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An Easy Way to Simplify Your Life

Using checklists can reduce mistakes and improve well-being.

Key points

  • Mistakes make our lives more complicated by wasting time, money, and energy.
  • Research suggests that mistakes can be reduced by as much as 30 percent through the use of checklists.
  • Checklists can be applied to personal self-care and self-improvement programs to make them more effective.
Craig Staffan/ Pixabay
Craig Staffan/ Pixabay

The mistakes we make can cost us time, money, and regret. Mistakes make our lives more complicated than they need to be. Imagine reducing the number of mistakes you make, and the stress associated with those mistakes, by as much as 30 percent. Interested? Simplify your life by reducing mistakes and saving precious energy through the use of checklists.

We All Make Mistakes—So What?

It has been argued that human beings make up to six mistakes per hour and thus up to over 40 mistakes per work shift and over 80 mistakes per day in total. Sometimes these errors go unnoticed or are otherwise inconsequential.

Often, however, we must go back and correct the mistakes we make. This wastes time and sometimes money. Sometimes it means a lost opportunity. But other times human error can be devastating.

It has been estimated that more than 4,000 preventable mistakes occur every year during surgical procedures across the U.S. More specifically, surgery on the wrong operative site or on the wrong person has been estimated to occur 40 times per week in hospitals and clinics in the U.S.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration receives over 100,000 reports of medication errors each year. Approximately 530,000 injury incidents occur yearly in outpatient clinics due to medication errors.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that approximately 94 percent of motor vehicle crashes are caused by driver error or dangerous choices made by drivers. And about 80 percent of airplane accidents are caused by human error.

Why are human errors so prevalent? The simple answer is that we are human, complex in every aspect of our psychology and physiology. And the greater the complexity of any system and the greater the complexity of information being processed, the greater the likelihood of error.

The key to reducing vulnerability to error is developing schedules and routines of accountability. The most effective so far appears to be the checklist.

History of the Standardized Checklist

The B-17 bomber was considered to be the most advanced bomber of its time, but it was difficult to fly. On the second demonstration flight on October 30, 1935, the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress crashed during takeoff at Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio. The crew had forgotten to perform a simple but important task. Rather than leaving the performance of numerous key pre-flight steps to the memories of the pilots, the standardized pre-flight checklist was created.

As noted earlier, surgical errors are far too numerous and potentially devastating. After the turn of the 21st century, the World Health Organization adopted a global safety initiative. Checklists were an essential component of that initiative. As explained by Atul Gawande in his book The Checklist Manifesto, errors were reduced by about 30 percent when instituting a system of checklists.

Simply said, the result of adopting checklists to reduce human error in critical professions has been to reduce injuries and save lives. The generally accepted benefits of using checklists are to increase fidelity to protocols, increase reliability, increase efficiency, increase effectiveness, and reduce errors overall.

Checklists Reduce Stress

The benefits of checklists are not restricted to enhancing patient safety in the healthcare and aviation professions, however. The benefits of checklists for life in general include saving precious energy, and increasing your overall efficiency and effectiveness—and frankly, they just make life simpler and easier.

Golf professionals teach that using a simple mental checklist before driving or putting a golf ball improves performance. Parking a car is made easier by having a simple checklist of maneuvers. Musicians often go through a standard series of steps to warm up before a performance.

Even self-care and self-improvement can be made easier and more successful by using checklists. Effective self-care, and especially self-improvement, is based upon consistency. Consistency matters far more than intensity. Checklists, when used on a daily basis, can increase the efficiency and effectiveness of any personal stress management or wellness program by simply increasing consistent compliance. So, consider making a checklist for things such as the following:

  1. Vitamins
  2. Medications
  3. Physical exercise
  4. Mental exercise
  5. Rest
  6. Hydration
  7. Reaching out to friends and acquaintances
  8. Reaching out to family
  9. Learning something new
  10. Practicing the four attitudes of equanimity: gratitude, forgiveness, optimism, and acceptance.

If you want to make your life simpler, easier, and less stressful; if you want to effectively improve your life, consider using a checklist. (And don’t forget: October 30 is National Checklist Day!)

© George S. Everly, Jr., Ph.D., 2023


Gawande, A. (2009). The checklist manifesto: how to get things right. London: Profile Books Ltd.

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