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Friday, October 01, 2010

Using Procedure Checklists for Flawless Task Execution

A Procedure Checklist is more than a simple To-Do List.

A To-Do list is the best way to get organized for any event. Most of us make a grocery list before going to the store, so why not make a list for everything else in life? The benefits greatly outweigh the time that it may take to make one.

The more To-Do that you make, the faster you will get at it. My Wife Julie first introduced me to how effective these can beit took me 10+ years of marriage to start using them, but it makes a world of difference. Thanks Honey!

The idea at the heart of a procedure list is is something totaly different than a To-Do list. When you write down ten things you want to get done today and cross them off at the end of the day when they are done, that's not a procedures list.

It's just a simple—albeit rewarding!—To-Do list. When a mechanic goes through a list of 50 things to check and evaluate on your car (and every other car he is going to service), he's using a procedure list. A procedure list highlights the things you need to do in a routine process to ensure that everything is done and nothing gets neglected or outright forgotten.

For routine but infrequent tasks making a procedure list ensures a job is done efficiently and thoroughly.

Making a checklist and following it is not a glamorous affair. It is, however, a very efficient affair and one that you would be well served to incorporate into your workflow. I'm a busy person, you're a busy person, and it's quite likely we're not going to be getting any less busy in the foreseeable future, right? Who has time to add in one more thing to their day?

The question would be better rephrased as "Who has the time to make easily avoided mistakes?"

We all make mistakes and forget steps even in tasks we've been doing for years. Procedural checklists serve as concrete reminders of what tasks we need to perform, what order we need to perform them in, and as springboards for tweaking our routines and making them more efficient.

For those of you who have adopted David Allen's Getting Things Done system—or any other system that stresses ubiquitous capture of information—you likely had an initial "I can't believe how well this works!" epiphany when you realized how much you really did forget on a day-to-day basis and how much capturing everything helped in boosting your productivity and efficiency. If you start tracking your procedures and evaluating the steps that go into them you'll experience a similar epiphany regarding routine tasks as you did regarding capturing ideas.
Just like you couldn't believe you were relying totally on your memory before adopting ubiquitous capture you won't be able to believe you were relying, especially during a busy and stressful day, on basic memory recall to make sure everything was done right.

You may have trouble believing that something as simple as writing down the steps of the routine tasks you do every day, evaluating them, and then codifying them into a procedure list could be that revolutionary. Use the following tips and insights to get started and see for yourself.

Record What You Do, Not What You Think You Should Do

Here are two methods of approach when it comes to creating procedure lists. The first method is to look at a given situation and create a best-practice procedural list, where you lay out a perfect sequence of events based on the ideal situation in which they would play out. While this method of procedure list creation can work, it's more efficient to go the second route: start making a procedure list based on what you are currently doing

Why base your list on what you are presently doing? You don't want to deny yourself an opportunity to see what works in your current system. You may not being doing absolutely everything perfectly or at 100% efficiency, but you're certainly doing a lot right—or else you'd have died of food poisoning, been fired, or succumbed to some other fate by now. Creating your list based on what you're currently doing allows you to see exactly what goes into the procedure you're trying encapsulate and to sit back and evaluate it. When was the last time you wrote down everything you did in a given day, step by step, and then checked to see if you were missing important steps or doing things inefficiently? Probably never, and you're not alone in that.

  • What are you doing at work?
  • What routine task are you undertaking?
  • What do you do at the end of the day when it's time to close up shop and go home?

All of these things are procedures, even if you haven't looked at them as such before.
Get a legal pad and a pen and write down, on alternating lines, the steps that go into whatever routine set of tasks you're working on. You can use a computer to compile the list, but I've found that for the first-generation list it's helpful to be able to write freely, scribble notes, and carry the list around with you as you brainstorm and track the procedures around your workplace or home.

Try to be as specific as possible, even if a step seems mundane or "obvious". It's the obvious things that often get overlooked. Examining even the mundane steps of a procedure gives you a chance to see if that step should be in a different spot, done differently, or dropped all together. Remember to list only items that are specific and actionable.

Write your procedure list as though you were writing it for someone else.

Evaluating Your Procedure List

Once you've written down what you do in a given procedure—cleaning your office once a week, preparing client proposals, assembling a monthly report for your boss—it's time to evaluate the procedure list. Evaluating procedure lists is a two-part process: the initial evaluation and a continual review. For your initial evaluation, you'll want to ask the following questions:

  • Is this step necessary?
  • Why is this step included?
  • Is this step in the right place?
  • Should it come sooner or later in the procedure?
  • Are the steps clear enough that I could give this procedure list to another person without explanation?
  • Is each step a concrete action that can be completed and checked off?

Continue the process of evaluating your procedure lists even after the initial evaluation. Situations change and a necessary step today might be a redundant step next month. If you're already in the habit of weekly and monthly reviews, taking the time to evaluate a few procedures with each review will spread out the work and help keep your procedure lists current.

The simple procedure list is a fantastic way to increase the efficiency of and properly evaluate the routine tasks that populate your professional and personal life. Just like writing everything down frees your mind to focus on higher order thinking and important tasks, codifying your routines into a simple list you can reference and check off allows you to focus on more important things than remembering steps. Whether you're building an airplane, mailing proposals, or just trying to get to work on time with a good breakfast and properly packed briefcase, a procedure list can help you do it better and more efficiently.

Procedure Checklist are just on part of the Flawless Execution Model that Our Company utilizes to help continually improve our process and ensure we keep our promises to our clients.

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