The Checklist Manifesto Summary, Review and Implementation Guide (ANIMATED)

“The Checklist Manifesto” by Atul Gawande is one of my most favorite productivity books! It is easy to read, extremely actionable and filled with real-life examples of every tactic. Dr. Gawande has a great style of writing that makes reading a breeze.

But, like with most books, it requires time to read it all and not every page will call out to you. That is why I have put together a “Checklist Manifesto summary” for you. This way, you can review the core concepts of the book in much shorter time. If the summary speaks to you, dig into the book by all means. If not, you know you have saved yourself some time and potentially money.

So, let’s do it.

The Checklist Manifesto Summary

Today, people can do amazing things that just a few decades ago were totally impossible!

From building skyscrapers, to carrying the Internet in our pockets, predicting tornadoes and saving people from impossible and severe injuries – there seems to be absolutely no limit to what we can accomplish.

Yet, somehow, experienced, well-trained, and quite capable people make totally avoidable mistakes. Every. Single. Day. Sometimes with fatal results.


As Atul Gawande puts it:

The level and complexity of our collective knowledge has exceeded the capacity of any individual to get everything right

So, how can we not only survive but thrive in this increasingly more complex world?

The solution is rather simple – creating checklists.

(I bet you saw it coming given the name of the book being “The Checklist Manifesto” 😉

The Power Of Checklists

Clear, and easy-to-follow checklists that a trained person can follow and quickly implement can save lives, and they do, every, single, day.

Picture this – the average ICU patient requires 178 actions or procedures per day!

178! Per day!

The possibility of making a fatal mistake is enormous to say the least.

We have a greater than ever chance to save someone from a previously fatal sickness or injury. But, we have an ever increasing chance to harm them as well.

This is why checklists are so crucial.

They can prevent failure by addressing 2 many problems:

1) Our attention to detail and memory are not reliable and often fail.

2) We tend to skip steps even when we remember them.

In other words, checklists can help lower the mistakes of the natural phenomenon called “people being people“.

After all, if you’re patient in the ICU, you would want things to be done from a clearly outlined, battle-tested checklist instead of from memory, from a doctor or a nurse who might be sleep-deprived or had a flat tire on the way to work, has a sick kid at home, or hasn’t had their coffee yet.

Checklists protect against failures, because they remind a person of the minimum steps required even in the most complex of tasks.

Now that we’ve established how crucially important checklists are, let’s talk about how do you actually create a good one. And the emphasis is on the word GOOD. Anyone can create a checklist. Creating a useful one? That is a a totally different story.

How To Create Useful Checklists

The Checklist Manifesto Summary and Review

There are 2 major steps to start with.

  1. Define a clear pause point or a break in the workflow at which the checklist is to be used.
  2. Decide between a “Do Confirm” and a “Read Do” list.

“Do Confirm” Checklist

A “Do Confirm” checklist is exactly as it sounds. Do first, confirm after.

In other words, execute the given task or procedure, then pause to confirm that every step has been completed. If you’ve ever been on a plane, you have seen the flight attendants do this on take off and landing.

“Read Do” Checklist

The “Read Do” is also exactly as it sounds.

It calls for doing the task in a step-by-step manner, following the instructions of the checklist. Whichever way go, here’s how you make your checklist even more useful.

  • Short – try to keep it short, ideally five to nine items and never more than a page.
  • Simple – keep the wording super simple and precise
  • Familiar language – use language that is familiar to the person who the checklist is intended for.
  • Important only – concentrate on the most important items that will be the most dangerous if they were missed.

Once you have created the checklist, it comes the most important task of all – testing it in the real world. Use it yourself or have another person battle test it and provide feedback.

As with everything else in life, there is always a difference between theory and practice.

Whether you’re landing a plane, keeping a patient alive or dealing with less superhero tasks like trying to get all the work done in one day, buying all your groceries, packing your kids for a trip or executing a marketing plan to grow your business, checklists are a phenomenal tool to help you make sure you stay on track, and get the job done.

Your Turn Now

And there you have it, a “Checklist Manifesto” summary. You know what makes a great checklist according to Atul Gawande and you know how to create one. Now, the big question is – what are you going to do with it?

My suggestion is to pick one of the two:

  • A process that you have repeating over and over again – could be daily or weekly
  • A process that is causing you the most amount of pain. You know, that tasks that always bugs you, the one you tend to procrastinate because of how iffy it makes you feel.

Either one of the above is fine.

Now, create a “checklist manifesto” checklist for the given task and see where it takes you. Chances are that it will make your life a lot more streamlined and easy. Once you see the power of it, you’ll be hooked and you’ll be doing checklist left and right.

The idea is start small, test the checklist tactic first and only then make it part of your productivity and organization arsenal. If you really get deep into it, like I did, get yourself a copy of “The Checklist Manifesto”. The summary and review I did is great to get you started but it is not meant to substitute the book after all.

Question: what is a task in your life (personal or professional) that you think will benefit the most from being streamlined by a checklist? Leave a comment below and let me know.

Frequently Asked Questions

This is section of the questions and concerns I hear the most about when I share my Checklist manifesto summary and review with people.

What is a Checklist Manifesto summary

The Checklist Manifesto is written by Dr. Atul Gawande. It examines the use of checklists to improve numerous elements of daily personal and professional life. It outlines the features of a good checklist and provides the steps of creating a useful one for any task, at home or at work.

What are the lessons from the checklist manifesto?

No matter how complex a task is, one can always make it simpler to understand and execute by creating a checklist for it. A detailed checklist protects against failures by reminding a person of the minimum steps required and the order they need to be done in.

Where can I get a checklist manifesto chapter 1 summary?

While the above review does not dig into the specific chapter of the book, it does provide a pretty good outline of the ideas and tactics outlined.

Where can I find a checklist manifesto template?

Process Street provides a pretty good rendering of a template that is used in the actual book. You can access it here.

Is there a checklist manifesto Ted Talk?

Of course there is! It is a wonderful 20 minute video that does a great job describing the process. You can watch it here.