Sometimes, the smallest things and mistakes can make or break the quality of our work.
As they say, “the devil is in the detail,” so how can we improve our attention to detail at work?
Trainer, Author, and Consultant, Attention to Detail
It’s important to have a basic understanding of the concepts of attention (cognitively-speaking), that there are three types of attention to detail, and that there are five fundamental elements you can assess and improve upon in yourself (and in others).
Here are the main points:
The topic of attention and what’s going on in our heads is pretty complicated―even for a 4-hour workshop―so let’s stick to the top takeaways here.
First, distractions are your primary enemy from the standpoint of using and sustaining your attention efficiently and effectively on any given task as well as throughout your day. Do everything you can to minimize them.
Then, and perhaps most importantly, own your attention. Own it! It’s what makes you who you are.
Where you focus your attention is what determines what you’re doing with your time, how effective you are, your overall success, everything.
Three types of attention to detail
One of the biggest reasons for frustrations around the topic of attention to detail is a general lack of understanding that the concept is generally more nebulous and complicated than we give it credit for.
When we say, “pay more attention to detail” or “be more detail-oriented” to someone, there are usually some specific details in our head that we don’t communicate clearly enough. I find that when people break down the types of attention to detail, they are better able to both understand it and communicate more effectively around it.
The three types are:
- Contrastive ― issues with a single solution, objective; it’s about identifying, calculating, and/or comparing known or present elements; can be systematized
- Analytical ― issues with multiple possible solutions, likely somewhat subjective; mot knowledge workers operate primarily in this space; some specialized knowledge required for most problems or challenges but most can be at least partially, if not wholly, systematized
- Additive ― issues with possibly infinite solutions, may be entirely subjective; it’s about innovation or improvements; nearly impossible to systematize by default, however, the process for identifying what or where to innovate can be organized
The exercise of determining which type(s) of attention to detail you’re dealing with and then breaking the issue down into its contrastive elements clarifies and separates the elements and uncovers opportunities for improvement and systemization.
If you can systematize a system, you can remove some or all of the need for human knowledge and begin the process of automating attention to detail.
Summary: Identify the type of attention to detail and move toward contrastive.
Five fundamental elements of attention to detail
Each one has features and details to expand upon, but my short descriptions will give you something of an idea or direction for each. You may be stronger in some areas than others, but they are all essential and necessary for truly well-rounded attention to detail in any task or endeavor.
- Focus ― It’s about where your attention is focused at any moment and your ability to sustain that attention on the relevant details/task/issue.
- Interest ― Intrinsic care about the task or issue for one or more of (m)any reasons.
- Knowledge ― It’s about knowing what to look for, and its importance is often overlooked.
- Systems ― The right systems can create consistency, reduce or remove the need for knowledge, and generally reduce human error.
- Attitude ― Specifically, the “Right or Wrong” attitude and how well it is defined (or if) and internalized.
I get asked sometimes if there is a single element that is more important than the others, and the answer is no. While there are components that are more intuitive and/or simple than the others, they’re all necessary and important.
Everything above is an outline of the framework for developing strong attention to detail. If you’re looking to improve your focus and attention to detail in your task at hand ― for what you’re about to start next ― then do this:
- Stand up and stretch, maybe even take a short walk ― get the blood flowing a bit
- Hydrate ― water is best; your body and brain both need plenty of water for optimal performance
- Get an extra 30 minutes of sleep (for tomorrow) ― starting your day with a full battery upstairs is one of the best things you can do to be productive and focused
And, finally, time will keep flying by no matter what you do. You have a way better chance of controlling your attention. Use your attention wisely. Own it!
Business Development and Strategy Manager, Bharat Forge
Here’s my five-step action sequence to intensify your focus and have ultimately greater attention to detail at work:
Empty your mind
To focus on more information, remove all the unwanted crap from your mind. One of the easiest ways to do this is to write your mind out on a piece of paper; you may also allocate specific timing to deal with all these other activities which are blocking your mental space.
Now, these activities will stop popping up in your mind & you can have your undivided attention on the task you have chosen.
Establish a distractions defense system
In today’s world full of rings & pings, one needs to create an active system against all these distractions. A system that allows you to keep all the external madness at bay is a must. Keeping your phone in silent mode & out of sight is one small example.
Still, you should also list out all external distractions (like social media & emails on your workstation, unwanted guests, last-minute requests, open office interruptions, etc.) and chalk out your plan against each of them.
Monotasking and resist the urge to multitask
This is the single most helpful advice with immediately visible effects in improving your attention to detail. When you have decided which one task you are going to deal; and, you have also insulated yourself from all the external distractions, now is the time to control your inner urge of multitasking.
Putting your intense focus on one identified task without entertaining anything else during the assigned time will improve your focus.
In the absence of interference created by multitasking, plus, in the presence of momentum you have created, you’ll be able to achieve your task quicker with more considerable attention to details, which will undoubtedly improve the quality of your work.
Break it down
If you’re working on a complex problem, then the chances are that to escape from the pain and boredom created by it and in the urge to finish it quickly, you may miss a few essential details.
The best way to overcome this is to break down the complex problem into multiple workable pieces and work on each one of them sequentially. This will automatically enhance your attention to details for each of small and feasible tasks and ultimately for the entire problem as well.
Kill all your assumptions
The biggest roadblock that stops most of us from going into details is our tendency to make false assumptions for our convenience and move forward. Though it may seem convenient at the moment, I highly recommend killing all your assumptions, however small they may be.
Just discuss over them and apply why-why analysis until you find trustworthy backup information for your assumption. Or even better, you come to know that it was a false one.
Vice President of Operations Southeast Region, Post Modern Marketing
We strive to be so good at our job that it becomes second nature. Sometimes we feel that we can do our jobs subconsciously. Most times, this is great, but there is one problem – attention to detail.
As they say, “the devil is in the detail,” so how can we improve our attention to detail?
Do it backwards for a different perspective
Ever see the word games that demonstrate our brains can decipher and complete messages that are missing letters, words, and punctuation? It’s both an incredible ability and a potential problem if we are not careful. The more comfortable we get with our work, the easier it can be to miss details.
One trick previously used in the print world is to read copy backward to look for errors. Today we have computer programs that can check for spelling, punctuation, grammar, and stream of consciousness discrepancies. Believe it or not, there are still some details that can make it through all these checks.
One technique that can shake out the final issues is to read the copy out loud to ourselves or others, so we use our ears in place of our eyes for the review. If you don’t have someone else to read the copy, word processing apps today have a Review feature called Read Aloud.
You can close your eyes, and the computer will read your text back to you. Your ears will sometimes catch details that your eyes floated over.
A fresh set of eyes or hands
It is often said that two heads are better than one. Different people bring different skills and thoughts to the fold. What eludes one person can be obvious to another. One set of thoughts can complement or complete others.
In the automotive industry, they use redundant techniques to catch errors or oversight. One technician might place the wheels on a vehicle and tighten the lug nuts to the proper torque setting, but the vehicle does not leave the shop until they call in a second tech to recheck each lug nut.
The odds are extremely low that two different technicians would miss the same lug nut. In the same vein, it may be difficult to believe, but they have found that hospitals should mark a patient’s body with a marker to indicate which side a surgery will target.
This marking will be checked by additional medical staff in the same way the technicians checked the lug nuts. A secondary review is an extremely effective way to catch errors. This attention to detail is used in almost every industry.
Walk away and take a break
Lack of proper rest or frustration with a project can cause our judgment or attention to be blurred. Many of us were taught early in our lives that it is better at times to walk away from a project and come back fresh.
Often, we will go back to a problem we thought was impossible to solve, and the solution is so obvious it feels like it almost bites us on the face. Tired and frustrated senses have a way of hiding details and eluding us.
Charlene Walters, MBA, PhD
Writer and Speaker | Business & Branding Mentor, Own Your Other
We’re all so busy in today’s fast-paced world that we often take shortcuts that prevent us from giving professional tasks our highest level of attention.
Here are some things that you can do to improve your attention to detail:
Research has shown that multitasking on the job actually slows us down and leads to more errors. Try to focus on one thing at a time. Your work will be better and at a higher level of quality when you do.
Distractions take away from our attention to detail. Turn off notifications on your phone and computer. Put your devices on silent and commit to giving tasks your full attention. You won’t miss the details when you do.
Work on projects in chunks
Devote a solid block of time (1-2 hours) on working and focusing on a specific project or task. You’ll be less likely to rush through it that way and won’t make the mistakes that come when your time is hurried or divided.
Commit to 3-5 important things to accomplish per day
Come up with a daily action plan and stick with it. By focusing on quality over quantity, you will produce work that is at a higher level. You’ll be more productive too. Less is often more.
Team up with someone else
It never hurts to have a second set of eyes look over your work and make suggestions for improvement. Be sure to return the favor. This type of buddy system gives you both a built-in editor on the job. Run with this mutually beneficial arrangement, and you’ll see your attention to detail jump to the next level.
Nutritionist, The Candida Diet
Many variables impact mental cognition and overall ability to focus and give attention to details; some we can control and others we cannot. The nutrients we take in, and our overall diet pattern has a more significant impact on our cognitive function than we often realize.
Our diets can either improve or decrease our ability to pay attention, especially at work
A diet high in refined carbohydrates and sugar from processed foods and beverages will lead to inflammation in the body. This inflammation is known to cause mental fog, fatigue, and overall poor health.
An inflammatory diet pattern can also cause gut dysbiosis, and we know the gut houses the immune system and is a key to our overall wellness. With this information, we know that cutting out or significantly reducing these foods in our diet will improve our ability to focus. This can be difficult since we tend to snack on these types of foods at work.
Eat snacks that contain nutrients to improve your mental clarity.
Whole fruits and vegetables like blueberries, apples, bananas, and carrots are easy to pack foods. It has antioxidants and phytonutrients which are known to improve your mood.
Foods high in the essential fatty acids will provide your brain with good fats that will improve overall cognition as well. These types of foods include nuts, seeds, avocados, eggs, as well as chia and flax.
French Learning Coach and Owner, FrenchFluency.net
Know which details matter and which don’t
As a small online business owner, I currently do everything in my business myself. Ranging from working with clients to editing my own Youtube videos and setting up email automation, you can imagine the insane amount of details that I deal with daily.
This might be an extreme case, but even as an employee, nowadays, you often have to do many different tasks that include lots of details, each of which could be critical.
The key is to know what matters and what doesn’t matter for your particular position. Details that matter are the ones that can hinder your workflow and make you (or your business) look bad in front of clients (or your boss).
For example, yesterday, as I was onboarding a new client, I noticed that there was a lot of friction in the process. Some of my emails to clients had got lost, which resulted in a first session that wasn’t as smooth and productive as it should have been.
These are the kind of details I obsess over until I have made the process smooth and easy to repeat because they affect not only my workflow but also the client’s experience and possibly their results and, therefore, my reputation as a coach.
On the contrary, the number of sloppy cuts in my YouTube videos doesn’t matter, as long as the viewer receives my message. So these are details that I shouldn’t spend too much time on.
However, if you work in the film industry, sloppy cuts can be a big deal for you. It’s all about which details are critical for your particular position and which aren’t.
Use streamlined processes and checklists
Brains aren’t made to hold so many details and information at once, even if they’re important. They don’t work this way. If you try to remember it all, you’ll eventually make mistakes.
So, the key to avoiding these mistakes is to use processes that are repeatable and as lean as possible (the more complex the process, the more likely it is that you’ll miss something or that something else will get in the way like a technical malfunction).
With my client in the example above, this happened because I just created a new package, and this client was only the second one on this particular package. I hadn’t yet created a streamlined process for this. I will do it soon so that future clients have a smoother experience. It also helps reduce my stress level, so, win-win.
Once you have your process, the best thing you can do is to turn it into a checklist (see the checklist manifesto for more details about this) and have the list at hand whenever you run the process. You’ll likely resist this (I do), but it can save you from making critical mistakes.
Founder & Principal, Texas Hard Money and Source Capital
Take a walk daily
Scheduling breaks is a common productivity tip, but many people often overlook the importance of getting up from their desks and moving around. Walk down the street, around the building, or just down the hall to say hi to a co-worker.
The complete change of setting and movement allows the brain to subconsciously problem solve and increase circulation throughout your body, making you more refreshed and focused when you return to your desk.
Set self-imposed meetings and deadlines
Deadlines and appointments set by external requirements are great motivators, so extend that motivation by implementing those requirements on yourself. Block out certain times of the day that are solo work times, and truly become unavailable, resisting distractions during those times.
Establish deadlines for projects and tasks that don’t necessarily require them – this provides additional motivation to accomplish work quickly at a high standard.
Founder, Finance Pal and Community Tax
Get in the habit of using checklists
This will help you stay organized by assuring that you don’t skip any steps in a process. They’re a great way to ensure nothing slips through the cracks.
Checklists also allow you to quickly and efficiently manage your various tasks. That way, you can allocate more time for other activities.
President, Total Engagement Consulting
If during the day, you are best at focusing on details. For some people, it may be the first thing in the morning. For others, it may be right after lunch or toward the end of the day. Try to work on the projects that require attention to detail during your optimal times.
Document the significant distractions that prevent you from focusing on details, write those distractions down, and then write a plan of steps to take to minimize those distractions and then do it! It may mean closing an office door, shutting off your cell phone, moving to a different part of your home if you work at home, etc.
Finally, if you’re a manager with a staff, and are merely poor on handling details, hire someone who is super detailed oriented and give them those tasks that required attention to detail. And reward them for their excellent work.
Mental Health Consultant and Relationship Expert | Founder, Enlightened Reality
We can easily miss important details at work when we’re rushing around trying to check things off our to-do lists. Yet it’s important to note that working hard while not paying attention to details is counterproductive.
To improve your attention to detail at work, you must slow down
If you notice that you’re too overwhelmed to work at a normal pace, consider coming in for a few extra hours one week to ease the rest of your schedule. Or, if this is a chronic problem, tell your supervisor or HR department that you need an assistant to manage everything.
Create a system to help you keep track of things
Actively set yourself up for success when it comes to paying attention to details at work. Create a system for keeping track of deadlines, with reminders before the deadlines happen.
Consult with the rest of your team as well as your supervisor to make sure that everyone is on the same page and that your role is clear. Lastly, de-clutter your desk so that your workspace does not have distractions, which will steal your attention from important details at work.
Director of Operations, MyCorporation.com
Proofread before submitting in any final drafts of assignments or projects for review
You may review the finished product on your own to catch any spelling or grammar mistakes and revise them. It’s also a good idea to get another set of eyes to review your work if you feel like you need a second opinion.
Ask a colleague in your department for feedback. They may be able to catch a mistake you didn’t notice or offer advice for fixing a specific detail on a graphic that enhances the image. Then, you may submit your work to your supervisor and feel confident about the final product.
Vice President, Socotra Capital
I was a slob for the majority of my life. By slob, I meant doing things quickly to get the task done. It wasn’t until my professional career that I realized quick doesn’t mean efficient.
One mindset that I adopted was “slow is fast.” Counter-intuitive, but most important in any industry that requires attention to detail. Taking the extra time to slow down, put thought into your work, and check it before producing results can and will prevent large avalanches of problems in the future.
Slow down and make a system for checking work
This could mean having a partner in the office look over your work while you look over theirs.
The important thing is to KNOW that slowing down is crucial. Once your mindset is changed, you’ll be more cautious about making small mistakes. This in itself will make you second guess submitting that report without reading it once over.
CEO and Editor-in-Chief, Total Shape
Organize your mind and body
Avoid sleepless nights. Make sure to get at least seven hours of sleep to perform productively. Take a balanced diet. Ensure that your meals composed of all essential nutrients that are required for a healthy mind and body.
Organize your daily schedule
Prioritize your task. It would be more productive if you make a day planner. Break your workload into chunks and figure out what you have to do first. Mark your calendar for important dates and meetings. Usually, our mind is fresh in the first half of the day, so it is the best time to work on more focused or time taking tasks.
Organize your workplace: nobody feels pleasant to work in a messy place. It hit psychologically. Random data, scattered files, and unnecessary goods distract you from certain tasks. Keeping files organized, maintaining record orderly, and arranging your desk helps you to remain more focused and motivates you to work.
CMO, GoodLife Home Loans
Through observation, I’ve found that it’s hard to go from not being inherently detail-oriented to have a natural attention to detail suddenly. There are measures those who are not detail-oriented can take to remedy some of the errors that stem from not paying attention to detail.
Avoid burnouts and rest regularly
The primary thing is to make sure you aren’t regularly not getting enough sleep, as well as knowing when to give your brain a short break. Many mistakes can be traced back to somebody being tired, which can lead to being more lazy than average.
Also, overworking oneself can open up far more opportunities for errors to sneak their way into work. Burnout is real, and the quality hit your work can be apparent. Become more familiar with your limits. It goes far beyond being awake and balancing your hours of work.
One will likely not become detail-oriented from good sleep alone. Be sure to communicate to a peer, boss, etc. that you feel that you’d benefit from a second set of eyes on certain things, as you naturally aren’t a detail-oriented person.
It demonstrates a sense of self-awareness, as well as shows that you’ve already proposed a solution to counteract the problem. This should not be construed as taking every single, little task to your boss, peers, etc. That will detract from the overall productivity in the workplace if others are always having to put their work on pause to double-check your work.
Create a team for each project
Attention to detail can mean everything, especially when you’re a startup and can’t afford any mistakes. This is why it’s a great idea to create a team for each project. Each team is made up of two or three employees, who are all responsible for the final product.
This way, should I miss something, one of the others is sure to pick up on it. Plus, it makes brainstorming and coming up with innovative ideas even that much more successful.
CEO and Founder, Better Proposals
I struggled with attention to detail, and so did my employees up until recently. We would release a blog post and realize that it had typos, bad links, and other inconsistencies. The same would happen with design and some of the development tasks.
Double check everything
So I introduced a simple rule – whatever you do, never release immediately. Give everything 24 hours once you’re finished, then take another look, and only then can you go live with something you created.
That way, you can get some “distance” from your work to spot minute mistakes you may otherwise miss. One day later, with a fresh set of eyes, you always spot things that would have otherwise slipped.
John D. Hanson
Consultant, Trainer, and Author, 7 Ways Menu
Our brain is a supercomputer, so it’s processing everything our eyeballs see. So here are some easy, practical tips:
- Fewer items posted in your workspace—notes, pictures, sayings, reminders, etc.
- Keep your desk space as clear as possible—use organizers, trays and put as much away in drawers as possible
- Leave room clear to write—never write on top of papers that should be filed away neatly
- Use a headset, keeping your hands free
Head of Content Marketing, Beekeeper
Attention to detail can mean everything. Clients have been lost due to just one small oversight, and new customers have gone in another direction due to an email filled with typos. That’s why we must triple-check everything that we do. Those few extra seconds are not worth a lost client!
To be sure that I improve my attention to detail at work, I run every written word through Grammarly, just in case. And for anything else, I always want a second set of eyes to glance over it, or to get an opinion on whether my ideas are innovative enough.”