Why You Should Never Have To Fill Out A Form

never-fill-out-a-form

I hate filling out forms. And it’s time to be honest. You hate forms too.

When someone hands us a form to fill out, he or she might as well be stabbing us in the heart. And we’re left there wondering, “Why do I have to fill this out?” It just feels like needless work.

Is it time to abolish forms once and for all?

Worst Form Ever

I’ve been going to the same doctor for years. And it seems like each time I go, I have to fill out the same stupid form. You probably know the form. It’s a checklist of my family’s medical history.

This doctor has treated me many times. He knows me. Why do I have to spend my valuable time filling out this stupid form, again, just so he knows my brother has hemorrhoids?

It’s the doctor’s job to know their patients and figure out what’s wrong with them, right? So, why is every doctor’s office, every hospital, basically a house of forms?

Can’t We Just Do Away With Forms?

Much to my dismay, when doctors don’t use forms, it’s a freaking disaster. It turns out that doctors make terrible decisions when they don’t use forms.

In his book, The Checklist Manifesto, Dr. Atul Gawande tells the story of a critical-care specialist at Johns Hopkins Hospital named Peter Pronovost.

Imagine working for this guy. He created a brand new form. Then he forced his intensive care unit doctors to fill it out each time they inserted a line into a patient’s vein. Inserting a line is like the most routine thing doctors do when working in a hospital.

And his form was super annoying. The doctors hated filling this form out. They had to check off whether they did stuff like washing their hands. This form bordered on insulting. These doctors knew what they were doing and didn’t need it.

But let’s be glad Peter forced those doctors to use his stupid form. At just one hospital there were forty-three fewer line infections and eight fewer deaths as a result. Yes, there were eight fewer funerals for someone’s mother, husband, or sister. Using the form also saved two million dollars in costs.

“The fear people have about the idea of adherence to a protocol is rigidity. They imagine mindless automatons, heads down in a checklist, incapable of looking out their windshield and coping with the real world in front of them. But what you find, when a checklist is well made, is exactly the opposite. The checklist gets the dumb stuff out of the way.”

-Atul Gawande, The Checklist Manifesto

Why We Really Hate Forms

Forms remind us that we’re fallible. Agreeing to use a form is admitting that you and the people you work with, despite all your abilities and training, aren’t perfect.

But in reality, my doctor probably wouldn’t even remember my name if he didn’t have his clipboard in front of him. He needs to know what health problems my brother has because I might turn out to have them too. And without that info, let’s be honest, it is possible that he’d misdiagnose me or miss telltale signs.

We’re not annoyed with the forms. We’re annoyed with us. We’re annoyed that, if we’re honest, we know that using forms will result in better decisions. Frankly, that’s like a punch in the gut.

That’s why filling out forms is so painful. We hate even the thought of it.

Let’s Cut Ourselves Some Slack

When I walk out my door and head to the grocery store, my wife stops me and hands me a list of things to buy. She knows I’ll forget something if I don’t have that list in front of me. She doesn’t do that because she thinks I’m a lesser person. She does that because she knows I’m human.

And I am human. I would forget to buy something we need. It’s Ok for me to need that checklist.

It is OK for me to put my trust in a form. It’s OK for me to fill out a Go/No Go form when considering going after a contract. It’s OK for me to let the form make the decision rather than making it and ultimately filling out the form to match my decision. Putting my faith in a form doesn’t make me less valuable.

It’s OK for me to use a checklist to make sure I’ve included everything in my proposals. Sure, I pride myself in my proposal development abilities. But letting a form “do my compliance check,” doesn’t mean I’m not good. Every tool we use in this modern age is basically a form. A project schedule, an excel spreadsheet, our calendar…they are all forms.

We need to cut ourselves some slack. It’s OK to hate filling out forms. It’s also OK to acknowledge that we are not flawless machines. We’ll make mistakes. We’ll make bad decisions. We can’t escape or ignore that fact.

But, like those doctors, we don’t want to make the mistake of not using a form, not trusting a form, when it could save the people we work with money, help our co-workers spend more time with their family…

…or even reduce the number of needless funerals. It’s time for us to embrace the form.

Do we want another form? No. Do we need another form? Yes.

Now It’s Your Turn

First, I want you to send this to anyone you know who hates filling out forms. Send it right now.

Next, I want you to tell us about a time when you forced yourself to fill out a form, even though you hated it. Share your story in the comments.

Comments

  1. Eileen Loschky says:

    I don’t mind filling out forms for my life. What I do mind is filling out 26 forms for a proposal where three or more are asking for the exact same information but in a different order. I understand that clients need information, but how about just one form that asks for what they want in one place and just one time!

    • Matt Handal says:

      Proposal forms…grrr. Great example. That’s an unfortunate reality of the proposal biz, especially when proposing to government agencies. Again, perfect example.

      Matt 🙂

  2. Ann Stacey says:

    Why do I have to fill out a form to unsubscribe from an email list or to make a comment here? Why can’t I just click “unsubscribe” everywhere without explanation? Why do I have to leave my email address below to comment on your article? Because someone wants more information about me with which to make decisions about me. For their benefit or mine???

    • Matt Handal says:

      Hey Ann,

      Thank you for your comment. The reason you have to “fill out a form” to comment on this site is because of the massive amounts of spam comments I get. When I see the comment is from Ann Stacey I know that it’s not some bozo trying to get my attention or a link from my site. Then I approve the comment to appear on the site.

      The other purpose is so you can be alerted of the responses, such as this one.

      Regarding unsubscribing, those forms actually have a very beneficial purpose. For example, most people who unsubscribe from my list say they “just don’t want to continue receiving them.” However, if a bunch of people responded that they never signed up for this list and this was spam, it gives Mailchimp the information they need to decide to stop all my emails.

      Hope you are doing well. 🙂

  3. Laura Ricci says:

    I’m the Queen of using GO/NOGO forms, so when engineers working with me see me start filling out the form it is no surprise. In one case, our engineers had a great idea that they felt the client needed to select, INSTEAD of the solution they had described in the RFP. We outlined a capture plan (more forms) and turned our proposal checklist (another form) into a checklist to track their contact with all the decision makers outlined on the BUGS form. On the fifth or sixth round of checking things off this form, we found one item that had not been discussed and explained to one of the 20 decision-makers. So, we sent the engineer covering that person, back out to explain that item to the prospect. Sure enough, when we won, and we debriefed the new client (another form) we discovered that that last contact was the critical piece that led to the decision to spend more money on our approach and award the multi-million dollar contract. Never had a complaint from those engineers again about those nuisance forms.

    • Matt Handal says:

      Laura,

      Great story. And as always, thanks for contributing to the conversation.

      You also bring up another point, which is talking to your clients about your proposal.

  4. True story from a previous life.

    “We need to strengthen our GO/NO GO process. Can you help?”

    “Sure,” I say.

    Months later after massive tweaking and simplification of the form to make it more intuitive – plus the pain and aggravation of addressing every little nit picked by one or two executives – the new form and associated process improvements are ready.

    “Here you go,” I say. “When do we start using it?”

    “Just send it out. We’re not going to EXPECT it be used – we’ll just RECOMMEND it.”

    (Still bruised from banging head against wall.)

  5. The annoyance of filling out forms can be eased online by enabling auto fill in your browser. There are also alternatives to auto complete like Dash Lane that will address the mundane name, address, phone, company, email, etc. When on your computer or smartphone. This is why most people hate forms. It’s usually not the form but the redundant form fields. The digital transformation across industries will help ease this strain, and in turn, more data analytics can be collected, and better outcomes can be achieved.

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