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How Learning to Fly Taught Me to Love Checklists

Pre-flight checklists help you focus and minimize mistakes. What about our own businesses? What place do checklists have there and how do we inspire and implement the same kind of focus sans the dire consequences?

All my life I’ve said “someday, I’ll learn to fly.” Turning 40 this year meant “someday” for me is now. My entire family (including my mom) are pilots, so aviation runs in my blood. But, just like anything else, it’s a matter of time, inclination, and budget. After seeing one of my friends arrive at a conference in 30 minutes after I’d driven a long four hours, that sealed the deal. I vowed to fly myself to that conference next year.

It’s been about six months since I started my training and I’ve learned some valuable lessons along the way. Chiefly, the rhythm of aviation revolves around checklists. Everything has a checklist. Want to go flying? Better do your preflight checklist. Want to take off? There’s a run-up checklist. You get the idea.

I initially bristled at the idea of having to run through checklists every time I wanted to go up in the air. My personality is oriented toward rushing through life, making snap decisions, and not always paying close attention to detail. Without corrective behavior, those traits cause aviation deaths pretty quickly. The checklist is the great leveler. It takes all comers and forces them into the same chute, oriented or not. Over time I’ve come to appreciate the process of forcibly slowing down my mind to tick off the boxes while doing my preflight. Every time I arrive at the airport, my mind is moving like yours; 1 million miles per hour, dealing with texts from employees, calls from clients, and myriad other daily distractions. Aviation has no place for distractions, and the checklists ensures your head begins to slow down and FOCUS.

Focus minimizes mistakes. Focus clarifies. Focus keeps you alive. There have been a few times where my focus on the checklist caught issues like low fuel, loose screws, or burned-out lights. Why focus in aviation? Pretty simple. If you don’t focus, you die. What about our own businesses? What place do checklists have there and how do we inspire and implement the same kind of focus sans the dire consequences?

I presented my take on the checklist to our team at Livewire last month. I showed them the checklist for the plane I fly (below):

I asked our team to start thinking about how their day could benefit from checklists. The result? Last week our operations manager, Dante Walston, unveiled new checklists for the installation team based on daily, weekly, and monthly activities. Dante asked the team for input into the document (we’re trying to let our people participate in the planning of their own work) and here’s the final result: Technician’s Daily Operational Procedures Checklist

You’ve probably heard the adage that your employees want to be told what’s expected. Many of our businesses tend to run on the same processes as when we began them. Typically, the owner transitions responsibilities to employees who do their best to interpret the owner’s intent. Many owners (myself included) are guilty of giving vague direction and getting frustrated when our employees don’t read our minds. Even writing this I feel badly for not embracing the “checklist lifestyle” sooner. The very things you despise or ran away from when you started your business may be the very thing your employees need to succeed and thrive within your company.

Are you already living the “checklist lifestyle”? Share your comments below…

Stay frosty and see you in the field.