This post is part of a series in which Daybyday share the best advice they’ve ever received. Read all the posts here⇐⇑⇒.
I’ve been in the business world almost 30 years now (no, I’m not that old), and I’ve had many bosses, worked for many companies, and had many advisors, consultants, coaches, and mentors.
Pay Attention to Detail Overview
There are really two pieces of advice I remind myself every day. One is a whole piece I wrote in a previous blog, “Learning to be Yourself⇐⇑⇒.” Figure out who you are, what you’re really good at, what you love, and stay true to your core. This advice, which is far easier said than done, will carry you very far.
But the second, and more “transformational” piece of advice I received came from my first real manager, a fairly old-fashioned sales executive at IBM.
Pay Attention to Detail.
Long ago, early in my career, I was part of a team selling large computer systems to a big enterprise. We stayed at work all Christmas holiday one year to develop a huge multi-million dollar proposal. My section involved pricing out all the software.
Well, in my haste to complete the project, I made a mistake. And my boss (a very conservative older gentleman, who never even took off his suit jacket) found an error. He politely brought it to my attention and told me to go back and fix it.
Months later, in my performance review, he had only one piece of advice. He wrote “pay attention to detail” in my areas of improvement section, and then reminded me of that proposal. That stuck with me for the rest of my life.
The point he was making was very simple. He said: “You are a very talented individual, but if you make small mistakes people will not see the value you provide.”
And now, 30 years later, I still realize he was 100% right.
Trying to Make Things Perfect.
You will find throughout your professional and personal life that some people simply don’t “try hard enough” to be rigorous and complete. They rush to get a project done but don’t have the energy, focus, or time to really make it “perfect.”
Of course, nothing is ever perfect and everyone makes mistakes (even the iPhone had problems when it first shipped, although Steve Jobs never admitted it). But if you don’t focus and try to pay attention to detail, your mistakes will define you. And that is a reputation you don’t want in your life.
Some of the little things I’ve learned to do over the years.
- Stop when you’re tired and pick up work later when you have more energy and focus.
- Ask people to review your work and take their feedback seriously.
- Do projects in small chunks.
- Start projects early so you have time to iterate and improve.
- Have a cup of coffee or get some exercise and then come back if you can’t focus.
- Remember to “dig deeper”—to push for more analysis and better decisions on a regular basis.
- Re-read that email before you send it.
- Don’t let the PowerPoint go out with poor grammar, fonts, or typos.
- Check your spelling!
- Say to yourself, “This is the most important thing I have to do well” and act that way.
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Remember that when you make mistakes or don’t dig deep you don’t only harm your own reputation, you waste the time of others. And in some cases, like in my experience at IBM, you could cost your organization a lot of money.
It doesn’t matter if you’re in school, new at work, or a seasoned professional — taking the time to slow down and pay attention to detail will pay off.
I try to remind myself of this every single day. More on Pay Attention to Detail on Painting⇐⇑⇒