Lists lists lists

Today that I learned that someone wrote a book specifically on my favourite thing ever: lists.

The book is called The Checklist Manifesto, written by surgeon Atul Gawande. I believe he wrote the book after he helped develop WHO’s surgical safety checklist — a 19-item list over the course of three stages of surgery — following the incident involving a wrongly operated person in Nairobi. In the book Gawande described two types of ideal checklists: DO-CONFIRM, in which you complete the tasks from memory and then go over the checklist to see if you have missed anything; and READ-DO, which is a checklist where you have to perform step-by-step.

Today’s Quartz Obsession — which is also my new obsession — speaks specifically about checklists. Everyone make checklists: surgeons (as illustrated by Gawande), astronauts, Chipotle’s managers, the president, tech people, my mum, and many others. I have heard this story before: Van Halen famously included a clause in his contract specifying that local promoters needed to provide the band with a bowl of M&M’s backstage, with brown one removed. If they were to find one brown M&M in the bowl, it was the indicator that the promoters didn’t read the entire contract, which included a number of safety important provisions. Author and semiotician Umberto Eco even went a bit morbid by claiming “we make lists because we don’t want to die“, citing some literary examples of how even Leopold Bloom in James Joyce’s Ulysses made a list of all the things he found in his drawer, and Homer listing down all the warriors and ships in The Iliad.

Those who know me, know how obsessed I am with lists and that I have lists for almost every task in my life. It is the most practical way or tool of — for the lack of a better phrase — quieting down the noise in my head. I view my brain as very high-end computer RAM — and like a computer RAM, if it gets bogged down with too many software and tasks running, it will be jammed. One way to reduce this mental load is to write down things in lists, so my brain is capable of taking and processing more information. Also, it’s highly useful! As someone who spent the last 7 years as a web project manager, I had no idea how to run, launch, debug, or maintain any projects without any proper checklists. I am also still struggling with the idea that some people often refuse to make lists of things they need to do, only to forget things at the end of the day and cause inconveniences whether to themselves or to others. It is even said that checklists could save lives in hospitals, and if there were some increase in mortality rates, it was likely that the medical teams treated checklists as insignificant.

So sit down and make that list!

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