On the importance of checklists

I didn’t use to keep any type of checklists when doing my job. Which, by the way, is not to sit and think to get ideas. That’s nobody’s job, not even a creative’s :)

But, in all seriousness, there comes a time after doing any job for a while when you think you have a process built in, and you will naturally just go through the motions. Read the client brief, do some desk research, ask for the debrief questions, see what additional info we have and what we need, read through that, scan user research, try to source independent research etc. You think you know what steps you go through and that you will go through all the necessary ones to get to the desired outcomes.

But you don’t. And I found myself just skipping one of these, not by design, nobody makes the decision to just skim through the brief, but because I thought I had in-built some steps and I didn’t need to pay attention if I was going through all of them.

Primarily, though, what I have found myself doing is skipping steps because I think I’ve cracked a problem before going through ALL the steps. So my brain gets into a very comfortable space where I feel like I have finished my task and I am unwilling to put more effort into it. [BTW, this is where there is a very useful thinking “hack” you can use which is to “put a pin in it” — basically, yo mentally decide that is a good idea but you need to go and think of something else.]

The other thing that happens is my brain also actively works to keep me from information that might get in the way of the comfort that having “cracked” the problem has generated. I actually have gotten annoyed at getting info which seemed to contradict an opinion which I had already formed. So this is where you and I both need to go back to Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking, Fast and Slow” and always remember that if the brain thinks it can solve something on autopilot, it will go out of its way to do that and not engage the more active part of it. The brain wants to be lazy.

So, I keep checklists for everything I do. Research — I have a research checklist. User research — separate checklist for that. Taking notes — checklist for that. Documents I should be filling in — okay, these are on the research list, I’m not totally crazy. And every day, I go through my checklists to make sure I have done my due diligence before I form an opinion. And I have checklists for after that as well?

Is this counter-creative? Maybe, but I’d rather have three good solutions to optimise, than 45 questionable ones that will get killed by someone in the room. Get checklists.

PS: no, you cannot have my checklists :) make your own.

Digital Strategist. The Internet will save the world (pending verification). Views expressed here are my own/should not be construed as coming from my employer.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store