Checklists: Why are They Important in Getting Things Right


What’s the one single thing that contributed to lowering major complications in surgery by a third and cutting death rates (also in a surgery) in half?

Was it a new drug? Not really. But if it was, there would certainly be an incredible amount of media attention, with the company/organization who invented it receiving incredible recognition.

That single thing that contributed to lowering complications and death rates was…a checklist. It was a 19-point checklist that was used before beginning surgery that made sure people did the essential things, like give anesthesia and check for other basic problems before operation.

What most people often assume when dealing with complex procedures (like a surgery) is that we often get the basics right. This is not true. There is a worrying rate of doctors/surgeons forgetting about some basic things that need to be done, things that contribute to some major complications in the long run (like we’ve seen above). A simple list of things to-do solves this problem.

But are checklists limited only to the medical industry? Checklists are used everywhere to avoid errors. Take the aviation industry. Before takeoff, they have a simple, easy-to-understand checklist which makes sure the essential things are being done (essential = if they don’t get done, there could be a big chance for a crash).

Checklists and the Web Design Industry

The web design industry is getting more complicated every day. We must make sure small, but critical things are being done, like making sure the right conditions are set depending on the client we’re dealing with, then also be certain we’re doing everything our client requires during the project and so on.

Have you had a time when you missed something while designing a project for a client? Yeah, I thought so. It was usually a mistake where you thought ‘Gosh, I can’t believe I missed that!’ The truth is, our memory is limited. We can’t possibly remember every single detail. Even doctors, as we’ve seen in the previous examples, make some basic mistakes and need a checklist to remind them to do the essentials. I think web designers can do the same and dramatically decrease the rate of errors they make.

The “essentials” are the foundation of the whole project we’re trying to get done. The thing is, we usually get bored if we do a particular thing for a prolonged period of time. And essentials are the things we need to do all the time. So our mind starts considering them as boring and focuses on other, more ‘fancy’ things, thus hindering our progress in the longrun.

In his book, The Checklist Manifesto, Atul Gawande describes also how checklists are also being used in the building industry. He says that everything those people do is made into one enormous list of items that are being checked after they get done. That way they keep the failure rate at below .1%.

Types of Checklists

There are basically 2 types of checklists you can use:

a) DO-CONFIRM checklist

With the DO-CONFIRM checklist you do the job from your memory or your experience. But after a certain period, you stop. You pause, take the checklist and confirm everything was done as supposed.

This type of checklist is often used in the aviation industry in procedures like handling a disaster. When you’re handling something unexpected, you’re usually in ‘fight or flight mode’ so the chances of missing something are pretty big. Using this type of reminder checklist is a great way to make sure everything is being done in the right order.

b) READ-DO checklist

What is a READ-DO checklist? It’s the typical checklist when you first READ what you have to do, and then you do it and check you’ve done the task. Or read what you do, check the task and start doing it. You don’t go through a series of tasks and then use the checklist to see if you’ve done those tasks in the proper order like with the DO-CONFIRM type of list.

Many checklists don’t need to be done in the proper order. You can do the things you’re supposed to do in random sequence. It really depends on your situation. But please know that the tasks on the checklist aren’t always required to be done in their proper order.

There is not a universal approach to creating checklists so try out some of the ideas above (plus, make your own depending on your situation) and see what works for you.

Ideas for Web Design Checklists

You can try and use a checklist when you’re dealing with a client. For example, after you’ve finished the deal and are ready to start working you can use the DO-CONFIRM checklist and see if all things are done as needed. Price point? Checked. All terms clear? Checked. Discussed what will happen if client is not satisfied with the end design? Checked.

Another idea is to use a READ-DO checklist when starting to work. There might be several things you need to do before you start working like checking all suggestions the client gave you are being put in place. Or whether you’ve checked the websites the client gave you for ideas.

Checklists can also help in emergency situation. For example, if something urgently came up, you may want to make sure your client and co-workers are notified etc. Remember out example with the aviation industry?

You don’t need to make a checklist for everything though, that would be stupid. First, try to identify things where you consistently make 1 or more errors, skip 1 or more things before or after starting work etc. Then try making a checklist for a week. After a week, reflect and see if that list helped you in reminding you of some of the things you used to forget. If yes, continue using it. If no, ditch it.

Is There Any Good Software for Creating Checklist?

So far TaDaLists is the simplest one/best I found. It’s a free online application and makes the process of creating/organizing checklists very easy.

To create a new checklist in TaDaLists, just click on “Create a new list” and enter the name:

You can then add the necessary items to that particular list. To remove an item from a list, just click on ‘Edit’ and then on the X sign next to each item.

If you want to make checklists offline, you can try and download a template for the office application you use like Microsoft Word or Excel freely available on

Have you found this post to be useful? Please let me know in the comments section below.



  1. Nzamudheen

    Very useful and explained in simple and systematically, caovering almost all the perspectives.

  2. Rahul

    of Course checklists are not limited only to the medical industry ! that way is really helpful for everyone , even for student….. being organized is the most important and it is a way to make priorities and feel comfortable while you know you wont be forgetting stuff like what you mentioned !!!

  3. Ralph

    I think a checklist is indeed a must in our profession. There are so many things to ask a client and the clients wishes/requirements will make that list longer and longer, so if I wouldn’t use one I’d simply loose sight of the project.
    Great article!

  4. Good article. I use Bascamp (also from 37 Signals) and find it very useful especially when working with a small team of people.