2019-05-20 Issue 97 – Fundamental Behavior 20 – Pay attention to the details
I have always enjoyed trying to figure out ways to do things more efficiently. As a child, whether unloading the dishwasher, or doing laundry, or weeding the garden, I always tried to get my work done faster. My favorite book in elementary school was Cheaper by the Dozen, the tale of a family with 12 children whose home doubled as a real-world laboratory that tested the ideas of efficiency experts Frank and Lillian Gilbreth.
The problem was, in my pursuit of speed, I often neglected the details. And my mother always caught me red-handed. My mother, who was raised by German immigrants who prided themselves on meticulous attention to detail, would inspect the bathroom floor I had just mopped, or the living room I had just dusted, and point out every place I had missed as I attempted to complete the task in record time. “While trying to get things done quickly is admirable, it’s not acceptable to do a haphazard job,” she said. (I had to look up “haphazard” in the dictionary after that conversation).
Regrettably, I didn’t really learn this important lesson the first time, but have had to learn it over and over again throughout the course of my life. There was Mrs. B, my ninth grade English teacher, who made us type our term papers on a manual typewriter and would deduct 10 points per typo, even if covered up by correction fluid. I learned pretty quickly that without a LOT of practice, it’s nearly impossible to type both quickly and accurately on a manual typewriter, and that if I wanted to be accurate, I needed to slow down.
There was Mr. L, my eleventh grade history teacher, who would rip apart every argument I made in every paper I wrote for him, always pointing out that had I taken the time to reread and edit my work and double check my facts, I would have seen the holes in my arguments on my own. At the time I hated him, but when I had cooled down enough to consider his comments objectively, I knew he was right. I am a much better writer today because of him.
And there was my second boss, Mr. O. Right before I was about to leave work one day, he asked me to make 300 copies of a set of documents for him. Wanting to get it done quickly and go home, I ran them through the copier and used the “staple” function, which only allowed the pages to be collated with the staple inserted parallel to the left edge of the paper. When I brought the copies to him, he took the first set and flipped the first page, which immediately tore away from the rest of the document. He handed the whole stack of copies back to me, saying, “Remove the staples and do it over, this time with the staple at a 45 degree angle. In your haste to finish the task, you gave no thought to the person who will need to read this.” I had time to reflect, as I painstakingly pulled 300 staples out of 300 sets of documents and re-stapled them, how much more efficient it would have been to simply have done the job right the first time.
We all have many things we need to get done each day, and working efficiently is one way for us to accomplish our goals. I still feel a great deal of pride when someone tells me how quickly I got something done. But I am forever indebted to these mentors and others who keep reminding me that completing a task quickly is of no use if the work is inaccurate or not your best work. Take the time to review your work. You will produce much better quality work as a result.
Vice President, Public Relations and Communications
YKK Corporation of America