to make sure every single thing you need to remember is on there, and don't have a single thing on there you don't need to remember (at least don't leave it unchecked)
Trusting your checklist is hard, and wariness of false security is a good instinct. But I think that's where you should focus your effort, on your checklists, not on constantly mentally scanning for things you've forgotten: even with a simple trip, there are too many things, and stuff will fall out, like a boarding pass from a loosely-held boarding pass envelope. (something else that has happened to me!)

1 comment:

Ben said...

I'm an enthusiastic list-maker (though sometimes the trick is in limiting the scope and number of lists).

For travel, I have a 20-item list that I consult every time I start packing. I don't take every item on every trip, but I want to at least give a thought to each item.

The list includes the critical – passport, currency, SIM cards – to the elective – tripod, binoculars, bagpipes.