The trouble with lists

checklistChecklists, action steps, to dos. They can be useful productivity tools. They also can limit, undermine and sabotage excellence. 

Kerry cleaned well in some areas but missed a lot. I was wary but willing to list some things she overlooked. But the challenge wasn’t the sink, the sideboards and the desk. The challenge was perception and process. If pointing out oversights helped Kerry learn to see dirt  for herself, that’s great. What I didn’t want  was for her cleaning to become about checking off things on a list. Some weeks there are no finger-prints on the side-board, but there are bugs in the light-fixtures. If side-boards are on the list and the light-fixtures aren’t, Kerry can claim to have done a great job, while we’re left looking at insect corpses.

Examples are important for good communication. Just watch out for conversations that get reduced to examples. Kerry and I weren’t able to get past  that. The list intended to illustrate how I wanted her to work became a description of what I expected of her. I wanted the pull of the problem – the dirt – to organize her cleaning. She turned the illustration of the bigger principle into the goal in itself.

That’s the trouble with lists. Or one trouble, anyway.  I could list more list limits, but I won’t. 

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