How to do Things Right Every Time …

It was supposed to be a sure thing.

It was October 30, 1935. Considered a “mere formality,” the U.S. Army Air Corps held a “flight competition” at Wright Air Field in Dayton, Ohio.

The winner would receive the contract to build the military's next generation of long-range bombers.

Boeing Corporation's Model 299 was expected to win easily. It could carry five times as many bombs as the Army had requested. It could fly faster than previous models and almost twice as far.

They were up against Martin and Douglas.

The Boeing plane started down the runway, climbed to about 300 feet, stalled, turned on one wing, crashed, and exploded. Two of the five crew members died, including pilot Major Ployer P. Hill.

The investigation revealed that nothing technical had gone wrong with the plane. The crash was due to pilot error.

While attending to the four engines, the retractable landing gear, the wing flats, etc., Hill had forgotten to release the new locking mechanism on the elevator and rudder controls.

As a result, the media dubbed the plane "too much airplane for one man to fly."

One of Martin and Douglas' smaller planes was declared the winner, and Boeing almost went bankrupt.

So how did Boeing correct the problem? Did they redesign the plane? Alter the pilot training program?

No, they put together a checklist for the pilots to use. A simple index card with a step-by-step list of things a pilot must do before takeoff.

In his book The Checklist Manifesto, Atul Gawande relates this story, as well as numerous instances (mostly medical, architectural, food-preparation, and aeronautical) where checklists would have increased efficiency and reduced errors.

For freelancers, a checklist could help you get through all the things you want to accomplish each day to advance your career, like read about trends in your niche for an hour, contact new clients, social media time, etc.

Or you could use a checklist to make sure you hit all the objectives that a client has for a project.

Aside from not forgetting something, here are some ways using a checklist can benefit you as a freelancer.

Checklists …

  1. Help eliminate feeling overwhelmed – Instead of keeping everything you have to do in your head, you can just focus on one thing at a time. You’ve laid out everything else you need to do in your list.
  2. Reduce your stress level – Because it’s written down, you don't have to worry that you're going to forget something or that you already forgot something.
  3. Prevent distractions from taking their toll on you – Have you ever meant to do something but got distracted and then completely forgot about it? If you work from a checklist, you'll never have this problem.
  4. Help you consistently produce as close to the desired results as possible – Every checklist you write is based on your past experience of what's required to produce the best possible results. So if you consistently duplicate those actions, you should consistently get similar results.
  5. Fill in the gap when your memory fails you – Our memories are not infallible. Checklists help when your memory fails.
  6. Take very little time to review – To review a checklist usually takes less than a minute, yet can save you hours, profits, and more when you use them.

Another great thing about checklists is you can put them together very cheaply. All you need is a pencil and piece of paper.

If you want to computerize your checklists, type "checklist software" into Google and you will find numerous checklist software applications. You could sign up (for free) with the "Expert Checklists" site – it’s one I recommend. There are also checklist apps available for the iPhone, iPad, iPod, and other hand-held devices.

If you use the free application Evernote, you can quickly create a checklist in one of your notes by right-clicking in the body, selecting "To Do" and then "Insert Checklist."

Do you use checklists? Do you have any other suggestions for checklists that would make a writer's life more productive? If so, post your comments here.

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Published: September 19, 2012

6 Responses to “How to do Things Right Every Time...”

  1. Thank you for contributing this article and I would like you to know that I really enjoyed reading it.

    Your ideas are right on the money and useful for any working professional.

    It is sensible to prepare a checklist every single day unless you have been blessed with the memory of an elephant.

    A checklist is great because it helps you to achieve your goals without having to remember every single detail.

    Our lives are way too complicated for us to remember everything, so a checlist can do the work for us.

    I have been using a checklist for the longest time and I can't imagine my life without it.

    Archan MehtaSeptember 19, 2012 at 12:49 pm

  2. Thank you for contributing this article and I would like you to know that I really enjoyed reading it.

    Your ideas are right on the money and useful for any working professional.

    It is sensible to prepare a checklist every single day unless you have been blessed with the memory of an elephant.

    A checklist is great because it helps you to achieve your goals without having to remember every single detail.

    Our lives are way too complicated for us to remember everything, so a checlist can do the work for us.

    I have been using a checklist for the longest time and I can't imagine my life without it.

    Archan MehtaSeptember 19, 2012 at 12:49 pm

  3. I have 3 checklists I use when working on a copywriting project; one for preparing to write, a second for checking I've written the best sales letter I can and a third I use when designing a response / order form.

    They are all in my book and I let clients who have asked for a copy review have them to help them write their sales letters.

    Carol Bentley PYBSeptember 19, 2012 at 1:45 pm

  4. Since I am a Mac user, I use an app called Wasabi which has both a desktop and an iPhone/iPad version. It's very easy to use and I don't have to search around for a piece of paper to jot down my checklist!

    KeithSeptember 19, 2012 at 2:52 pm

  5. Hi, John.
    Great article and concept. Having a checklist makes me more productive. And checking an item off really is a good feeling.

    I use a Windows 7 computer for most of my work. The "Sticky Notes" feature work great for small lists. For example, a list of things to do that day. They work like post-it notes, but don't gum up your monitor! LOL

    Steve

    Steve MaurerSeptember 19, 2012 at 7:46 pm

  6. I flew military and commercial airplanes for 38 years. I never had an accident because I always used a checklist regardless of the size of the airplene. I have not made a checklist for my AWAI program and am not getting off the ground very well. I need to follow my own advice, today is the day.

    Guest (Willis P)September 20, 2012 at 3:09 pm


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