If you’re in the job market, chances are you’ve come across plenty of job descriptions where the requirements say something like, “must have attention to detail,” or some iteration of that phrase. Some of you might even have this desirable quality listed as a punchy bullet point on your resume.
Attention to detail continues to top the list for desirable qualifications because it clearly sets up expectations on both sides. You know what a prospective employer wants, and said employer also knows what you can bring to the table. Employees who have exceptional attention to detail, frequently require less supervision, and they don’t tend to make costly mistakes.
According to Roy Cohen, career coach and author of “The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide,” poor attention to detail not only impacts the individual but the organization as well:
“We live and work in a world where change and innovation are happening at a pace never before seen. It is easy to get sloppy when a lot is being thrown at you and where you are expected to make speedy decisions. The result of not focusing enough attention on the details can be devastating professionally, and they will also have an impact on the company you work for.”
If “attention to detail” falls into your “weaknesses category”, and you skip over certain job descriptions for that reason, there are things you can do to improve it.
Whether it’s your calendar, your emails, or even your desk, one of the first steps to sharpening your attention to detail is to get organized. Knowing what’s on your calendar for the week ahead will ensure that you don’t miss any important deadlines or meetings. Moreover, managing your inbox and clearing out digital clutter will allow you to prioritize what’s important.
This may sound like a cliche, no brainer because everyone does it — but that’s probably because it works. The good news is, it’s as easy as it sounds. Make a list of what you need to accomplish, and check each item off as you complete it. And don’t think this is an amateur move. In his book, “The Checklist Manifesto,” American surgeon and author, Atul Gawande, purports that everyone (even surgeons and pilots) needs a list, and well-designed checklists will lead to better outcomes.
Puzzles and Memory Games
Memory games and puzzles are excellent tools for training your brain to focus on small details. Puzzles require you to focus on the specific task at hand, and you must examine the minute details of a puzzle piece to place them correctly. Memory games are also helpful because they too require focus and attention to detail for the win.
Distractions diminish your capacity to focus on the task at hand. Limit your distractions by silencing your phone, closing the door, and staying off social media. If ambient noise is your nemesis, a good set of noise-canceling headphones can help you stay focused.
Let It Rest
Most writers can attest to this one. When working on a particular project, quarterly reports, an important presentation, or even a speech, try to give yourself enough lead time to let it rest. When you’re deep in the creative process, it’s hard to see the forest for the trees. Give yourself enough time to walk away from it, and come back to your project with a fresh set of eyes. No doubt you’ll be able to see mistakes that you missed or other opportunities for improvement.
Focus – Don’t Try To Multitask
Attention is a finite internal resource, and research tells us time and again that multitasking is a myth and we’re not really good at it. While multitasking is often glorified, the truth is it splits our focus and diminishes our attention to detail. To maintain your focus, refer to your list (see above) and focus on one task at a time.
The world is filled with all types of people, and everyone is good at something. Some folks are big picture thinkers and perhaps not so laser-focused on logistics and details. While others thrive on meticulous planning and working through minute details to make something come to fruition. There’s no right or wrong way to be, but when it comes to self-improvement, there’s always more to learn.