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.

Everyday Tactic for Better Parking

I was listening to some old episodes of The Hidden Brain podcast when I found out that 88% of people in China back in their cars when parking compared to only 6% of Americans. I happen to be part of the 6% of Americans that back their cars in when parking. I’ve spent more time thinking about whether you should be pulling in or backing in than I think most all people would find reasonable. Here are my conclusions on why people should be backing in and doing their future selves a favor.

Backing up is more difficult than going forward. The view when backing up is significantly reduced when compared to going forward. For this reason, I think there is opportunity to mitigate risk. In general, you are going to have to back up either when you first park or when you leave later. There are some notable exceptions to this rule, like pull through parking spots which are a good idea.

Backing in allows you to back into an area with lower activity. When you back into a parking space you have to drive by the space and in doing so you get a complete view of the area you will be backing into. I know you are probably thinking, “wait I can get a complete view of the area I back out of by walking around the car before I pull out of my parking spot”. The difference is the level of activity in the two spots. I am going to argue that there is not much going on in a parking spot, but in the road or parking lot there are cars and people. This means that there is a lower risk of something changing in the parking spot when you check for safety versus in the road or parking lot.

Backing in allows you to save time later. Since backing up when you leave takes extra time a big deciding factor of when you should pull in and when you should back in should be how much time you have when you arrive and how hurried you will be when you are leaving. This is a big reason why people in China always back in. They are very long term thinkers compared to people in the US.

Image Credit:

Look for pull through parking. These spots are rarely near the front of the lot so just find the first spot you see where you can pull through and take. Yes, you might have to walk a little further, but a little extra exercise is an efficient use of your time since you aren’t going to be looking for the perfect parking spot.

Pull Through
Image Credit:

Next time you park your car do yourself a favor and back in.

Do you back in or pull in? Have you ever thought about it?

Be Efficient with your Time – Learn to Make Your Own Shortcut Keys

The other day I talked about learning how to use shortcut/hot keys to make yourself more efficient while using the computer. So at this point I’m going to assume you’ve completely mastered Windows, Word, and Excel hot keys and your boss bought you a new computer because you were making the old one look so slow.  It feels good doesn’t it. There is only one problem. You want more. You get that first taste of flying through a program as fast as it can go and you realize there should be a hot key for the next action you want to take, but there isn’t.

This is where a program called AutoHotkey steps in to solve your problem. AutoHotkey is a program that can record macros, run scripts, and expand text. These words might sound intimidating to some of you, but I assure you AutoHotkey is amazingly easy to use. With these functions combined it makes for an incredibly powerful automation tool.

One of the features that makes AutoHotkey so easy to use is that it has great documentation about how to use the tool. The help manual that comes with the program is extremely well written.  Whenever I have had a problem in AutoHotkey and consulted the help manual I have been able solve my problem within a matter of a few minutes. If you get past the beginner problems and start to face more difficult problems AutoHotkey has a huge community of users who help one and another out with their problems using the tool. You would have to try very hard to stump some of the people on the AutoHotkey forums.

AutoHotkey is free to download.

I’ll share my most commonly used AutoHotkey hot key. My AutoHotkey is super handy when using Excel and wanting to paste special values because it is done in one fluid step rather than three steps.  Usually you would have to press Ctrl, Alt, v, to bring up the paste special menu then v to select the values, then hit enter.  Instead I used AutoHotkey to do this task by pressing Shift(+), Alt(^), Ctrl(!), and v all at the same time and it sends a message to the computer to send Alt(^), Ctrl(!), and v followed by v again and then hitting enter.

Send ^!vv{Enter}

Do you use any programs similar to AutoHotkey? Do you have any similar tips the world shouldn’t go on without hearing about? Let me know in the comments.

I did not receive any form of compensation for this review. It is just my honest opinion. If you have another similar software that you think I’m missing out on let me know I’d love to check it out.

Be Efficient with your Time – Learn to Use Shortcut Keys

If you work in any type of professional setting or really any setting in the world except under a rock, using a computer is a requirement or will be one shortly. It is time to admit it and start becoming better at using one.

The skill level that got you to the point where you are now is not going to be good enough. Becoming more efficient is a necessity if you want to remain competitive.

One method available to make your life on the computer easier is to learn the commonly available shortcut keys or hot keys to every program you commonly use.

I recommend you read through the list I’ve provided down below and find the hot keys you could use. Print out a list of the all the hot keys and post it somewhere you can see. Next time you are performing an action that could use a hot key, stop and look at which keys you need to push to do the same action. The first couple times you do this it will be cumbersome and slower and feel like a step backwards, but remember your current skills are not good enough for tomorrow. Embrace change and soon you will be shaving seconds off every action you perform on the computer. I know it seems small, but as I’ve shown before little details can add up over time to become life changing amounts.

Windows Keyboard Hot Keys Via Wikipedia

Microsoft Excel Hot Keys Via

Microsoft Word Hot Key Via

Microsoft Outlook Hot Keys Via

Measure Efficiency with Time – A Review of Manic Time

Do you waste time on your computer? My guess is you do. If you are like 66% of Americans, you waste time on your computer and wish you didn’t waste as much. I’m pretty sure you other 34% don’t have a computer or maybe waste time on a tablet or mobile device. When it comes to being efficient, losing track of time is a serious problem.

It is important to measure how efficient you are currently being with your time. When it comes to the time on the computer, Manic Time can help you with your time efficiency measurement needs. Manic Time automatically tracks which program on your computer is currently the active window, and every 5 seconds logs the current active window. The log should give you a fairly accurate idea of which windows and tabs you use. The program automatically stops recording data when the computer is not active.

The free version of Manic Time has all the features that an average person would use to track their computer usage time. The paid version mostly adds features that businesses would use for billing purposes.

Manic Time allows you to tag individual programs, tabs, or files under certain categories such as “productive,”  “fun,” or whatever you come up with.  Word documents might be classified as “productive” and Excel files classified as “fun” (I can’t help it… the engineer in me loves Excel).  Reddit or Facebook might be classified as “unproductive.” You can classify any program as productive or unproductive as it fits you.

Manic Time also has an array of options to help you visually understand and analyze where your time is going.  Here are a few screenshots of the data Manic Time can generate.

Manic Time Screen Shot

Manic Time Screen Shot2


Finally I want to say there is nothing wrong with decompressing and wasting time on the computer, but this tool can help you be aware of that time.

I did not receive any form of compensation for this review. It is just my honest opinion. If you have another time tracking software that you think I’m missing out on let me know I’d love to check it out.