Rule 7: If the Work is Important Write it Down

I have a file on my laptop

It is a rather sad file, it is called “Sunday Night”.

I travel for work and on Sunday nights I pack a bag for Monday morning.  The file reads a little like this…

  • Sunday Night: Taxi, Train Times, Water Bottle, Hat, Scarf, Gloves, Coat
  • Monday: Shirt, Jacket, Trousers, Belt, Shoes, Socks, Grots
  • Tuesday: Shirt, Jacket, Trousers, Belt, Shoes, Socks, Grots

I won’t bore you with the rest of it, I am sure you get the idea — if you don’t know what socks and grots are then don’t ask.

Memory isn’t perfect

Once you have studied the work and standardised it, it is wise to write it down.  That way you won’t forget it. Don’t write down everything, just the things that are important.  That is why I include “grots” on my list.

I know what you are thinking

I have heard it all before:

I am a professional. What I do is sophisticated. There are so many nuances. You couldn’t possibly write it all down. Process maps are for clipboard monkeys who dumb things down or boil them up so far they are meaningless.

The gentleman in the video is a surgeon, he has studied at:

  • Stamford University
  • Balliol College Oxford
  • The Harvard Medical School
  • The Harvard School for Public Health.

He has more letters after his name than I have in mine.  I suspect your work is no more sophisticated than his.

By writing a checklist he reduced post-operative death rates by 47%.

Please watch the video, it is a fascinating 19 minutes.

Rule 7: If the work is important write it down

There is absolutely, positively no point whatsoever in standardising the work if nobody knows what the standard is.

  • Write a checklist
  • Draw a picture
  • Take some photographs.

It doesn’t matter how you do it… Document  the work.

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Image by Jonathan Khoo


  1. Simple, straightforward and very true

  2. I couldn’t agree more, James. Even if for no other reason than the “Mack truck test.”

    Annette :-)

  3. maz iqbal says:

    Hello James,

    I find myself totally with you. Where the work matters checklists are essential. We are not rational creatures with perfect memories. We are creatures taken over by moods – always in moods. Mood affect what we notice and what we do not notice, also how we notice that which we notice. So it is easy for us to ‘forget’ or simply not do that which needs to be done. This is where adherence to the checklist – provided that the checklist is kept up to date is key.

    One of the things that I do is to guide-manage-oversee the implementation of CRM technologies. In that process, deployments take place to environments: systems test, user acceptance testing, training, production. I use a deployment checklist to guide the work of all the parties. This checklist is refined upon each deployment based on what worked and did not work. So that by the time the system is to be deployed there is an up to date, real world tested, deployment checklist with which all parties are familiar (as in real world familiar). Where I have used the deployment checklist in this way the deployments to production have gone like clockwork.


    • James Lawther says:

      Maz, I think your point is very well made:

      Provided that the checklist is kept up to date

      If the checklist is out of date it is worse than useless as it lacks credibility