Do you know the First Rule of Checklist Club?

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A couple of weeks ago, I screwed up.

Big time.

I forgot to file the T4 for one of my clients. (For my American readers, that’s the Canadian version of the W2).

I emailed the client right away and told him I’d fix the problem. Then I called.

“I’m embarrassed”, I said “both personally and professionally.”

“Don’t worry,” he said back, “You’re usually so on top of everything.”

Yes I know. That’s why I felt so crappy about it.

I needed to figure out why. (Hey, I’m an accountant. We worry about this sort of thing all the time. It’s an occupational hazard).

Took me a few minutes, but I figured it out.

I skipped that part of the year-end checklist and depended on my swiss cheese-like memory instead.


When I used to go onsite to a client, it was easy. There’d be a box or file and I’d work my way through it, and then go home. If there was something missing, I’d interrupt the client and get what I needed.

But when I switched my practice to 100% online (pushed, in part by the pandemic) – it was a whole other ballgame. Now that I don’t get out of the sunniest basement in Thornhill, I found that I needed to create robust checklists and SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures).

A few years ago I read Atul Gawande’s book The Checklist Manifesto. One summary of the book called it “an in-depth look at the effective simplicity of the mighty checklist”. It’s a great book about checklists and what should – and shouldn’t go on them. Great read and I highly recommend it.

But the First Rule of Checklist Club?

“An unchecked checklist is about as useless as [insert your favourite useless thing here]”

(and if no-one said that before, I’m claiming it as MY first rule of Checklist Club).

So why am I confessing this?

I’m not perfect.

Far from it.

Jon Stewart once said “I watch a lot of astronaut moves…mostly Star Wars. And even Han and Chewie use a checklist”. 

One of my operating rules is “There are no emergencies in accounting”. Checklists help me keep it that way. Sometimes it takes me a bit longer to do something new the first 2 or 3 times, because I’m building the checklist, but in the end, you and I can be sure that it’ll be done and done right.

Ever have one of those days when you kept saying “What did I do last time? Why do I feel like I’m missing something? Did I remember to finish everything?

I have. That’s why I make checklists. Take it from me. Checklists help.

As long as we remember the First Rule of Checklist Club.


“Checklists and procedures and templates, oh my! And spreadsheets. Oh yes, spreadsheets. I am an accountant, and the answer to everything is found in a spreadsheet”.

That’s part of my WISE framework for working with my clients.


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