Would you agree that many of us would like to think we operate at peak performance most of the time?

It is a challenge for most high-functioning humans to put their ego aside long enough to realize that we are all fallible. Many folks make it very far in life by keeping our thoughts and ideas rolling around in their heads, mentally adding and checking things off their “internal” to-do list.

Generally speaking, humans are lazy – especially when it comes to making notes, making lists, etc. We are wired to naturally think we will remember everything that we need to remember. However, that is your EGO speaking. Studies have shown that people remember 10% of what they hear, 20% of what they read, and 80% of what they see. This is because the human brain processes visual cues better than written language or audible instructions. Those percentages may be a little +/-, depending on whom you ask, but it’s hard to argue that visual cues are paramount to success.

If you did a survey of highly successful individuals, you’d probably learn that Checklists (or To-Do Lists or Task Lists or whatever you like to call them) are a big component of their success. Journaling is another way that extraordinary folks continue to improve over time.

Excuses abound as to why people don’t make more lists, but “I don’t always have paper/pen with me” and “I don’t have time” top the list. They are just that – excuses. Additionally, the advent of a smartphone in almost everyone’s pocket has given us another option. We can be in the middle of almost anything, then quickly add something to our personal To-Do List, complete with a reminder on a certain day at a certain time. We can even do it with voice commands!

Some uses of Checklists may surprise you. People at the pinnacle of their craft need checklists too and here are three prime examples:

1. Airline and Small Craft Pilots. For decades, airplane systems have been complicated enough to require checklists. When things are going right, there are still critical things that need to be remembered at the right time to avoid disaster. Additionally, airplane checklists often include “Emergency” checklists that help take the human aspect out of dealing with an in-air emergency.
2. Military Pilots. Standard aircraft are convoluted enough, but add to that the additional complexities of military aircraft and it’s easy to begin to see the value of checklists.
3. Military Field Leaders. Warcraft is a tough place to be. To say it would be easy to get distracted is an understatement. Armed Services folks use Field Manuals and Checklists every day to ensure what they are doing is 100% to the letter.

Checklists are so vital to success in flying that pilots can purchase kneeboards, which strap to their legs to keep their checklists exactly where they need them. These are used for checklists and notes. Going one step further, kneeboards can be purchased “lighted” so they still have access to their checklists and notes when the cockpit is dark. That really showcases how important their checklists are to their success (and survival).

In one last extreme example, note the sleeves on the pilot’s pressure suit from a spy plane in the graphic. Each sleeve has a patch with the plane’s emergency ejection procedure embroidered RIGHT THERE ON THE SLEEVE! If the best of the best utilize checklists, wouldn’t it be fair to say that you, too, could find value in admitting that you cannot remember everything and turn to your own checklist to keep you pointed toward your goals?