Advertising
Advertising

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.

Advertising

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:

Advertising

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?

Advertising

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.

Advertising

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

Reference

More by this author

Kimberly Zhang

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

15 Ideas to Help Create Your Best Morning Routine When Is It Good to Set High Expecations for Yourself (And When Is Not)? 15 Must-Have Qualities of a Good Leader What Is a Mentor And Why You Should Find One For Yourself? How to Find a Career That Is Right For You

Trending in Smartcut

1 How Not to Feel Overwhelmed at Work & Take Control of Your Day 2 How to Start Delegating Tasks Effectively (Step-by-Step Guide) 3 27 Strategies to Achieve Your Goals Fast 4 A Complete Guide to Goal Setting for Personal Success 5 22 Best Habit Tracking Apps You Need in 2020

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on October 22, 2020

How Not to Feel Overwhelmed at Work & Take Control of Your Day

How Not to Feel Overwhelmed at Work & Take Control of Your Day

Overwhelm is a pernicious state largely caused by the ever-increasing demands on our time and the distractions that exist all around us. It creeps up on us and can, in its extreme form, leave us feeling anxious, stressed, and exhausted. Therefore, if you’re feeling overwhelmed at work, it’s time to do something about it.

Here are 6 strategies you can follow that will reduce the feeling of overwhelm, leaving you calmer, in control, and a lot less stressed at work.

1. Write Everything Down to Offload Your Mind

The first thing you can do when work feels overwhelming is to write everything down that is on your mind.

Often people just write down all the things they think they have to do. This does help, but a more effective way to reduce overwhelm is to also write down everything that’s occupying your thoughts[1].

For example, you may have had an argument with your colleague or a loved one. If it’s on your mind, write it down. A good way to do this is to draw a line down the middle of the page and title one section “things to do” and the other “what’s on my mind.”

The act of writing all this down and getting it out of your head will help you stop feeling overwhelmed at work. Writing things down can really change your life.

2. Decide How Long It Will Take to Complete Your To-Dos

Once you have emptied your head, go through your list and estimate how long it will take to complete each to-do.

Advertising

As you go through your list, you will find quite a few to-dos will only take you five or ten minutes. Others will take longer, often up to several hours.

Do not worry about that at this stage. Just focus on estimating how long you will need to complete each task to the best of your ability. You can learn how to create a more meaningful to-do list here.

3. Take Advantage of Parkinson’s Law

Here’s a little trick I learned a long time ago to help when work feels overwhelming. Parkinson’s Law states that work will fill the time you have available to complete it, and we humans are terrible at estimating how long something will take[2]:

When feeling overwhelmed at work, use Parkinson's Law.

    This is why many people are always late. They think it will only take them thirty minutes to drive across town when previous experience has taught them it usually takes forty-five minutes to do so because traffic is often bad. It’s more wishful thinking than bad judgment.

    We can use Parkinson’s Law to our advantage when we’re feeling overwhelmed at work. If you have estimated that to write five important emails will take ninety minutes, then reduce it down to one hour. Likewise, if you have estimated it will take you three hours to prepare your upcoming presentation, reduce it down to two hours.

    Reducing the time you estimate something will take gives you two advantages. The first is you get your work done quicker, obviously. The second is that you put yourself under a little time pressure, and in doing so you reduce the likelihood you will be distracted or allow yourself to procrastinate.

    Advertising

    When we overestimate how long something will take, subconsciously our brains know we have plenty of time, so it plays tricks on us, and we end up checking reviews of the Apple Watch 4 or allow our team members to interrupt us with the latest office gossip.

    Applying a little time pressure prevents this from happening, and we get more focused and more work done. This will help when work feels overwhelming.

    4. Use the Power of Your Calendar

    Once you have your time estimates done, open up your calendar and schedule your to-dos to avoid getting overwhelmed at work. Schedule time for each task, especially high priority tasks, while also grouping together similar tasks. This will help relieve stress and anxiety in your daily work life.

    For emails that need attention on your to-do list, schedule time on your calendar to deal with all your emails at once. Likewise, if you have a report to write or a presentation to prepare, add these to your calendar using your estimated time as a guide for how long each will take.

    Seeing these items on your calendar eases your mind because you know you have allocated time to get them done, and you no longer feel you have no time. Grouping similar tasks together keeps you in a focused state longer, and it’s amazing how much work you get done when you do this.

    5. Make Decisions

    For those things you wrote down that are on your mind but are not tasks, make a decision about what you will do with each one[3]. These things are on your mind because you have not made a decision about them.

    If you have an issue with a colleague, a friend, or a loved one, take a little time to think about what would be the best way to resolve the problem. More often than not just talking with the person involved will clear the air and resolve the problem.

    Advertising

    If it is a more serious issue, then decide how best to deal with it. Talk to your boss or a colleague and get advice.

    Whatever you do, do not allow it to fester. Ignoring the problem will not make it go away and will only make you feel more overwhelmed at work. You need to make a decision to deal with it, and the sooner you do so the sooner the problem will be resolved.

    I remember long ago, when I was in my early twenties and had gone mad with my newly acquired credit cards. I discovered I didn’t have the money to pay my monthly bills. I worried about it for days, got stressed, and really didn’t know what to do. Eventually, I told a good friend about the problem.

    He suggested I called the credit card company to explain my problem. The next day, I plucked up the courage to call the company, explained my problem, and the wonderful person the other end listened and then suggested I pay a smaller amount for a couple of months.

    This one phone call took no more than ten minutes to make, yet it solved my problem and took away a lot of the stress I was feeling at the time. I learned two very valuable lessons from that experience:

    The first was: don’t go mad with newly acquired credit cards! And the second: there’s always a solution to every problem if you just talk to the right person.

    6. Take Some Form of Action

    Because overwhelm is something that creeps up on us, once we are feeling overwhelmed at work (and stressed as the two often go together), the key is to take some form of action.

    Advertising

    The act of writing everything down that is bothering you and causing you to feel overwhelmed is a great place to start. Being able to see what it is that is bothering you in a list form, no matter how long that list is, eases the mind. You have externalized it.

    It also means that, rather than these worries floating around in a jumbled mess inside your head, they are now visible, and you can make decisions about what to do about them.

    Often, it could be asking a colleague for a little help, or it could be that you need to allocate some focused time to get the work done. The important thing is you make a decision on what to do next.

    When work feels overwhelming, it’s not always caused by a feeling of having a lack of time or too much work. It can also be caused by avoiding a decision about what to do next.

    The Bottom Line

    It’s easy to feel like you have too much on your plate, but there are things you do to make it more manageable. 

    Make a decision, even if it’s just talking to someone about what to do next. Making a decision about how you will resolve something will reduce your feelings of overwhelm and start you down the path to a resolution.

    When you follow these strategies, you can say goodbye to your overwhelm and gain much more control over your day.

    More Tips for Reducing Work Stress

    Featured photo credit: Josefa nDiaz via unsplash.com

    Reference

    Read Next