Feeling overwhelmed? You need a checklist.

Tuesday, April 26th, 2005
A checklist could save your life. Here's a not-so-subtle reminder about the value of checklists:

Have you ever found yourself emotionally shutting down in the face of a daunting project list and an overflowing e-mail in-box? I have.

The Air Force calls this Task Saturation and it can manifest itself in many ways. Some people hyper-focus on their email and new-mail alerts to the point where nothing gets done.

David and I made posts on Saturday and Sunday about the UK researcher who found that email distractions can cause a drop in IQ.

Fellow productivity blogger, Bert, from Open Loops, posted an excellent comment about how the military helps its pilots extract themselves from overwhelm before they have to extract themselves from their wreckage:

The Air Force calls this Task Saturation. When one is faced with a large volume of tasks, which is what you might see when you look at your backlogged email in-box, humans can shut down. Some, in an effort to deal with the tasks, begin to compartmentalize and channelize, meaning that they begin to concentrate on their email to the exclusion of all other communication and input that is still coming their way. This is why perfectly good pilots sometimes fly good airplanes right into the ground. In our lives, it means that we will not perform well on other tasks and responsibilities while we are struggling with that in-box.

Excellent illustration.  How does the Air Force help their pilots cope?
The solution? The Air Force provides tools and systems that pilots are supposed to fall back on in times of emergencies when task saturation can immobilize a pilot. They pull out their emergency checklists and start taking actions.

Checklists.  That's the ticket.

Got one?

Discussion/Comments (3):

This is a great idea. But what kind of checklist ...

This is a great idea. But what kind of checklist would you, or anyone else, suggest?

This may sound silly, but are there any good "general" checklists out there? Can someone submit an example?

Posted at 4/28/2005 4:16:37 PM by runninonempty


The best checklists will be those that you create, from personal experience.

My friend, David Allen, likes to tell people that the reason that his travel checklist is so thorough is that everything on it has been forgotten, once.

What do you want to make sure you get done? Put it on a list.

Posted at 4/29/2005 3:29:19 AM by Eric Mack

Feeling overwhelmed? You need a checklist.

The Air Force, per the book Business is Combat, which is written by a former combat pilot, utilizes two kinds of checklists: Routine and emergency. The routine lists are lists of things that occur over and over. In my role as a school administrator, I have my morning lists that includes everything that I have to do to get the day going well, to my evening checklists that ensure that everything is buttoned down for the night and that everything is set for the next day. I even have conference checklists that make sure that we cover everything with the parents with which we conference.

My emergency checklists are quite extensive and includes handling: attempted kidnappings, gas leaks, fires, faculty deaths, student deaths, tornados, severe strong thunderstorms, lost children, attempted suicides, bus breakdowns, bomb threats, all the way down to possible terrorist attacks by gas or gunfire.

Checklists ensure that everything is handled and in the right order.

Posted at 4/29/2005 7:23:47 AM by Bert

Discussion for this entry is now closed.