Checklists suck. I am not a machine. This is bureaucracy!

I am not that checklist type of person. I don’t work like a robot. I need my freedom and my autonomy. Life needs to be spontaneous to be enjoyable. If you follow strict routines all day you’re sucking energy out of me.

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We often hear this from our customers, employees, and people who are presented with the option or the necessity to fill out checklists in their organization. While this is common, widespread, and understandable, there are still some things to point out.

  • Creativity thrives on peace of mind
    A lot of people are burdened with a constant feeling of having forgotten something. It’s painful to see how a simple thing that fell through the cracks can hurt your long and hard preparation to let your results shine. While all the hard things have been resolved, an easy thing wrecks your presentation. A checklist can give you the good feeling of not having forgotten something. You get peace of mind to focus on the hard things. You get “stuff out of the way” and focus on the real work. It can be liberating to be sure that all has been taken care of.
  • Some checklists simply have to be filled out
    If you are in a pharmaceutical company developing a drug or in a hotel to make sure the hygiene standard is high enough for your covid-related certification from an external auditor. A checklist may simply be mandated by the auditor. If you want the certificate, you take care of the checklists. No one will ask if you like it. You just have to do it to achieve.
  • Structure can give a sense, order, and a good feeling
    If you can follow a distinct set of actions, that can be liberating. It frees you from thinking about how to proceed and allows you to just follow. It’s not as good as sitting on a sofa like a couch potato. But it’s fine to be a little simple-minded and “just do.”
  • Routines are hard at first. They grow easier with adoption.
    Following a checklist is hard if you have never done it. You have to familiarize yourself with the checklist tasks and accept that the checklist creator steers your actions. Often checklists work in a field that you’re already experienced in. So there is a slight feeling of embarrassment to accept orders from others for something that is obviously in your scope of control and ability. The more often you do it, the better you can help to adopt the checklist to your actual process and make it fit in nicely. Once a checklist is longer than 7-9 action items, people realize that it actually helps to prevent omitted tasks. And you probably know that at some point, checklists just fit in and are fully accepted. You’ll most likely never meet a pilot who complains about pre-flight checklists. It’s just baked in the common routine. No questions asked.
  • Change is easiest when it feels good.
    But all this chatter does not help much if you feel that a checklist is forced on you without a reason or if it’s simply not helping. That’s why we have included feedback mechanisms into our checklist app for Atlassian Jira and Confluence. It’s not resolving the issue altogether. But it offers a way to change bad checklists and make them turn into helpful ones.