ADHD & The Checklist Manifesto

ADHD & The Checklist Manifesto

My friend Katy, a legal secretary, swears by using a checklist to keep ADHD chaos at bay at a busy law practice.  Physician, surgeon, and writer Atul Gawande likes checklists so much, he wrote a popular book about it.

In The Checklist Manifesto, Gawande dissects a problem that plagues every quarter of the modern world. That is, how can we streamline the increasing complexity of our responsibilities—in the operating theater, in the cockpit, and anywhere else professionals strive to “get it right.”

This book excerpt, below, reminds me of  a common complaint from my friends with ADHD: They can’t imagine adhering to any system so “boring” or even “like being in prison.”

Will Using Checklists Really Feel Tortuour?

Like an expert CBT therapist, Gawande acknowledges the fear that many of us harbor about using checklists—and scrutinizes any basis for truth behind it:

The fear people have about the idea of adherence to protocol is rigidity. They imagine mindless automatons, heads down in a checklist, incapable of looking out their windshield and coping with the real world in front of them.

But what you find, when a checklist is well made, is exactly the opposite.

The checklist gets the dumb stuff out of the way, the routines your brains shouldn’t have to occupy itself with (Are the elevator controls set? Did the patient get her antibiotics on time? Did the managers sell all their shares? Is everyone on the same page here? etc.), and lets it rise above to focus on hard stuff (Where should we land?).–The Checklist Manifesto, by Atul Gawande, MD

In my experience, people don’t change until they challenge their underlying beliefs.  If you have adult ADHD and consider yourself “allergic” to checklists, you might find this an important read.

I’d love to hear your experiences with checklists. Feel free to leave a comment!

Also Put This On Your ADHD Reading Checklist

What are other ways to transform ADHD chaos to order throughout your life?

In my experience, the first step comes with recognizing the pain that disorganization is causing you or your loved ones.  The next step: Adopting a meaningful philosophy of life that guides all future actions.

You’ll find posts on the ADHD Roller Coaster that tackle organization from all angles. Yet, here is a particularly good one:  an excerpt from a captivating and inspiring new book from Jaclyn Paul: Order from Chaos: The Everyday Grind of Staying Organized When You Have ADHD.

Jaclyn’s is a decidedly thoughtful and intelligent voice on many aspects of ADHD, shared through her blog, The ADHD Homestead. We met many years ago—when I discovered a review of my first book (Is It Me, You, or Adult A.D.D.?) on her website.

7 thoughts on “ADHD & The Checklist Manifesto”

  1. Pingback: Penuh Inspirasi, Ini Lho Buku Bacaan Favorit Para CEO Ternama di Dunia - Liput.ID

  2. Yes that is the one.
    I often do feel invisible. I have this ideal self that I try to strive for, but the results never match the expectations, and often seem to have mixed feedback.
    When I look at other peoples goals, I see more clearly, with a longer term overview and an always shorter, what can I do right now perspective. That perspective is not cluttered by my own short and long term, everything at once thinking. When I look at my goals, they are often vague, “immediate situation evaluated” and acted on or often put aside for a more “in my face”, immediately compleatable task.
    Check lists help, but making them for myself and sticking too them is often my greatist challenge as I cannot stop tweaking them in my head, on paper, or worse: understanding (remembering) how I developed them in the first place at a different time and in a different frame of mind. (What seemed important then versus what seems important now.

    1. Hi PB,

      Yes, checklists aren’t the answer to everything.

      But once you do have a goal, just the process of breaking it down into “action items” can help you re-assess. It helps you to “think it through” and even decide if the goal is worth pursuing.

      Sometimes a goal might sound desirable, until we see exactly what it’s going to take to achieve it.


  3. after years of undiagnosed ADHD, I find myself over reliant on check lists as a coping strategy. Just make sure that you go by the ‘everything in moderation’ manifesto too! 🙂

    1. So true, Claire! A reliance on checklists can be helpful when you don’t know what you’re dealing with (ADHD, and perhaps anxiety?), but once you do, other strategies (including perhaps medication) can help you put checklist in the proper balance.


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