Self Improving Checklists (for business travel)

I recently found myself in Ottawa, Canada without my suitcase. I’d flown from the UK via Toronto and my case hadn’t. At lost luggage, I was able to detail exactly what was in my bag. Given my Dyslexic/Dyspraxic memory challenges, this may appear quite a feat. How did I do it? I have a learning list, a self-improving check lift, for my business travel. This is not a post about how to pack effectively for business travel – given my mishap you’d be better looking to Manager Tools or Tim Ferris for that. This post will introduce the concept of self-improving checklists and how to use them in the workplace. I teased this concept in my post : Strategies for Overcoming Poor Memory in the Work Place.

Creating the Checklists

I create my list in my Journal as I always have it with me. My travel packing list has 5 checklists:

  • Hold luggage packing
  • Hand luggage packing
  • Pre-trip actions
  • Final checks
  • Learning points

I start with the obvious things like clothes, passport, tickets. I capture as much as I can think of and write it down in the relevant section. As more things come to mind I add to the list. I originally intended for the learning points section to be completed after the trip (or on the flight home) but I have used it before trips to capture things like cheaper days to fly, visa lead times and other things that are handy to remember at the start of the trip planning process

Pre-Trip Actions and Final Checks

My original list was just a packing list but I quickly learned I needed to depart for a business trip with more than just the clothes and toiletries I needed. I use the actions list to ensure I can get the most from the trip. It contains things like confirming the itinerary, writing out key contact numbers in case my phone battery dies or does not work at the destination, compiling a trip reading folder so I can make use of the otherwise dead time, recapping on the expense policy and procedure, caching local maps on my phone so I don’t need to use roaming data and so on. I do not use my list as the trip itinerary or expenses log – that information gets captured elsewhere.

The final checks section is the part of the list I go through the day before the trip. Have all the packing and actions items been marked as complete or not needed? Is my ticket, itinerary, passport, and reading folder in my hand luggage bag? Have I updated my voicemail and email so that people know I’ll be hard to contact? Have I completed online check-in? Is my laptop charged?

Improving the List

Throughout the trip, if I find there is something I should have done or packed to make the trip better I add it to the list. Forgot to pack reading glasses? Can’t charge my phone between flight connections as the travel adapter is in the hold luggage? All useful points for next time.

I’ve learned there is little point in planning to review the trip logistics on my first day back in the office. Too much is likely to need my attention. I use the time in the departure lounge to ponder what I might do differently next time. Were there things I packed that I didn’t need to? Could I do enough productive thing in the inevitable dead time? Have I scheduled time on my return to ensure I get the full value from the trip?

Subsequent trips

The next time a business trip comes up I create a new trip page in my journal and copy into it the previous list. This is not a blind copy as each trip is a little different. If this is my first trip in a new journal I’ll copy out the irrelevant items (some trips don’t require a visa) and strike it through so it is not lost for future trips. I have separate lists for domestic trips where I might drive or use trains and international trips where I’ll fly as the requirements are sufficiently different.  I use a technique called threading in my journal.  At the bottom of a page I put the page numbers of related pages. So on my most recent list I can also see the page numbers for other related lists.

Other Applications

This self-improving list technique can be used for anything that is done infrequently. It can also be used for anything you plan to delegate. The specific sections will change but the process of capturing what you know at the start, updating as you find out more and then reviewing to look for improvements. I am considering starting a podcast. If I do when I start I’ll know nothing. I’ll research to start my list of how to create and publish a cast. I might even mind map it so I can determine what the key process elements are or likely sub task groupings.  I’ll probably struggle at first and add lots to the list. After a few iterations it will be largely stable and at this point I can look to outsource the task using the check list as a clear description of what needs to happen.

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