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.

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.


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.


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.


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.

Be Efficient with Capital – Review of Gift Card Resellers

By now I hope some of you have acquired some type of rewards credit card and have shaved off some years of your required working life. So today I’m going to give you a tip to help boost your savings rate or (1-expenses rate) even further.

Every year millions of dollars in gift cards go unused by people who don’t really want or need them. Some enterprising online companies realized this and setup a marketplace to help people sell their gift cards for cash. Where people previously used to leave their gift cards lying around gathering dust they can now liquidate them and put the cash to good use. This marketplace is a win for everyone because the seller is able to get cash out of their gift cards the marketplace owners are getting a cut of the revenues and the buyers are able to purchase gift cards they will use at a discount from the face value of the gift cards.

If you are selling a gift card expect to lose between 10 to 50 percent of the face value of the gift card. If you are buying gift cards, you can expect to buy gift cards at 1 to 40 percent off the face value of the gift card.


Out of all the options I like Raise the best. I regularly use their mobile app to buy gift cards and they arrive in my email inbox within a few minutes each time. I find this especially handy when I am in stores and know exactly the gift card amount I need to buy to make my in-store purchase. I can just go to the app and find a gift card for close to that amount, purchase it with my rewards credit card, and then use the gift card(s) a minute later when I checkout. I never have to carry gift card inventory because I always spend the entire gift card I just bought.

Some other users have complained about receiving gift cards with no balance on them. I have never had this issue, but Raise is very clear they will refund any money spent on bad gift cards. (The link to raise up top is a referral link. When you buy a gift card through raise using that link I will get 5 dollars.)


I’ve only used CardCash to buy 5 Home Depot gift cards, but I was highly unsatisfied with how the transaction worked out. I was building a deck and when I needed supplies Raise happened to be out of gift cards, so I thought I would give CardCash a try. Unbeknownst to me CardCash processed my transactions like cash advances, which incurred rather hefty credit card fees that I was not expecting. Nowhere on their site do they disclose this fact. Cash advances also begin accruing interest expenses immediately, so I was on the hook for all the interest charges I racketed up before I reviewed my credit card statement and found out what had transpired. CardCash stated that this issue only occurs with cobranded American Express cards, but be sure to check with CardCash before you make a purchase or check your credit card statement immediately after any purchase.


eBay is always another option. It has its pro and cons though and is very different from the previous two websites/companies. When using eBay you will not get your gift card quickly through your email like you will with Raise and CardCash. Instead you will have to wait for it to come in the mail from the seller. eBay offers strong buyer protections; however, if you are going to buy a gift card from eBay I recommend you spend it immediately. The seller could potentially have all of the gift card information and spend the gift card when the seller protection period expires. if you are going to sell gift cards I would not recommend going through eBay. The buyer could claim there was no money on the gift card you sold and I do not think eBay has worked out a system to fairly protect the seller.

I don’t have any experience selling gift cards on any sites. I generally try to use my gift cards when I receive them, but I do have a gift card to the Star that I’ve been carrying around for several years. I think I’m going to use it this coming Thursday to celebrate with my wife when my MBA program is officially complete. What do you say Staci? Leave a comment if you are interested.

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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.