Tag Archives: New Yorker Festival

The Checklist – from medicine to Sully and the Hudson River, the ultimate GTD tool

checklistHere’s a question:  do you have a checklist?  It sounds so simple, but it is so profound in its simplicity.  We forget what to do.  And because we forget what to do, we don’t get it (all) done.  We need a checklist.

The idea is vigorously championed by Atul Gawande, Surgeon, Rhodes Scholar, Macarthur fellow, (the Genius Grant) medical writer extraordinaire, and Harvard Professor.  In his article in the New Yorker, The Checklist, Gawande describes in detail the many places and procedures that have gone from dismal failures to amazing successes just by following a checklist.  Here’s a paragraph describing the cardiac unit at a hospital surrounded by the Alps, where people come in “from cardiac arrest after hypothermia and suffocation:

Speed was the chief difficulty. Success required having an array of equipment and people at the ready—helicopter-rescue personnel, trauma surgeons, an experienced cardiac anesthesiologist and surgeon, bioengineering support staff, operating and critical-care nurses, intensivists. Too often, someone or something was missing. So he and a couple of colleagues made and distributed a checklist.”

The checklist meant that people literally were able to live – people with similar injuries that killed the many that came before.  And the reason was clear – the emergency workers were too busy to remember everything they needed to do.  They needed a usable, tangible reminder:  a checklist.

Recently at the New Yorker Festival, Gawande (he writes for the New Yorker) spoke of this, and reminded everyone that the hero of the year, Chesley Sullenberger, is a true believer and a faithful follower of the checklist approach.  (Read the post Captain of the Checklist).  Here’s the key excerpt:

To illustrate, (Gawande) discussed the way in which the media had rapidly mythologized the pilot Chesley Sullenberger, the pilot who landed a commercial plane in the Hudson River. “There became questions of who exactly was the hero here,” Gawande said. “Sully kept saying, ‘I want to correct the record. This was a crew effort.’ ”
In saving the plane, Sullenberger and his co-pilot showed daring, but they also methodically went down a list to ascertain their options, and chose the next step until they landed safely. “They adhered to their rigid discipline—they went through their series of checks.”

Did you catch that brilliant simplicity?

• went down a list
• chose the next step

I think that all of the time management insight on the planet boils down to this three step process:

1)  plan the next thing well (so that you always know the next thing to do)
2)  put it on the list
3)  and then do the next thing on the list.

Then — repeat the process…