Be Efficient with Time – Use Checklists

Checklists might seem like a rather uninteresting topic, but I contend that they could be one of the most valuable tools we have at our disposal to prevent human error.

Checklists have changed modern medicine in ways many of us don’t realize. In fact, in 2001 a critical care specialist named Peter Pronovost developed a checklist to address the infections cause by placing central lines (an IV used to deliver large volumes). He didn’t intend for the checklist to be all encompassing, but just cover the major issues. What is even more remarkable is that he only had 5 items on his checklist.

  1. Doctors wash their hands with soap
  2. Clean the patient’s skin with antiseptic
  3. Put sterile drapes over the entire patient
  4. Wear a sterile mask, hat, gown, and gloves
  5. Put a sterile dressing over the catheter site once the line is in

Before the checklist became policy Peter asked all the nurses at Johns Hopkins Hospital, where he worked, to note when doctors missed a step in the checklist and after a month the nurses noted that in a full third of cases doctor had skipped at least one step in the checklist.

The hospital then instituted a policy where any nurse could interrupt any doctor who was skipping any step. The results were dramatic. The hospital went from an 11% infection rate to less than 1% rate. Over the 15 month trial period for the checklist the hospital estimated that it prevented 43 infections, 8 deaths, and saved 2 million dollars.

I’ve noticed a similarity in my personal life where seemingly unimportant small steps get missed which lead to larger problems. One area where my family continued to see small mistakes get missed was when we were getting ready to leave our house for an extended period of time. While I didn’t keep detailed information I would estimate that roughly half the time we made some error in either forgetting to pack something important (cell phone charger anyone?) or take care of some household chore (ever leave the trash can full for a week? I have. It’s not pleasant to return to) prior to leaving. So to help solve this problem, you guessed it I built a checklist for leaving on vacation. Since instituting the use of the vacation checklist prior to pulling out of the drive way when we are leaving the house for an extended period of time we have not had one problem.

Here is a link to the PDF version if you like it the way it is and an Excel version If you would like to make changes to personalize the checklist to your circumstances.

Vacation Checklist Excel

Vacation Checklist PDF

Do you use checklists in any aspect of your life to help reduce human error? Please share this checklist with anyone who might find value in it.

Book Review: So Good They Can’t Ignore You

For Christmas, my brother got me a book by Cal Newport called “So Good They Can’t Ignore You”. Well its almost April and I finally got around to reading it. The title was a little misleading. The book is actually more about how to find happiness than getting so good they can’t ignore you. That said Newport did a great job laying out a plan on how to derive more happiness out of your career, which I thoroughly enjoyed and recommend you read the book when you have a chance. If you want to borrow my copy feel free to send me a message.

In the book, Newport gives you 4 rules to follow to lead yourself to a happier career.

RULE 1. Following your passion is terrible advice. I thought this was the weakest of the rules in the book. I’ve always felt that your career should be a balance of things people will pay you to do, things you are good at, and things you like to do. Newport argues the point that every job is going to have things that no one likes to do so instead you should focus on building skills in your chosen line of work.

RULE 2. Build skills that are rare and valuable. Newport calls this career capital. I happen to call it plain old skills. I thought Newport offered some insightful advice in this section because he talked about how people who are true experts in their field get that way by doing deliberate practice. Deliberate practice is measured and focused practice on a specific thing in the expert’s field.

RULE 3. Seek out control. Control plays a major role in how happy you will be in a given job. Understand that there has to be balance between control and skills. If you can’t figure out how to file folders correctly don’t expect your boss to let you control your own schedule. On the other hand, if you are the only one in the office who can run the accounting software don’t be afraid to tell your boss when it works best for you to do the job.

RULE 4. Have a mission. Your mission, vision, and values need to be guiding your actions. I couldn’t agree more with this rule. One tip Newport recommended that I thought was an interesting idea was to attempt small experiments to see if they help achieve your mission. This blog happens to be one of my small experiments to see if I can make the world a more efficient place.

Have you used any of these rules to make your career more enjoyable? Let me know how in the comments.

I was not compensated for this review. I am an affiliate with Amazon and am compensated a small amount for each sale made by someone who uses my link. If you would like to do me a favor copy this link into your favorites and use it to navigate to amazon. http://amzn.to/2klSyPo

Credit Card Update

In my previous post about credit cards I talked about how the Fidelity card was the one card everyone should have. In addition to this card people should look for ways to continually improve on their situation. One of the best options to improve upon the 2% base offered by Fidelity was to use the Sallie Mae MasterCard, which offered 5% cash back at grocery stores, gas stations, and bookstores (which included Amazon). In December, Sallie Mae sent out a letter notifying their card holders of changes to their cards agreements, which would take place at the end of February. The new benefits include 2% cash back on grocery and utilities payments and 1% of everything else.

Basically the new Commence by Sallie Mae MasterCard is an inferior choice for optimum credit card efficiency.

 

This change has driven me to reevaluate all credit card options available. This post is summary of my findings and the path I choose.

As with all credit card discussions, none of this matters if you don’t pay your balance in full.

FIRST THINGS FIRST: EVALUATE YOUR SPENDING

Prior to looking into the various credit card options I collected every transaction my household has had in the past year and grouped them into categories (grocery store, gas station, and restaurant). The purpose of this is to identify the size of the opportunity in those various categories. Once you’ve identified a few categories that show the most promise you can begin looking for a few credit cards that can help you reduce your expenses.
Without a clear understanding of where your money is going it will be very difficult to correctly identify opportunities for improvement by using credit cards.

 

While evaluating my household spending several categories popped out that were high compared to others. In addition to being high value targets the spending was also eligible for credit card spending. When you graph the category totals you’ll find that you get a graph like the one shown below. For example, your rent maybe a high value target for cost reduction, but you can’t pay your rent with credit cards because it is against the terms of the agreement. The categories and optimal card I identified are listed below.

Grocery Spending

In the grocery category I identified the American Express Blue Cash Preferred Card. This card does require a $95 dollar annual fee. In order to calculate if this is a good choice you’ll need to know your annual spending in the grocery category. The American Express card offers 6% cash back on spending at grocery stores. This is a 4% difference between the American Express card and the base line Fidelity option. This means you need to have at least $2,375.00 in grocery store spending before you should consider applying for American Express Blue Cash Preferred Card ($2,375.00*4%=$95.00).

Gas Station, Restaurant, and, Costco Spending

Citi offers a credit card called the Costco Anywhere Visa. The perks for the card are 4% cash back at gas stations, 3% at restaurant, and 2% at Costco. The main drawback of the card is that it requires a Costco membership. If you already have a membership this card should be a slam-dunk, but otherwise you’ll need to consider that your spending in the categories of gas, restaurant, and Costco must overcome the base 2% cash back from Fidelity and cover the cost of membership generally $55 dollars. To check that multiply your annual gas station spending by 2%, your annual restaurant spending by 1%, and your annual Costco spending by 2%. Add those together if that number is greater than $55 then you can justify getting the Costco Anywhere Visa

Amazon Spending

Amazon now offers its own branded credit card for people who are prime members. Our household has a prime membership. I’ll be honest I’m always on the fence on whether is worth it. The 2 day shipping and streaming video selection have kept me on-board for the past 3 years and I anticipate we will continue to see value from the service. If you want to try it out please use my link for a free 30 day trial. The Amazon credit card simply offers 5% cash back on all items purchased from Amazon.

Please share your credit card strategy in the comments!

Just a reminder I am not compensated for any credit card recommendations here. I am an affiliate with Amazon and am compensated a small amount for each sale made by someone who uses my link. If you would like to do me a favor copy this link into your favorites and use it to navigate to amazon. http://amzn.to/2klSyPo

The HSA

The HSA

The Health Savings Account (HSA) is a tax incentivized account you are allowed to use when you participate in the high deductible health plan. I’ve been using an HSA for 3 years now and I recently learned that I have a unique strategy when dealing with my HSA. Before I get into what is different about my HSA strategy I need to explain the details of the HSA first.

What makes an HSA special?

HSA’s allow you to contribute pretax money to an account and then remove the money tax free if it is spent on qualified medical expenses. The IRS publishes a complete list of what is allowed and what isn’t. All the info HERE. So the HSA is similar to the 401k in that you get to put money in before you are taxed and it is similar to a Roth IRA in that the money you take out of it is tax free. It is really the best of both worlds.

HSA’s are different from flexible spending accounts (FSA’s) in that with an HSA you keep any money left over at the end of the year and when you change employers you also keep the money. With FSA’s if you didn’t spend all the money in it your account by the end of the year it was gone for good. For this reason, HSA’s are a MUCH better deal than FSA’s.

One other notable difference between the two is that with HSA’s the money belongs to you immediately after it has been contributed regardless of whether you or your employer contributed, whereas with a FSA if you quit your job you lose out on the money in your FSA. The money in an HSA belongs to you and the money in an FSA belongs to your employer.

The money within an HSA can be invested in any stock, bond, or index fund of your choice.

My Unique Strategy

Many people just use their HSA as a way to get reimbursed for medical expenses at the time when those medical expenses occur. If you are doing this though you are missing an opportunity to keep money in your HSA. The money left in your HSA can grow tax free similarly to a Roth IRA.

In order for this strategy to be successful you have to be aware that the money can only be taken out of the HSA tax free if you have spent it on qualifying medical expenses. This seems like a relatively troublesome road block, but the IRS does not care when you spent the money on medical expenses (See Question 39 in this IRS bulletin for clarification). The is key to understanding the benefits of this strategy because you can spend money on medical expenses now and keep the receipt for them and down the road when your money has grown tax free for a long time you can turn those receipts into cash from your HSA.

SUMMARY

Keep your money in your HSA, let it grow tax free. Save your medical receipts. This is the best retirement account there is because it combines the benefits of a 401k and a Roth IRA.

A Bright Idea

UPDATE: Amazon is now selling flood lights for 2.50 a bulb

I’ve got a bright idea! We should all be using LED light bulbs. (Pun intended). I recently picked up a steal of a deal on amazon and bought 16 – 60 watt LED light bulbs for just under 32 dollars. At this price, I think it is outrageous that any one is still using an incandescent light bulb at all.

I’ve put together this pretty chart that shows how quickly you will be paid back in term of reduced costs on your electric bill if you replace your incandescent light bulb with an Amazon 1.99 LED light bulb. I assumed an electrical cost of 0.12 $/kWh. As you can see if you are using an incandescent bulb all the time you will be paid back your initial 1.99 investment in only 14 days.

light-bulb

If you are like me and had a huge stockpile of light bulb you purchased when they went on sale and think yea yea I’ll replace my incandescent bulbs when they eventually burn out.

WRONG! WRONG! WRONG!

In the time, you wait for that incandescent bulb to burn out you will spend enough in energy costs to buy 4 LED light bulbs! Fight your human tendency to loss aversion and toss them out today and upgrade!

In case you want to check the payback time on various light bulbs or you live in Hawaii and have crazy high energy costs here is link to my spreadsheet.

SPREADSHEET

My link to the light bulbs on Amazon is an affiliate link. I will get paid if you purchase the light bulbs there. I am intending to setup a win-win situation, where my mission to make the world a more efficient place and your desire to save a bit of money are nicely aligned. If you can find LED light bulbs at a better value elsewhere by all means get them there.