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Learn to sweat the small stuff: How to improve attention to detail

September 5, 2022 - 15 min read

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What is attention to detail?

Why is attention to detail important?

How to improve your level of attention to detail

How to improve attention to detail in employees

Every day is an opportunity to practice

Never stop learning

What’s the difference between 100 dollars and 1000 dollars?

A single decimal point.

If you’re balancing the books for your company, the poor placement of a single dot can cost you 900 dollars. Proof, as they say, that the devil is in the details. 

And you don’t have to be an accountant for small details to matter. A missing oxford comma cost a dairy organization 5 million dollars. Missing screws caused a plane crash. A single coffee cup broke the fantasy of the TV show Game of Thrones. 

Organizations want employees who pay attention to the little things. They want people who can focus and produce error-free work. 

When you’re stressed, rushed, and on a deadline, you’re most vulnerable to making mistakes. You might wonder how other people find the time and energy.

Well, with a bit of work, you can learn this core competency. And we want to help you. Here’s everything you need to know about how to improve attention to detail.

 

What is attention to detail?

How to describe attention to detail? On the surface, it might seem self-explanatory. But there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye.

At its most basic, attention to detail refers to your ability to produce error-free work. We’re talking about the specifics: commas, the spellings of last names, factoring in potential outcomes, and more. But, if someone recently told you to be more detail-oriented, they probably didn’t give you any details on how. 

There are actually three types of detail skills, and it would be helpful if you knew which one applies to you. 

Here they are, so you can have a look on your own:

1. Contrastive

Here you’re concerned with very clear “right” and “wrong” answers — and it’s up to you to minimize your errors. Usually, the best way to improve is by creating a system that will help you avoid mistakes in the first place. 

For example, when calculating the percent change of a company’s quarterly profits, you risk typing the wrong formula in your spreadsheet.

To avoid this error, systemize your work by creating a template for your calculations. All you have to do is punch in the correct numbers, and you’ll receive the correct answers in a shorter amount of time.

2. Analytical

In this kind of attention to detail, you’re concerned with problems that have multiple possible solutions. Here you need specialized knowledge to decide whether your solution is the best or most relevant. 

Creating a system can help you here, but not always. If you’re a professor grading academic essays, you can systemize the process with a rubric. But, at some point, you’ll have to make a judgment call.

A student’s writing can be compelling even if it doesn’t fit your standard grading scheme. Did they have an excellent idea and poor execution, or maybe a boring idea and flawless writing? Will you evaluate these equally?

3. Additive

Here you’re dealing with issues that have infinite possible solutions. You need to be a subject matter expert with strong problem-solving abilities if you want to make the best decisions

Systemization can help, but not in the same way as our previous two types — a simple template won’t solve your issues here. 

But a system for gathering and synthesizing relevant information will help you can make more informed decisions.

For example, if you’re the director of a government department, you have a network of staff who can support you. When there’s an emergency, your team has processes for providing you with the best information available. Then, after reviewing all the details, you can make an informed decision.

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Why is attention to detail important?

Attention to detail is important, no matter your occupation. Some jobs have a larger margin for error than others, but they all expect accuracy and reliability. Failing to meet this expectation can severely impact your reputation.

Interns at a public relations firm are expected to write clearly and accurately on a day-to-day basis. Because of this, a simple typo in an email can impact their reputation. How can someone be trusted with public-facing content if their internal communications lack polish?

Mistakes happen. But if you don’t learn from them, it can impact your career — especially if you hope to have more responsibility one day. You’ll need extreme attention to detail for others to trust you and your work.

How to improve your level of attention to detail

Detail orientation is a muscle. If you exercise it regularly, reducing errors will become second nature. 

Here are some things you can do to train this skill.

1. Read books. Reading can improve your concentration, provide more general knowledge, and develop critical thinking skills.

2. Meditate. Mindful breathing can help you stay relaxed during times of stress, reducing your likelihood of making mistakes. It can also improve your focus, helping you produce stronger work.

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3. Spend less time on social media. Social media notifications are designed to pull your attention away from whatever you’re doing. Their advertisers depend on it. If you can turn them off, you can increase your attention span and produce better work.

4. Take your time. You’re more likely to make a mistake if you’re rushing. Take advantage of it, and ask for an extension if you need it. You’ll produce better work if you can relax. Late work is better than sloppy or incorrect work. 

5. Focus on quality over quantity. Late work is better than sloppy or incorrect work. Focusing on high-quality results will set you up for success in the long run and ultimately save you time.

6. Use the Pomodoro technique. This time management skill involves dividing your day into blocks of intense focus interspersed with frequent breaks. This can improve the quality of your work and prevent mental exhaustion.

7. Organize your workspace. Organizational skills, like decluttering your desk and sorting your paperwork, are a way to declutter your mind. Keep the items you need for your current task, then put the rest away.

8. Stick to a routine. A routine is merely a way to automate parts of your day. This will free your mind to focus on important, specific tasks. 

9. Create lists. To-do lists can help keep your work on schedule. They can also help you track each detail of a task so you don’t miss anything.

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10. Develop your analytical skills. This means learning to tell a story using all available data. It also means being creative and an expert problem-solver.

11. Be observant. Information is everywhere; you just have to look. Situational awareness can give you valuable insights into your work. 

12. Work on your active listening. Give your undivided attention when someone is speaking to you. Maintain eye contact. They’re probably relaying important information — even if the user isn’t obvious yet.

13. Avoid multitasking. Multitasking might sound like an efficient use of your mental energy, but it’s an illusion. In reality, you’re hopping between tasks. And every time, you waste valuable mental energy and time re-adjusting. This hurts your focus and increases your risk of mistakes.

For more help developing strong attention to detail, try working with BetterUp. Through one-on-one sessions with our coaches, you’ll receive great career advice and learn new skills to thrive in the workplace. Your team members will thank you.

How to improve attention to detail in employees

If you’re a manager or employer, you also have a role to play in improving your organization’s attention to detail. 

Here’s how you can help your employees produce error-free work:

  • Reduce distractions. Give employees a work environment that is quiet and comfortable. This will help them stay focused.
  • Provide the right tools. Provide notebooks to everyone so they can track their work. Also, make sure things they’ll need, like office supplies or software, are in stock and running smoothly.
  • Be positive. Encourage friendship and teamwork. Boosting morale will help keep energy high and improve work quality.

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  • Encourages breaks. They may be so wrapped in their work they forget to take a breather. Don’t be afraid to encourage rest, so they don’t burn themselves out. A company-wide lunch encourages everyone to take a break, socialize, and eat a proper meal.
  • Set up professional development training. Bring in experts who can share skills with your team. This will help keep them sharp.
  • Offer prompt feedback. If someone makes a mistake, let them know early and work together to find a solution. Show them that you support their learning.
  • Praise good work. Make sure people know when they’re doing well. It’s easier to do a good job knowing what “good” looks like.

Every day is an opportunity to practice

Now that you’re a detail-oriented person, it’s time to show it off. Here are some everyday scenarios where you can apply your skills.

  • Cover letters: When you’re applying for jobs, tell a story in your cover letter about how your attention to detail saved a project. Nothing shows that you lack the attention to detail than applying to one company with a generic letter sporting another company’s name. Addressing a hiring manager directly is another indication that you care, you’ve done your research, and you’re paying attention.
  • Conversations with your boss: When meeting with your boss, prepare an agenda and have relevant information ready. They’ll appreciate your thoroughness.
  • Job interviews: Show your detail-oriented nature by meticulously preparing for the interview. 

woman-at-job-interview-how-to-improve-attention-to-detail

Never stop learning

No one reaches success without making a few mistakes. It’s part of life. But experienced workers know how to learn from their errors. That’s what sets them apart from the rookies.

So next time you fall short, don’t beat yourself up. It’s all part of the process. Just make sure to use that experience to improve your workflow and attention to detail. Then, next time you’re in a similar situation, your experience will help you produce higher-quality work.

If you want more tips on how to improve attention to detail, try working with BetterUp. Our coaches are here to help you grow as a person and as a professional. With their help, you can rise to new heights.

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Published September 5, 2022

Maggie Wooll

Managing Editor

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