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:
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.((The New York Times: ‘The Definitive Book of Body Language’))
Although learning more about workflow automation((MixMax: Use workflow automation for ‘Good not Evil’)) 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.
To maximize productivity, automate non-essential tasks and spend the time you save looking deeper into the details of the rest.
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.((onpay: 10 steps to keep Uncle Sam off your back (and out of your pocket) in 2020)) 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.
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:
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.
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.((Harvard Business School Online: Why Emotional Intelligence is Important in Leadership))
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.
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,((Psychology Today: Neuroticism)) 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?
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.
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.”
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.
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