• Overcast, light rain
  • 54°
    Overcast, light rain
  • Comment

The power of making lists

Posted: January 15, 2012 - 12:09am

We all know about how standard to-do lists have the power to focus our attention but did you know that lists can actually change lives? I recently learned from my recently deceased, beloved sister that motivational lists can be powerful tools in changing the course of one’s life. In the bittersweet task of sorting through her belongings we discovered several notebooks containing lists; lists of five things I am grateful for and five things I want to do better. Her lists allowed her to see where she was coming from and where she wanted to go in life. Judging by the outpouring of praise for everything she did and became, she achieved most everything on her lists and had much to be genuinely grateful for. Now in her honor, all the nieces and nephews are making their ‘grateful’ and ‘do better’ lists for posting on Facebook. Hopefully, these lists will have as much impact for them as it did on my sister’s full life.

In addition to helping change lives, lists also save lives. Reporter Atul Gawande captures this message with great medical detail in his New Yorker article entitled, “The Checklist.” He notes that the average patient in an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) requires 178 individual actions per day. That’s a really long list of to-do for any team of medical personnel; let alone having each case present a unique set of risks. What if one percent of these critical medical adjustments such as tilting the patients bed 30 degrees, is missed? Would that further illness or death? These were the questions medical researcher explored when they created a checklist for all patients on mechanical ventilation.

Before putting the checklist into play, the researchers asked nurses to record if any step on the list of 178 was missed. They found an astonishing 74 percent of the patients missed one or more of the steps on the performance list. Once the physicians, nurses and aides began routinely using a designed checklist to ensure completion of all steps, the proportion of patients who didn’t receive the recommended care dropped to four per cent. When they tracked medical outcomes, they found that the occurrence of pneumonias fell by a quarter; and most significantly 21 fewer patients died than in the previous year when checklists were not used. Furthermore, the researchers found having the doctors and nurses in the ICU make their own checklists for what they thought should be done each day improved the consistency of care to the point that, within a few weeks, the average length of a patient’s stay in ICU dropped by half. Saving lives and improving health faster... now that’s real power.

Lists are also cited as one of the most powerful tools to spur creativity. The technique is very simple in principle: state your issue or question in the top of a blank sheet of paper and come up with a list of 100 answers. For example, one might use the heading “100 Ways to Improve my Relationships”. Yes, one hundreds seems like way too many but apparently it is the exaggeration which makes this list technique work so well.

The goal of a making a list of 100 is to take your mind by surprise. After listing the more defined, elaborate ideas and getting into the tedium of making a long list, you slip more into the subconscious; falling off guard and not giving in to any behind-the-scenes editing and thereby producing more creative and different ideas.

Bottom line: If you use lists, embrace them. If you don’t — consider starting.

• Troll is a longtime Alaska resident and resides in Douglas.

  • Comment


  • Switchboard: 907-586-3740
  • Circulation and Delivery: 907-586-3740
  • Newsroom Fax: 907-586-9097
  • Business Fax: 907-586-9097
  • Accounts Receivable: 907-523-2230
  • View the Staff Directory
  • or Send feedback