Self Awareness And The Eye For Detail

There was once a time when I had literally no eye for detail whatsoever.

I was more a ‘big picture’ kind of guy who wasn’t ready for big picture stuff. Letters, numbers, whatever, if it’s wrong nobody will notice.

And yet, they did. And so did I, thankfully. After all, I wouldn’t have lasted very long as a translator if I couldn’t work on my eye for detail.

Nor would I have lasted very long in any role, to be honest.

Today, I see this very skill in my own teams. And you can see why employers value attention to detail, especially in those employees who are customer-facing or whose output is customer-facing. I see it in branding teams who inspect the margins around logos, I see it in copywriters who adhere to company guidelines – a lack of attention to detail can be damaging not just to the person professionally, but the brand.

So how can you improve your attention to detail? Or, more specifically, how did I become the attention-to-detail monster that I have become?

No distractions

Oh yeah, like that’s ever going to work.

First we had open-plan offices with dubious music choices (many of them mine), conversations going on, interruptions galore and the constant temptation to make a cup of tea.

And phones. Mobile phones that ping constantly.

And then we were working at home, with Slack messages going off all the time, more pings on Whatsapp and the children making appearances on Zoom calls thinking they might be on TV like the ones from that BBC News interview.

No distractions, indeed.

It’s a case of managing distractions. Headphones are a message to everyone that you can’t be disturbed, and they also have the extra benefit of cancelling out their noise.

Turning notifications off is a simple thing to do, and yet we often fail to do it. And there are apps on your laptop that will allow you to focus on a single window and not allow distracting pop-ups and mails to get in the way.

Self-awareness is the key – if you can’t manage the distractions, they’ll manage you.

Make a list every morning

I used to jump around between tasks, trying to ‘multitask’ because, obvs, multitasking is easy right? No – nobody actually multi-tasks, they just do many things less effectively. One thing I started doing was making a daily list of things I absolutely had to achieve by the end of the day.

This is different from a to-do list because an achievement could include numerous to-dos. Instead, by focusing on what the actual outputs are, it gives you something to aim for.

I eventually started breaking the day down into chunks to say – well, I’m aiming for that by close of play, and I’ll reserve between 3 and 4 to get it done.

Practice your eye for detail

If you feel that you’re lacking an eye for detail, or that you are liable to making mistakes you shouldn’t be making in your work, then you’ve made the first step – you’re aware of it.

You may have reduced your distractions and you may be setting out allotted times of day for specific tasks, but the one thing that will really make the difference is practice.

For example:

  • If your mistakes are frequently grammatical, don’t install something like Grammarly that automatically corrects your work. Make a point of spending dedicated time at the end of every piece you’ve written (emails, documents, etc) looking for your most common mistakes. Own them.
  • And then, do install something like Grammarly. But instead of allowing the system to correct you automatically, make sure that you manually check every problem. This allows you to see where you’re going wrong and what errors you’re making.
  • Spend 15 minutes a day practicing your eye for detail, e.g. if you keep misspelling certain words, write paragraphs including those words until you feel at ease writing them consistently. If you’re populating a database, have you been consistent?
  • Ask someone to feed back on your work. Am I making sense? Have I made any grammatical mistakes? Are my numbers lining up on this spreadsheet, for instance?

Or why not try some brown noise

Writer Zadie Smith swears by ‘brown noise’ which sounds horrible, but in fact actually helps her concentrate.

Those whose attention wanders during the working day may want to put those headphones on and try some brown noise – a cousin to ‘white noise” but ultimately more mellow. You’ll find very long Brown Noise videos on YouTube (if you can handle the ads jumping in) and other providers of brown noise are doubtless available.

The theory is that the noise is associated with relaxation and improved focus. It is actually recommended for people with ADHD, and can sound a little like a strong wind or a flowing river.

And, if you really want to improve your attention to detail, why not join our course. IPI is hosting a one-day training session on How To Improve Accuracy and Attention to Detail. To sign up, simply click here and enrol!

And – for those with a really keen eye for detail, I’ve included THREE deliberate errors in this blog post. Can you find them?

Published on Oct 06, 2022 by Gareth Cartman