As a young police reporter, I questioned why the police department couldn’t tell me the color of the car involved in the accident. It was the kind of detail I wanted to have in my news story. My journalism professors had drilled attention to detail as a key attribute of a good reporter. Miami Herald reporter turned novelist Edna Buchanan also touted the attention to detail.
Turns out they were right, according to Jason Womak, author of Your Best Just Got Better. In a press release he warns that we are often forced to sacrifice quality for quantity. Because there is so much information to take in, he says, we’ve become a nation of skimmers.
The downside of that, Womak says, is we miss essential details that could “help us improve our productivity, build better relationships and live more gratifying lives.”
So how does one pay attention to the details? Womak, a workplace performance expert and executive coach, offers several suggestions:
1) Stop multi-tasking. “When you multi-task, you can’t give your undivided attention to the things you’re working on,” says Womack.
2) Carry a camera. I’ve been doing this all year in an effort to focus on the grace notes of each day. Womak says his camera is “a reminder of the fact that there is more to see, if I’ll stop to see it.”
3) Set a timer for 15-minute intervals. Womak says 15 minutes is just about the right chunk of time for us to be able to stay focused, minimize interruptions and work effectively. “When you’re first getting started on paying more attention to detail, setting a timer can be a great way to self-monitor yourself,” says Womack. “When you know that timer is ticking down, you’ll be encouraged to really dig in and focus on the task at hand.” I often use this approach when I’m trying to clean the house. It’s amazing what one can accomplish in one room for 15 minutes.
4) Reduce your information stream. One important way to help yourself pay more attention to detail is to simply reduce the amount of stuff vying for your attention. I’ve recently let several magazine subscriptions expire. If, after a few months, I miss them, I’ll resubscribe. Right now, it’s nice not having a pile of magazines in the house. I’ve also unsubscribed from several email lists. Just because I purchased an item from the company doesn’t mean I have to get an email every time they have a sale.
“Because we’re so overloaded with information, we often approach our days focused on getting as much done as possible,” says Womack. “But when that is your big goal, you end up ignoring important details, and the details are where big opportunities are found. When you retrain yourself to live in the details, you can improve everything you do and truly make the most of your relationships.”
What are you doing to live in the details?
Thanks to Cathy Jett, president of Virginia Press Women, for sharing a press release about Womak’s book with me. The release and reading his book inspired this blog.