We live in ‘the information age’: we’re bombarded with more data than we could possibly fathom every single day. As the quantity of ‘what we know’ grows, our ability to actually process that information effectively seems comparatively tiny:
“The volume and complexity of what we know has exceeded our individual ability to deliver its benefits correctly, safely, or reliably.”
-Dr. Atul Gawande, The Checklist Manifesto
I can thoroughly recommend Dr. Gawande’s book. It’s made me think differently about how I approach productivity. I was an analyst at IBM on my work placement year – my whole job was basically processing reams of complex sales data and putting it into a format the sales managers and business leaders could understand. Requests were constantly flying in: could I do a deep dive into historical data, create a new tracker or summarise how a new business initiative was performing?
In that dynamic, ever changing environment, I gained a bit of a reputation for writing exhaustive lists. A few of my colleagues liked to poke fun at what a stickler I was. And, I get it – it seems unnecessary sometimes. We like to think we’ve got it all under control.
But, acknowledging I just couldn’t hold all the information in my brain left me more space for other, much more important stuff. Insight, creativity – these can only come if you’ve got spare mental capacity.
Dr. Gawande uses the example of Captain Sully managing to land a passenger jet on the Hudson River in 2009. After a flock of birds blew up his engines, it was his ability to calmly work through the list of safety checks that saved the lives of the passengers and crew, leaving him free to come up with his ingenious solution – and averted what would have been a horrendous disaster.
So, let go of your machismo. Acknowledge how difficult it is to hold so much information in your head – and use the power of lists to improve your life.