June 16, 2024


General Inside You

I Use This Simple ‘Error Checklist’ to Avoid My Worst Mistakes. My Performance and Confidence Have Skyrocketed


What CEO has time for reflection? Few. And yet, I’m constantly urging those at the top to take a breather — to meditate, think, examine. In the words of researchers at MIT: “The process of reflection helps us to develop our understanding more deeply and to make our intuitive knowledge shareable with others.”

This includes a close look at our mistakes. As I realized recently, more concretely defining those mistakes can help us avoid them in the future — by adding them to a reflection checklist. Or, as I sometimes call it, the “Error Checklist.”

This sound depressing at first blush, but it’s actually redemptive. Here’s how it works:

  1. At the end of every month, set aside 30 minutes to make note of the things you handled poorly or altogether fouled up during the month. Be specific and concise — list what you did, why you did it, and why each one was wrong.
  2. On a separate sheet, convert each of these into a checklist. You don’t have to copy over all of the information — just the “what went wrong” you need to remember.
  3. Keep this list handy. Put it on your desk, in your wallet, on your wall. Keep it on your computer desktop.
  4. Before you head into the next month, review your checklist. Keep your errors top of mind so you know what to avoid in the days ahead.
  5. When the upcoming month hits, review your list. Amend/add to it. Take off those errors you have learned to avoid.

Will your list ever be whittled away to nothing? Unlikely. But the measure of progress is not becoming perfect — it’s doing more, better. As you innovate, you’ll find new trapdoors and tripwires. You’ll curate new lists of errors to avoid. See this as a measure of growth, not of more you’re doing wrong. The only sign of stagnation — or worse, falling backwards — is a list of errors that just remains the same. Why? It means you’re not learning and you’re not trying anything new.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.


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