Check mark in a box.

First, I should mention that I have felt that I have been fairly organized for a long time. In the late 90s I discovered the power of the Franklin Covey time management system (formerly Franklin Planner). In the 2000s while working for 3Com I fell in love with the Palm Zire, my first digital planner. For me it was all the power of Franklin Covey with the convenience of a digital interface. With it I could track appointments, stay abreast of tasks, even journal my car log. There is a certain ‘retentiveness’ about me that causes me to want to keep a history of my vehicle’s fuel economy with every fill-up. The Palm allowed me to put information about every fill-up into a form and upload it to my desktop and from there, into a spreadsheet.

I thought I had this organization thing knocked. Then I read The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande. It was rather like seeing the world in three dimensions for the first time. Or perhaps more like how Morpheus in the movie The Matrix described to Neo “Have you ever felt like the world was pulled over your eyes to shield you from the truth?” And what was the truth? The truth was that I had a list of tasks that never got done. The truth was I had a list of appointments that I never booked. It was the hundreds of time wasters that trimmed my day down to the bone and made me feel like needed 4 assistants to do the scut work so I could do what I needed to do. I didn’t forget to do things any more. I simply set myself up to fail to get things done.

This was especially irksome for me because I have two underlying traits (obsessions) that I am almost powerless against. First, I multitask. My definition of this is almost certainly different from yours. I do not try to do two things at once. What I do is try to keep other machines working while I work. For example, a dishwasher or washing machine should be running when you leave the house so they will be ready to be emptied when you return.

My other trait is I hate stopping in the middle of a task to come back to it tomorrow. I can stop long enough to move the wash to the dryer but leaving a task til later is an anathema to me.

So how did the checklist manifesto help me? It wasn’t a revelation. It was more an illumination. It showed me I needed to focus on seeing the steps, not just the task. Every step has a context; a place, a time. Lets start with time. Tasks generally are not locked to a specific date and time, if they were they could be placed into an appointment slot, so they float. They may have a priority, high to low, and a number to indicate the order which you might do them. But this is leaves tasks in a time limbo. I needed to learn to group tasks into the available time slots around appointments and make it a point to make these tasks my first priority whenever breaks occurred. Likewise I needed to filter my tasks by location. Nothing is more frustrating than leaving the office and then remembering that there was one more task I could have done.

Still, in spite of these tune-ups, I wasn’t gaining the productivity I was looking for. What was missing? For one thing the more important a task is, the more likely it is to have a checklist associated with it.

Experienced pilots know their routines by heart but they go over their checklist every time they fly. Why? Because a minor oversight can impair the outcome. No airliner ever went down because of an item missed on a checklist. It takes a series of failures. And not every checklist has to be on paper. A habit that forms a routine that you do the same way each time can work for you. Your habits will either work for you or against you but either way you will have habits. In the morning do you ask yourself: Where’s my wallet? Where are my keys? Where are my glasses? Have you made a habit of searching for them? Or do you have a habit of simply picking them up and putting them in the same pocket every day? Building habits into routines will save you countless hours because you will have most of what you need where you need it. Focusing on tasks and aligning them to specific time gaps and filtering them for locations will help get them done, and not just left aging, like cheap wine, on your to-do list.

And all of this pales in comparison to how the checklist manifesto has helped me accomplish more within groups.

At Semafores as we developed the concept of Curi™ the central theme was This is not in one person’s head. Everything was focused on the family. Communication and collaboration were at the heart of each decision we made. The Checklist Manifesto spoke to me not only about setting up steps to achieve goals. Much more than that it spoke to effective communication—removing the assumptions about a task and replacing them clear, precise instructions and guidelines that empower the user to take action. That means knowing at a glance who is responsible for making the next task happen. When it is your turn to act you will know precisely what to do, for whom and when. The Manifesto also spoke to empowering members of the family, the team, to intervene at any point to question or seek confirmation because this prevents errors and omissions. In Curi™ this principle is part of the motivation behind the Minder, a friend or family member, who follows-up with the action taker if there is a problem.

In every collaborative environment, especially a design environment, the ability to adapt quickly, fail often, and keep moving forward are a must. Each member has a distinct skill set but we realize our strength comes from synergy. The lesson we have taken most to heart is that even being the ‘resident expert’ doesn’t necessarily make one’s word the last word. Each of us has learned to accept course correction and guidance from the others without our egos getting in the way. And this one facet above all others as accelerated our development. This is this same collaborative spirit that we are building into Curi™. With its ability to allow family members to: share information, give and receive control of tasks, be alerted to potential problems, and lend support, encouragement and correction to each other, Curi™ is no doubt uniquely positioned to help families and extended family obtain their health goals.