Stew Cues: Lists save time, track progress and clarify tasks

Oct 3, 2017 by Alene Keenan

By Alene Keenan

I love lists. I grew up with eight brothers and sisters. There was lots of activity at my house, and I liked things tidy. I organized cleaning supplies under the sink, items in the medicine cabinet, and spices and dry goods in the kitchen cupboards. Laundry was a big deal. I sorted, folded and ironed clothing. I made inventory lists of different sized sheets, towels and blankets. Then I would draw a chart of the spaces showing how I wanted things organized and tape it up on the inside of the door. (Label makers hadn’t been invented yet.) I was frequently disappointed by the fact that my family didn’t share my passion for lists.

Nowadays I see lists as a tool to improve productivity, prioritize tasks and reduce stress. The goal is to have the “big picture” in mind and then use productivity systems to provide a sense of calm and control, knowing all the tasks of the day, week or month have been handled. List all the tasks to do, then prioritize them.

Inventories are one example of an efficient list. They keep track of the kinds and amounts of items on hand, items that are expiring, items that are used seasonally, and items that are stowed in weird places. It’s important to know the target number for each item.

In the beginning, it is overwhelming to remember where everything is stowed. A well-thought-out inventory system saves time. The types of things we inventory include dishware and glasses, silverware and service pieces, linens, towels and blankets. We supply food, beverages and uniforms. We stock appliances, cleaning supplies and laundry soap. We stash crew cereal, coffee, tea and snacks. We inventory anything you can think of, know where it is, and know why each item on the list is important.

A new stew on a boat may be given the task of doing inventory so as to learn what things are on hand and where they are stowed. When I joined my first boat, I was surprised to discover that I would be crawling under the owner’s bed to get paper towels. When I realized how much work it was, I paid close attention to the number of rolls we had on hand and how quickly we ran out so I could reduce how often I had to tear the bed apart and drag the mattress out.

A schedule, or roster, is another tool that uses lists for organizing information and increasing productivity. A schedule can be used for cross-training crew, balancing skills, promoting versatility and flexibility, and measuring efficiency. Once a list of daily duties is compiled, the schedule is created to make sure the duties are completed in a timely manner. When duties are rotated, each crew member learns to do all the tasks required for that day. For instance, when guests are on, one stew may be designated as service, one as housekeeping, and a third as laundry. The next day or the next week the duties rotate and everyone learns all the tasks.

Even department procedures and standing orders can be used as lists. Daily operations, rules and regulations, and lists of individual responsibilities increase efficiency. They set predefined limits so people don’t have to wonder what they can and can’t get away with. Checking off items on a list is satisfying, and helps you predict how well the results will turn out. Working together to complete lists is great for team building. Often meeting the goal of checking off everything on the list will result in a reward for the whole team — extra time off!

There’s an old saying: “People who write things down, get things done.” I like getting things done. And I do love lists. In fact, I love them so much that I am writing a book about them. The working title is “The Yacht Guru’s Book of Lists: Checklists, Schedules, and Systems to Simplify Life at Sea.” I will keep you posted on my progress, and I hope you will include it on your list of books to read.

Alene Keenan is lead instructor of yacht interior courses at Maritime Professional Training in Fort  Lauderdale. She shares her experience from more than 20 years as a stew in her book, “The Yacht Guru’s Bible: The Service Manual for Every Yacht,” available at Comments are welcome below.


About Alene Keenan

Alene Keenan is a veteran chief stew, interior training instructor/consultant, and author of The Yacht Guru’s Bible: The Service Manual for Every Yacht.

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