I use this simple “error checklist” to avoid my worst mistakes. My performance and confidence has skyrocketed

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Which CEO has time for reflection? Few. And yet I continually call on those at the top to take a breather — to meditate, to ponder, to investigate. In the words of researchers at MIT, “The process of reflection helps us develop our understanding more deeply and make our intuitive knowledge shareable with others.”

This includes a close look at our mistakes. As I recently realized, defining those errors more concretely 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 sounds depressing at first glance, but it is actually redeeming. This is how it works:

At the end of each month, set aside 30 minutes to write down what you did poorly or not at all during the month. Be specific and concise — list what you did, why you did it, and why each was wrong. Turn each of these into a checklist on a separate sheet. You don’t have to copy all the information – just remember the “what went wrong”. Keep this list handy. Put it on your desk, in your wallet, on your wall. Save it to your computer’s desktop. Review your checklist before moving into the next month. Keep your mistakes in mind so you know what to avoid in the coming days. Check your list when the next month comes. Adjust/complete. Get rid of those mistakes you’ve learned to avoid.

Will your list ever be reduced to nothing? Unlikely. But the measure of progress doesn’t get perfect – it does more, better. As you innovate, you’ll find new trapdoors and tripwires. You are compiling new lists of mistakes to avoid. Think of this as a measure of growth, not more you’re doing wrong. The only sign of stagnation — or worse, relapse — is a list of errors that just stays the same. Why? It means you don’t learn and don’t try anything new.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not Inc.com’s.


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