Project manager that I am, I had a long and detailed checklist of things I had to do to prepare for our holiday vacation. Looking at the Reminders app, I see that I had 10 sections broken into 67 tasks. The last items were checked off as I sat in the car preparing to drive off on our trip. I didn’t forget anything. That isn’t always the case.
I learned the value of checklists back when I was learning to fly. A pilot is taught to use a checklist for everything. It is not enough to look at the item on the list and mentally check it off. For each item on my checklist, I was taught to say it out loud and touch the thing. So if checking to make sure the flaps were properly set before take off, I’d look at my checklist and see an item like “Flaps – UP”, say out aloud “Flaps up” and touch the small lever that deploys and retracts the flap, making sure it was in the UP position. Ever since then, checklists have become an invaluable tool for me.
At work, for instance, I have something of a reputation for being detail-oriented, particularly on complicated software rollouts. The reputation is sustained not by any particular feat of memory on my part, but by extraordinarily detailed checklists, covering every action that needs to be performed, as well as diversions for things that might go wrong (another lesson taken from my flying days).
The problem is that my list for our trip covered the areas that I was responsible for. Kelly had her list. The kids don’t yet have lists, but they know what is important to them and stuff their backpacks full of the things they think they will need on the trip, from games to books to iPhones.
Except: an hour into our drive, Grace suddenly realized that she had left her phone at home. She was distraught. She felt terrible. Like she’d made some kind of horrible mistake. I did not think it was such a big deal at first. There was plenty to do in the car. After all, when I was her age, I stared out the car window, taking in the sights. But (a) her phone is how she communicates with her friends, and (b) kids today are not like kids when I was growing up. Times change. The question, therefore, became: what do do? With each passing minute were were getting farther away. We’d left early, 7 am, in order to avoid traffic. To turn back home to get the phone would mean a 2-hour delay and would be the difference between getting to our hotel in Savannah, GA at 7pm instead of 4:00 or 4:30pm.
Technology and our neighbor came to the rescue. Kelly contacted our next door neighbor and asked if they could retrieve the phone and ship it down to Kelly’s mom’s house where we were staying. Since our neighbors and some friends are keeping an eye on our house while we are gone, they already had a key. I used my phone to shut off the alarm. We were also prepared to send a signal to Grace’s phone so that it would make a PING sound so that our neighbor could easily find it. That wasn’t necessary. She found the phone, and shipped it off. Grace was happy, knowing her phone would arrive in a few days. I turned our alarm back on and we continued our drive south, arriving at our hotel just after 4 pm as originally planned.
I’m taking this opportunity to teach the kids about the value of checklists. Grace, who enjoys writing things down (she, like me, already keeps a diary) should take to this quickly. Zach resists. He wants to keep everything in his head. He’ll have to learn the hard way. Our five-year old wants to write a checklist, but can only write a handful of words. On the drive down she had a piece of paper and pen and kept asking things like, “Mom, how do you spell, ‘Don’t forget to bring Margaret, and the iPad and put Home Alone and Harry Potter 6 on the iPad’?” For her, at least, that was one item on her checklist.
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