As female pilots we are used to working with checklists for all phases of the flight. We use these already during flight preparation and on site from the pre-flight check, i.e. before we even board the aircraft.
Checklists are an indispensable part of our everyday flying life. Performing a pre-flight check without a checklist? Or starting an aircraft without a checklist?
The risk is too great that something could be overlooked and go wrong. Managing emergency situations? Without a mental checklist and, of course, regularly trained procedures, this is not possible!
For us as pilots, a structured procedure based on checklists is part of our normal routine – they are available for every phase of a flight. Every action must be carried out correctly at the right time and in the right order. By working through the checklists in a structured manner, we ensure that nothing gets forgotten and avoid unnecessary stress and errors. In the cockpit as well as during flight preparation, checklists serve as mental guidelines. They provide safety, keep the pilot’s back free, increase capacity and help to focus on the essentials – flying the aircraft and navigation. Checklists are an essential tool in the cockpit, regardless of a pilot’s performance record or experience. This means that even the most experienced pilots work with checklists as standard.
Why do we pilots work with checklists? What is this all about?
It’s not that we don’t know how to start or land our aircraft or what to do in an emergency – for example, in the event of an engine failure.
When flying, the additional dimension is often underestimated. We humans were not really made for flying. And yet we dare to take to the skies. And this third dimension can overwhelm us – at least at the beginning of flight training. On top of this, there is the flood of information – about our aircraft and also about flight radio communication – and so that we do not have to remember everything, checklists help us not to forget anything.
But why do we continue to use the checklists even after we have flown the aircraft hundreds or thousands of times?
It’s not as if everything we experience when we sit down in our aircraft falls from and off. On the contrary, we always bring our imaginary backpack with all our experiences and the impressions and stress of the day or week with us – and that all the way into the cockpit. We find it difficult to press “Pause” or “Stop”, especially when something keeps us busy for a long time.
It is therefore important that we can work in a structured manner according to checklists and thus focus on what is essential at that moment – namely the pre-flight check or starting the machine. By using checklists, we save energy for other important processes.
Since we cannot pull the emergency brake in the air and make a stop on the right, it is essential that we are always ready to make decisions in the here and now and at all times. We must always be mentally “ahead of the aircraft”.
And in the same manner we can translate this into our business world:
Do you know the situation? A briefing with the customer is scheduled for tomorrow and you are thinking about how the briefing should proceed, which questions you should ask and which content-related issues need to be clarified so that the project can be completed cleanly, on time and successfully. This is not the first and not the last briefing. But every time you think about the same things.
In every company we have countless, repetitive processes. From projects to employee or customer onboarding.
By repeatedly thinking about processes that we perform regularly, we lose a lot of time and energy, i.e. important resources that we could better use for other activities.
But checklists not only help us not to lose focus and save time and energy. They also prevent mistakes from happening, be it because something has become absolutely routine for us or because we are doing something for the first time.
Checklists make it possible!
For a company, checklists mean continuous improvement, also in terms of self-leadership and time management. The initial effort to identify and formalize recurring processes can be considerable. In the long run, however, it is a great opportunity to rationalize and continuously improve the work and enables a more efficient and effective work.
There are also situations in which I do not have the time to pull out a checklist, e.g. the mentioned engine failure. For this I use a mental checklist, which I then work through in a structured way on command.
I internalize these mental checklists in countless trainings and simulations of a certain situation. Through regular visualization these can be consolidated and so they are always available.
Such mental checklists can also be useful in our professional and private everyday life. For example, this can be the preparation for a difficult conversation, where I consider in advance what to wear, how to appear, how to greet and what to say when.
Mental checklists also help me to prepare for unforeseen things – for example, during a difficult conversation. By thinking about which situations can occur and using mental checklists in the form of strategies and measures, I can keep such situations under control. My mental condition also plays an important role here.
However, a checklist is only efficient if it is reviewed at regular intervals to ensure that it is up to date, is simple and clearly formulated and is accessible to everyone. This requires that “continuous improvement” is anchored as a mindset for the entire workforce and is practiced regularly by all.
We recommend the involvement of all employees involved in the process, as this consolidates all knowledge and increases identification and responsibility for the checklist.
This costs more time and money initially. However, everyone is involved and the probability that as many factors and steps as possible are included increases.
If you would like to learn more about the use and integration of checklists and continuous improvement in your company or in your private environment, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.