Checklists, Systems And Time Constraints

I think I’ve mentioned the young contractor who has been slaving away, making our basement look good. I can’t believe how much work he gets done in a day.

“How do you get so much work done in a day?” I asked.

He smiled. “Systems,” he said.


“Yep. Systems.” He continued on and started talking about his first (and only) boss.

His boss was a small business owner, too, doing finish carpentry for some large home builders. He was busy enough that he hired my contractor to work for him. Right out of high school.

The thing he noticed, right off, was that they boss used systems. Even if it was a tiny little job. Systems allowed them to plan the entire job ahead of time and tick off items as they were accomplished.

Also, they put a “guestimated time of completion” on every part of the project.

My contractor has yet to miss a deadline.

This makes a lot of sense, but how many of us use systems in our work / life?

As a “creative” type, I used to shudder at the thought of using some kind of a system. Surely I was so smart and creative that I didn’t need any type of artificial construct to … blah blah blah.

I’ve since come to realize that systems are a good idea. After all, they are used in a lot of places. Important places.

For example, airplanes. Now, I don’t know much about airplanes. A friend of mine is an aircraft mechanic. He said that a plane was made to fly. “It wants to be in the air” is, I think, how he said it.

This is very comforting to me. I’d hate to be in a plane that wanted to stay on the ground.

The reason that there are so few accidents, though, I think is because of systems.

Imagine if the flight crew had no system in place. The flight attendants would maybe open a few coolers and think “Looks like enough sandwiches. There are a few cans of cola. I think there was still some coffee in the back. We should be fine.”

Half way to Hawaii, the passengers would not be happy to discover that there is nothing to eat or drink. Or enough headphones. Or, and this is the big one, enough toilet paper.

This is why the crew has a system. A checklist. How many of these do we have? How much of that? How are the toilet paper stores?

Check it off and they know they are covered.

Same goes for the flight crew up front. The captain and co-pilot don’t take a look around, tap a couple of gauges, see how much fuel is in the tank, ease the seat back and start taxiing down the runway.

If you think it would be bad to run out of toilet paper, halfway, imagine running out of gas.

So they go through a detailed checklist. What are the things that need to be checked for a safe flight? What needs to be cycled up? Or down? How much fuel is there?

The checklist – the system – keeps them from having to rely on memory or any other device.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to put systems in place for my writing. I haven’t been too successful.

I tend to be a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of guy. I used to be a bit proud of that. Now I think that I need some structure. Structure, I’ve realized, is not a bad thing.

One thing I’ve started to do is limit the time I have to write. Like anything else, if I have no deadline, I will keep filling time with stuff.

A time limit means I need to get to work. It doesn’t affect any creativity; rather, it releases me from having to think about how much time I have┬áto do stuff.

It’s creativity within boundaries, and I think it’s starting to work. These posts are getting faster and easier to write.

Now, if I can just get the rest of my life organized … hmmm, I wonder how much toilet paper we have?

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