The Exit Checklist

The Japanese railway system is famous for its utmost punctuality and safety.

So much so that a railway company apologised when a train left the station 20 seconds early.

One of the essential elements of ensuring that standard is ensuring the railway staff make timely, conscious decisions.

For example, making sure the train doors close safely on time, paying attention to the current train speed and more.

And this is where the Japanese concept of Shisa Kanko comes to play.

Roughly translated, this means to point-and-call, which is an exercise of pointing at your surroundings and calling out their states.

For example:

Calling it out when doors are closing. Or pointing at the speedometer and calling out the current speed.

And so on.

It looks simple but works wonders.

Here's why:

When you make the conscious effort to point and call out things in front of you, you zap yourself from whatever state your mind is in back to the present moment in the real world.

This helps in being fully aware of your surroundings instead of being disconnected from reality.

Not being fully conscious and excessive mind-wandering is how most mistakes happen.

Be it a physical safety hazard at work. Or a less damaging one, such as forgetting a personal belonging.

And this point-and-call technique helps ensure you're fully conscious of your environment when taking action.


Although I stumbled upon this concept only recently, I had been using a version of this for years.

In the form of something I call The Exit Checklist.

Here's how:

Have you ever stepped out of your home and realised you forgot to carry an essential item like your wallet or car keys?

Here's a real-life story:

A few years ago, a close friend was so engrossed in his thoughts at the airport that he forgot to carry one of his cabin baggage when he left the gate to board his flight.

Already boarded and trying to stow away his luggage, he realised his mistake and informed the cabin crew.

But being boarded already, the cabin crew didn't allow him to leave the aeroplane, and they couldn't locate his luggage in the short time the flight was scheduled to take off.

He had no choice but to take the flight to his destination and figure things out there.

Thankfully, the airport staff found his luggage, but he had to make a round-trip journey to the origin airport to collect his bags and return to his destination port.

All this in the middle of the night. What a hassle.

Here's another situation that happened to me:

I was so caught up in my mind on some work thoughts that I completely forgot to lock the balcony door on my way out for a morning walk.

When I returned, I discovered that some monkeys had raided my apartment, taken snacks from the fridge and littered the house.

Fortunately, that was all they did, but things could've escalated to cause damage to valuable items like electronics and home accessories.


These are extreme and rare scenarios, but they pave the need for a system to rely on for daily activities, such as when leaving your home, leaving a restaurant, or logging off work.

And that system is the Exit Checklist.

Here's how I leverage this technique:

Whenever I'm ready to leave the house, I do a vocal callout of all the items I carry:

  • Bag
  • Wallet
  • Phone
  • Keys
  • Handkerchief
  • Car keys
  • Driver's license

This helps me promptly identify if I'm forgetting something essential like my wallet or driver's license and not get into trouble during the day.


Whenever I go out on holiday, I make a point and call on the state of the entire house.

Doors and windows? Locked.

Plugs? Disconnected.

Gas connection? Turned off.

This simple two-minute exercise ensures I'm not leaving my home compromised and don't come back to surprises.


This technique doesn't have to be limited to situations where you're leaving your home.

When logging off work, you can have a similar checklist and ritual to ensure you're leaving yourself prepared for the next day.

Like updating your weekend bridge.

Or, if you're going on a holiday, you can use this checklist to ensure that you've handed off your projects and responsibilities to another team member before you go.

And this technique has served me well outdoors as well.

Like, ensuring I'm carrying all my belongings when I leave a restaurant or the office.

Or verifying the windows are up, gear's in neutral, parking brakes are engaged, and doors are locked when I leave my car at the parking.


If you're still puzzled about how to make this system work for you, here's how you can get started:

Make a couple of exit checklists for your routine activities, like leaving for work, going for a client meeting, getting out of a cab, and more.

And then deliberately remember to point and call items from your checklist whenever you're in a situation you prepared for.

The first few weeks would have to deliberate practice, but then it'll develop into a habit that you don't have to remember to do.

Try it out.

You'll be surprised how effective this seemingly stupid tactic is.

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