I must confess that attention to detail is something that I work at. It doesn’t come naturally for some creatives, who tend to see the big picture – colours, fonts, spacing but often miss details like phone numbers or spelling mistakes. As a senior designer, it has been the job of the account manager or mid-weight to tweak the fine details of a project. In my career over the past few years, I’ve had to focus on the bigger picture of branding, concept and campaign.
Recently, however, I have a job where I do everything from the ground up. I liaise with the client, take the brief, do the work, manage revisions and finalise the artwork and enter figures for invoicing. It is vital that I have impeccable attention to detail in the role. I have to work at this every day and it isn’t a personality trait, rather a skill, like office etiquette, that I have had to cultivate and practise.
This is a given, but a lot of people aren’t sure how to be organised in the modern world. I found a great book called Work Smarter, Live Better and it has some great tips for office organisation and managing your workflow using Office and Outlook.
Organise your emails
I go into the office every morning and there are hundred of emails. I go through person by person and make notes about every message in Notes or Tasks. If its just a 5-minute reply I reply straight away. It is is longer I keep it open and do the next step (using Tasks and Calendar in Outlook).
I have folders for each and every person who regularly sends me messages. As soon as I have attended to that email I file the email under their name. The only exception is when I have folders for urgent or I need to prepare something for print. That goes into an urgent or prepare for print folder automatically using rules. This way when I am working through urgent jobs they are all together.
Use Tasks and Calendar in Outlook or Notes and iCal
Manage your to-do list like a pro. When you open an email that needs something done, make a task in Outlook. If it is less than 1 hour, make it a task. If it is longer, block out time on your calendar. Tick each and every thing off as you go. If you want to use Apple’s system, used notes and iCal. it’s almost the same as Outlook in the way you can use it.
Keep to a Routine
Being freestyle each day isn’t helping with attention to detail. If you have a schedule then you have less to take up your valuable time. Go to sleep at the same time, get up at the same time. Get your clothes ready for the next day. Anything you can do to automate your day will help free your brain up for those details.
Try to keep to a routine at work. Of course, things happen and people drop in unexpectedly. but if you try to maintain a strict routine where you can it will free you up.
Getting distracted in the middle of a complex project is going to affect your ability to pay attention to those details. Have a time where you pop on your headphones, listen to something chilled out and get to work on tasks. Explain to co-workers that you don’t want to be anti-social, but you need to focus. They will understand. If they need something they will think twice before tapping you on the shoulder. Let them know they can interrupt you if it is urgent, but ask that they keep they requests to each hour, not minute.
Focus on One Thing At A Time
Don’t try to multi-task. Do one thing at a time, and focus on the most important first. Break big tasks into smaller ones. Trying to multi-task will set you up for failure. Don’t try to answer emails, use your phone and do you work all at once. Break your day into chunks and be strict with yourself over “self-distractions”.
It goes without saying that exercise and a good diet contribute to your ability to pay attention to detail. Don’t drink on days before you need to focus (i.e. during the week). You’ll feel wooly headed the next day. Exercise helps to clear out the mental cobwebs and gives you clarity of thought. Being deficient in any vitamin, iron, magnesium etc all affect your concentration. A sore back can distract you from the details two-fold – pain medication/muscle relaxants and/or pain. Take care of aches and pains so you head will be clear to focus your energy. Hunger and low blood sugar can also affect your ability to pay attention to detail. Eat healthy food regularly and have healthy snacks.
Take Regular Breaks
I am so guilty of this. I work and work all day and realise I have been sitting at my desk for the entire day with only one break. Take a break before proofreading a document for example so you aren’t tired or fatigued. Take lunch, not at your desk. Go outside for a walk. Stretch, change your perspective.
Attention to Detail and Mindfulness
If you find yourself drifting off during an important task, close your eyes, pay attention to what is happening for you, and get back to being centred. Most of all, don’t tell yourself you are hopeless at details. This is
Most of all, don’t tell yourself you are hopeless at details. The ability to pay attention to detail is a skill, not a personality trait. Tell yourself you are great at detail and meditate on that.
(image source: thesocialmediamonthly.com)