Operating Procedures and Checklists!

I have found that I’m able to do many complex tasks if I have a clear and accurate checklist to follow.  A checklist is a written, systematic, step by step process for completing a task.  It contains detailed instructions and is usually organized in a logical sequence.  Now in some ways, checklists can stifle creativity and/or free expression.  But when it comes to a complex task, checklists are useful and can help us to successfully complete a task and avoid omitting critical procedural steps.

As a military officer, I usually planned my work around a mission statement.  It was a general or big picture statement describing our organizational mission.  To support our mission statement, we identified objectives and set tasks that needed to be accomplished to meet those objectives.  Then, we wrote detailed procedural checklists to accomplish each task.  With complex tasks, it was important to not only see the big picture but to follow the checklists.  Complex tasks require each step to be followed precisely in order to reach a specific outcome and not overlook important details.  I learned to like and rely upon procedural checklists.  In the military, these checklists where tested, double checked and triple checked, just to make sure they were understandable, accurate, and effective.

Now, while I learned the benefits of checklists in my military duties, it wasn’t until I became a single parent with seven (7) children that I also learned how important they could be in the home. My world turned upside down when an unexpected illness took the life of my dear wife.  My children and I were thrown into a very sad and difficult situation.  The oldest child was just barely 13 years old, and the youngest was not yet 6 months.  During the first few months, I struggled daily with many seemingly ordinary tasks: e.g., laundry chores, grocery shopping, household cleaning, dinner menus, meal preparation, bathing, clothes shopping, etc.  It wasn’t long before I was completely overwhelmed.  I needed to somehow get my arms around these pressing responsibilities. Then a light came on in my head, and I said, “I can do this!  I just needed to identify and simplify these duties (tasks).”  And, I knew just how to do that.  I turned to my military experience in preparing and following checklists.  First, I wrote a family mission statement.  Then, I made a list of all common household and family tasks.  I identified my objectives for each individual task.  I familiarized myself with each task and wrote “operating procedures” for completing them.  And finally, I wrote individual checklists for each specific task and described what constituted a completed task.  It made a lot of sense to me, and even though some people thought it was odd (crazy may have been what they were thinking), these procedures helped me (and my children) through a challenging period in our lives.

Later, I brought these skills with checklists into my spiritual life as well.  One evening, I met with several other Latter-day Saint single parents.  We met together regularly, but this time we had a late night dinner together at Denny’s.  This was a good group of people.  But, we all shared similar challenges at home.  In addition to being single adults with children, we also had jobs; and, we were active Latter-day Saints.  It was a very challenging time in our lives.  We were struggling to balance the demands of our single parent homes with our employment; and at the same time, we were striving to live the Gospel Plan of happiness (for ourselves and our children).   We agreed, we all wanted to live as the Lord would have us live.  We wanted to obey the commandments and honor our covenants.  So, in our desperate situations, and in our efforts to become more Christ-Like, we decided to create a list of all the commandments we’ve heard mentioned over the pulpit.

Building our list of “commandments” was an interesting and ennobling exercise for our small little band of about six single parents.  When finished and typed, it was a five-page, single-spaced document (list) of commandments.  While it was educational and fun to “brainstorm” and create this list, we all knew it would be a bit overwhelming to try implementing all of it in our very busy and complicated lives.  Regardless, it was an interesting list, and we all benefited from the exercise.

Overtime and after facing some practical realities of family life, the original checklist was modified significantly.  I still have the original five-page list.  It’s fun to look at and ask “what was I thinking?”  The latest version is not really a checklist anymore.  It is a list of spiritual and temporal behaviors that, if followed, would lead a person closer to God.  After all, that should be our most important “task” in this life.  And as a bonus, this current list fits neatly on half a sheet of paper. So, here’s how the list of “To-Do’s” looks now:

The Ultimate Latter-day Saint “To-Do List”

      • Love God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ
      • Learn of the Father and the Son
      • Have Faith in Jesus Christ
      • Repent and retain a remission of your sins
      • Enter through the Gate (Baptism)
      • Rely on the Holy Spirit to Guide you
      • Be thankful and happy
      • Rise from your bed early
      • Exercise for a few minutes each day
      • Wash your body and make yourself clean
      • Dress for the day in clean clothes
      • Have virtuous thoughts unceasingly
      • Offer daily Personal and Family Prayers
      • Study/read the Scripture
      • Read the Book of Mormon daily
      • Obey the Commandments
      • Honor your Covenants with the Lord
      • Magnify your callings and Priesthood Power
      • Attend Sacrament Meeting (take the Sacrament)
      • Elevate your Sabbath Day activities
      • Pay a generous Fast Offering
      • Pay an Honest Tithe (attend Tithing Settlement)
      • Attend the Temple Regularly
      • Love and care for your family
      • Maintain a clean living environment
      • Have Family Dinnertime
      • Hold weekly Family Home Evenings
      • Love and Serve others
      • Be kind to all mankind (and animals)
      • Share the Gospel and bear your testimony
      • Do your Home/Visiting Teaching
      • Endure in Righteousness to the end

It probably takes a rather peculiar mind to really enjoy checklists (perhaps a “concrete sequential” mind). Regardless, I just know this: checklists have been useful in blessing my life.  I should also note, the Holy Scripture and the Prophets apparently use checklists.  You can find many examples of checklists in the Holy Scriptures.  My favorite is found in the 5th chapter of the Book of Alma.  Alma’s checklist items are written as questions.  He asks, “have ye …?”, do ye …?”, “do you …?”, “can you …?”, “if ye …?”, “is there …?”, etc.  His objective was to call his people to repentance, to come unto Jesus Christ, and to “inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Alma 5:51)   In my military life, in my home and family life, and in my personal/spiritual life, I have benefited greatly from the use of checklists.

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