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Published on February 13, 2020

7 Simple Habits to Improve Your Attention to Detail

7 Simple Habits to Improve Your Attention to Detail

Paying attention to detail is important in its own right, but it also gives you a more precise look at what the big picture might be. Thinking through the nitty-gritty nuances of a project without forgetting why they matter is the work of systems thinking.

Systems thinkers see how the individual moving parts of an initiative interact to make the whole thing work. In case that seems a little abstract, let’s look at it in a more concrete context: the workplace.

Why Paying Attention to Detail Is Key at Work

Every member of a team must have attention to detail in order to move the needle for the larger organization.

Insights don’t simply spring out of spreadsheets. Pulling key details out of data requires you to extract, transform, and load it into an analysis tool. Whatever business decision you face, you’ll make a better one if you know the details.

But it’s not just about business intelligence. Consider why attention to detail matters in the other domains of work:

Sales

Especially at B2B companies, sales is all about building relationships. Attention to detail is what makes it possible to remember the names of that sales leader’s kids or team members.

Getting the contract terms right takes attention to detail. So does picking up on prospects’ non-verbal cues — which, according to body language researchers, are responsible for more than half of a message’s impact.[1]

Marketing

Although learning more about workflow automation[2] can minimize mistakes, it’s no substitute for strong attention to detail. Rooting typos out of email copy, staying on top of the day’s trends, and comparing target keywords for sake of SEO all take a human eye.

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To maximize productivity, automate non-essential tasks and spend the time you save looking deeper into the details of the rest.

Human Resources

Never does attention to detail matter more than working with people. Everything from entering social security numbers correctly on health insurance forms to making sure every member of the team gets paid on time takes attention to detail. HR personnel without attention to detail could get the company sued or deliver a poor employee experience.

Bookkeeping and Accounting

Even small errors in payroll can get Uncle Sam’s attention.[3] Attention to detail ensures that accurate financial records are kept, which are essential for everything from audits to financial forecasting.

Bookkeepers need attention to detail to keep tabs on outstanding client invoices. Especially at public companies, accountants need attention to detail in order to provide accurate information to investors.

Leadership

At first blush, leadership might seem like an area where big-picture thinking matters more than attention to detail. But the details tend to be where tweaks can be made. Leaders who are too far removed from day-to-day processes can miss opportunities where innovation opportunities hide.

Attention to detail is important for every role at a company. So how can you tell whether or not you’re a detail-oriented person?

Are You a Detail-Oriented Person?

Detail-oriented people do certain things that those without the trait do not. But just because you do some of those things does not necessarily mean you have attention to detail. Everyone, for example, can pick up on a strong accent or remember faces.

I’ve noticed that people with above-average attention to detail have certain tendencies. If more than half of them apply to you, it’s a fair bet that you’re good at seeing the details:

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Self-critical

People who have attention to detail often turn that skill on themselves. It’s not always a bad thing, but it can be. Self-critical people are constantly looking for ways to improve themselves.

When it becomes a problem is when they focus too heavily on the details they do not like about themselves. Many detail-oriented people must learn to see the good in themselves.

Emotionally intelligent

Similarly, detail-oriented people are good at picking up on others’ emotions. They spot cues that go unnoticed by others, and they connect the dots to understand that person’s true thoughts and feelings.

That ability is particularly important at work: Research published in Harvard Business Review suggests emotional intelligence accounts for nearly 90% of high performers’ success.[4]

Prudent

Prudent people think carefully about what they do might affect the future. Going through “what if” scenarios requires systems thinking: Seeing the ripple effects of each action is using attention to detail to see the greater picture.

Neurotic

Attention to detail has its pros and cons as a personality trait. But it has clear workplace benefits, and for those who can keep a lid on related traits like neuroticism,[5] it can deepen a person’s relationships and help them avoid taking unnecessary risks.

The question is, how can you train your attention to detail?

How to Train Paying Attention to Detail

You might assume there’s not much you can do to become more detail oriented. How is it possible to become more attentive to things that you naturally gloss over?

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1. Walk Places You Normally Would Not

One of these days, try walking to work. If that’s too far, go to the grocery store. The point is, slow down and pay attention to what’s around you when you’d normally only think about your destination.

You’ll be stunned at what you notice. Even if you’ve taken the same route to and from work for years, you’ll spot homes you’ve never seen before. You’ll hear birds, smell plants, and even feel pressure points on your feet that create a completely new experience.

2. Read Regularly

Think about what it’s like to go back and reread your favorite book: the second time around, you notice foreshadowing, character motivations, and plot points that you simply didn’t see on your first read. Because you already know the main points of the plot, you’re able to pay attention to details that you simply didn’t have bandwidth to spot the first time through.

3. Take Frequent Breaks

Breaks are an important way to slow down, especially at work. It’s easy to get so caught up in your priority list that you forget to notice your own thoughts and feelings. Are you thirsty? If you’re sweating, is it because you’re nervous about something?

Developing attention to detail is about doing the work of noticing. If you want to become more aware, self-awareness is the best place to start.

A hack that not people know about to save time in your day for breaks is to use google calendar to do “speedy meetings”. This allows you to automatically shorten your scheduled meetings 5 or 10 minutes to add more breaks in your day.

4. Put Your Phone Away

Too much screen time can short circuit the brain in a way that makes it more difficult to concentrate. When you can’t concentrate on something, you won’t notice nearly as many details about it as you would otherwise.

Chances are, you can’t stop using screens entirely. Instead, set screen-free hours at key times: Before you leave for work in the morning, before a big test, and especially while you’re driving, keep your smartphone stowed in your pocket.

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5. Play Games Like ‘I Spy’

Improving your attention to detail does take work, but it doesn’t have to be miserable. Practice noticing small features in jumbled spaces. Games like “Where’s Waldo” and “I Spy,” which you can play for free online, help you train your eyes to see something specific in a noisy image.

6. Compliment Others Often

Delivering a genuine, unique compliment takes significant attention to detail. Think about it: Great compliments point out a positive feature in someone that often goes unnoticed by others.

Challenge yourself. Go beyond visual-based compliments like, “I like your sweater.” What mannerisms, traits, or ways of thinking does your target exhibit that only someone with serious attention to detail would notice?

7. Break Goals Into Smaller Pieces

Whatever you want to accomplish, it involves multiple steps. Even simple goals, such as “make new friends,” take a series of actions to achieve. You might start with the idea above: Give at least one standout compliment each day.

After you’ve made an acquaintance, you might take that person out to lunch. Attention to detail is important for thinking through how you’ll actually get from point “A” to “B.”

Final Thoughts

Training your attention to detail takes time, but it’s work worth doing. Think about the people you respect: They’re probably thoughtful of others, helpful where they can be, and diligent in their own lives.

To become the person you want to be personally and professionally, give your attention to detail some attention.

Featured photo credit: Kat Stokes via unsplash.com

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Kimberly Zhang

Kimberly Zhang is the Chief Editor of Under30CEO and has a passion for educating the next generation of leaders to be successful.

7 Simple Habits to Improve Your Attention to Detail 15 Ideas to Help Create Your Best Morning Routine

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Last Updated on February 11, 2020

How to Run an Effective One on One Meeting with Team Members

How to Run an Effective One on One Meeting with Team Members

The one on one meeting is a crucial and often underestimated management tool.

Not only is it an honest way to connect with employees and share the necessary information with them, but it is also a great way to hear their feedback.

What’s even more important – the one on one meeting is an opportunity to shape your employee’s experience and perception of you as a boss. In many cases, what they think about you and your management style will also be reflected in their opinion about the whole company or organization that you represent.

Running effective one on one meetings should be a priority for you as a manager or team leader. The 11 tips laid out in this article will help you make the most of this crucial time.

1. Get in the Right Mindset

A proper one on one session starts already before the meeting as you prepare your notes and your attitude for it.

Seeing the one on one meeting as an unwelcome distraction in your busy day won’t get you far.

Instead, take a few moments to clear your mind and focus on the person you are about to meet.

Start by reviewing your notes from the previous one-on-one with that employee, have a look at their latest performance stats, mark any complaints or praises you’ve received about them.

2. Make One on One Meetings a Regular Thing

The frequency of your one-on-ones largely depends on your company size and your management style. Some sources say that such meetings should be weekly, while others state that a bi-weekly or monthly schedule would do the trick.

A good idea is to set the next recurring meeting at the end of each current meeting so both parties can plan ahead for it.

Think about the frequency and length that would not seem too much for you or your employees, but would still be enough to keep everyone in the loop and maintain continuous contact.

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New employees should have one-on-ones more often, at least once every week or two weeks.

Recurring one on one sessions make feedback sharing a routine and encourage a culture of honesty. Besides, regular personal conversations make employees feel understood, trusted and valued in the company – thus boosting their intrinsic motivation.

3. Set a Time Limit for the Meetings

Schedule enough time for these conversations, but don’t make them too long either. Nobody will look forward to meetings that lose focus and just drag on forever.

The optimal length of each session also depends on the frequency of these meetings – for example, if you meet every week, a 30-minute session might be enough. If you meet once in a fortnight or a month, 60 minutes might be more effective.

Successful managers such as Andy Grove, Co-Founder and former CEO of Intel, have advised to do one-on-ones that last for at least one hour:’

“Anything less, in my experience, tends to make the subordinate confine himself to simple things that can be handled quickly.”

4. Make a List of Topics to Discuss

A general plan or structure for the meeting might help to get the conversation going – especially in the first few meetings. However, you don’t have to stick to the plan no matter what. See it rather as a reference that can help in case the conversation gets stuck or drifts too far from the topic.

A meeting agenda can also be helpful if the employee is introverted and won’t be likely to talk on his or her own.

For example, you can prepare three to five topics that you are most interested to know about. Or, you can keep a list of questions in front of you, but remember to be flexible – you don’t have to ask all of them if the conversation flows naturally.

Some ideas for questions that are likely to generate thorough answers:

  • Which part of the day do you feel most productive? Do you feel you’d need a different work schedule to improve your well-being and productivity?
  • What are your latest achievements that make you proud?
  • Do you have any suggestions that could help us work better as a team?
  • Is there anybody on the team you find hard to work with? Could you explain why?
  • Which of your tasks keep you engaged and inspired? Is there a way to make your daily tasks more engaging?
  • What are the main bottlenecks in your present project? Can I help in any way to move it along?
  • What are the things that worry you in your job or the office environment in general? Have you ever felt undervalued here?
  • Do you feel like you are learning enough at work? Which areas would you like to learn more about?
  • What can I do to improve my management style or to support you better?
  • What projects or tasks you would be interested in working on next?

Pro tip:

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Google’s former CEO Eric Schmidt used to start his one-on-ones by comparing his lists with the ones his employees were asked to prepare before the meeting.[1] The items found on both lists were prioritized because they were likely to be the most pressing issues.

5. Keep It Casual and Change the Setting

If you aim to have an honest, relaxed and sincere conversation with your employee, think not only about your words and body language but also about the atmosphere at the meeting.

Your goal is to be professional and productive, but not necessarily awkward or stale.

First, find a relaxing place for a private conversation. Cozy furniture, warm colors, office plants or even a different view from the window has the potential of stirring up new ideas and suggestions. But you don’t even have to stick to a meeting room – why not go for a walk or have a coffee in a nearby cafe?

CEO of productivity tracking software DeskTime, Artis Rozentals, believes that one on one meetings should take place outside the usual constraints of the office:

“I find an opportunity to go on a longer one on one lunch with each of my team members to discuss everything in a casual atmosphere.”

He adds that informality doesn’t mean that the meeting takes place without preparation.

“Before the meeting, I draw up the topical questions and data, and share it with the respective employee, so that we both come prepared and have a fruitful conversation.”

6. Focus on the Employee

The employee should be the main focus of one on one conversations. The famous American businessman and author Ben Horowitz recommends that a manager should only talk for 10% of the time, leaving the rest of the talking to the team member.

Remember – as the person in the power position, you should set your ego aside and support your employee as well as you can.

Ideally, the conversation will flow naturally around whatever matters to him or her. If it doesn’t, ask open questions that could help them elaborate their position and express their feedback (see tip No 4).

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7. Listen like You Mean It

Your task is not only to let your employee talk. It’s also to listen – actively. This means you don’t listen just to be polite. You are actually trying to understand and remember everything that’s being shared.

Some active listening techniques:

  • Remain open-minded, confident, and listen to the person without drawing one-sided conclusions.
  • Show the employee you’re paying attention and occasionally summarize what they say.
  • Double-check if you understood some statements right to avoid misunderstandings (for example, ‘Did I get it right that you’d like the marketing team to join this project in order to avoid further delays?’).
  • Be receptive to everything you hear – even the criticism about your company or your own performance.

8. Share Relevant Information

We already mentioned that the employer should talk less and listen more. However, if you do have something important to say, and it affects this employee personally or professionally, the one on one meeting is the time to say it.

Are you preparing a new project or strategy that the employee should know about? Are you testing some new management tactics and would like them to be on board? Are new changes about to impact the company or your team in particular?

Make sure you keep each employee in the loop to avoid gossip and misinformation spreading in the office. If you tell them the news personally, they will also feel more valued and appreciated.

9. Write Down Notes

Most likely, you are in charge of more than one or two employees, so you shouldn’t rely on your memory to mark down all the important points every team member raises.

However, it is not recommended to write notes on your computer during the meeting. Why?

Having a laptop open can be easily interpreted as being distracted and not very interested in the conversation.

So you’ll have to take notes the old-fashioned way – by writing them down in a notebook, journal or a piece of paper.

Taking notes lets your team member see that you are actively engaged in the meeting and that the points laid out will be taken into account. In other words – that this is not just a waste of their time.

10. Leave with a Task or Takeaway

Just as everything else business-related, one on one meetings should have a purpose and an actionable outcome. In other words, make sure that you, your employee, or, ideally, both of you, leave with an action item or a task to be completed.

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To solidify this, send a quick email after the one on one meeting, rehashing the main things you went over. This will ensure that both of you are on the same page and aware of the next steps each side should take.

A recap email will take a few more minutes of your time but will undoubtedly prove worthwhile in the long run.

11. Don’t Neglect One-On-Ones with Your Remote Workers

Today, increasingly more managers work with a team that partly (or entirely) consists of remote workers. If you are one of them, know this:

One on one meetings are even more critical when it comes to your remote team.

Why? Because you can feel the sentiment of your in-house team every day in the office. At the same time, you might have no idea about how your outsourced or remote employees feel.

CEO of print on demand startup Printful, Davis Siksnans, manages a company with 500 employees spanning two continents. Besides having quarterly meetings for all employees, he requires managers to have regular one-on-ones with each of their team members,[2] in addition to bi-annual performance reviews.

He points out:

“It’s a great way to show that managers care about the performance and well-being of the employee. Topics come up that otherwise wouldn’t in a regular discussion, like the kind of music being played in the office, for instance.”

Santa Lice-Kruze, Director of HR at Printful Latvia, agrees with Davis and ads:

”Conversations have to be built upon a basis of transparency and mutual trust. This is the time to ask how the person is doing, about his or her work-life balance, health, out-of-work activities, etc. You certainly have to ask if and how you can help with anything.”

See Eye to Eye with Your Employees

As a manager, you need to be consistent in everything you do – and one on one meetings are no exception. They don’t have to take place every day or even every week, but you need to be committed to them every single time.

Remember – your primary goal is supporting your employee’s performance. Having a regular personal chat with each of the people who report to you will help you see an increase in employee engagement. And this will likely lead to improved company culture and higher productivity for the whole company.

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Featured photo credit: rawpixel via unsplash.com

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