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Become a Detail Dynamo - 3/27/2012 -

Here are eight ways to retrain your brain to notice the little things.

Adapted by Carla Kalogeridis

For many of us, the 21st century has gone from being the age of information to feeling more like the age of information overload. Between the emails and other miscellaneous information you have to read at work, your friends’ Facebook updates, your Twitter community recommending articles for you to read, and that book that’s been sitting on your nightstand (unopened) for the past month—there’s just no way to take it all in. As a result, we’ve become a nation of skimmers, reading just enough of just the right amount of information to have at least a loose grasp on what’s going on in our work and personal lives.

But the tragedy, says Jason Womack is that in all of our skimming we miss essential details that could help us improve our productivity, build better relationships, and live more gratifying lives. "Of course, there are obvious reasons to pay attention to the details,” says Womack, a workplace performance expert, executive coach, and author of the new book Your Best Just Got Better: Work Smarter, Think Bigger, Make More. The book suggests that working longer hours doesn’t make up for a flawed approach to productivity and performance.

Paying better attention to details, he explains, helps build better relationships and it also improves your ability to communicate. "When you take the time to tell a detail-rich story, it becomes more interesting for the reader,” he says. Therefore, it makes them want to connect with your organization, and a great relationship can blossom.

Womack says we simply need to make a conscious decision every day to pay closer attention. In fact, becoming a detail dynamo in our work habits will transfer over to our work product. Here are a few of Womack’s tips, adjusted for the association media professional.

1. Stop multi-tasking. One way to combat information overload and to check more items off your endless to-do list is to multi-task. But, for example, while editing an article the same time you’re on a conference call with a committee might allow you to kill two birds with one stone, think about what it prevented you from doing.

"When you multi-task, you can’t give your undivided attention to the things you’re working on,” says Womack. "If you multi-task on a conference call, chances are you’ll miss something important, maybe a deadline for an upcoming project or at the very least an opportunity to truly connect.” Meanwhile, your editing might contain mistakes that you wouldn’t have otherwise made, and worse, you will have missed the opportunity to really think about the article and what could be done to improve it.

2. Carry a camera. Association media professionals will discover that carrying a camera is a great way to become more in tune with your environment. "When I have my camera, I’m always looking for the next shot,” explains Womack. "It helps me notice the little things that I might not have noticed if I weren’t looking. My camera is a reminder of the fact that there is more to see, if I’ll stop to see it.”

In addition, developing the picture-taking habit also yields good content for association websites and social media outlets.

3. Set a timer for 15-minute intervals. Womack says that our days are actually made up of about 100 15-minute intervals. In fact, 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,” 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.” When the timer goes off, stand and stretch, return an important email, and then go back to the task at hand. Whether it’s writing, editing, designing, or making advertising sales calls, Womack says your work will be more productive when broken into 15-minute chunks.

4. Know when you’re not focused and implement ways to refocus. When you’re working with your timer, write down each instance when you lose focus—even if it’s just to look at a clock to see what time it is. "Writing those moments down will help you figure out what causes you to lose focus,” says Womack. "When you know what can throw you off track, you’ll be able to take action to reduce those distractions.”

5. Practice, practice, practice. You won’t become a master of detail overnight so don’t put too much pressure on yourself. "Essentially, you have to retrain the way you work,” says Womack. "You have to break some bad habits that have developed over the years and replace them with better habits. That won’t be easy, and it will take time. You just have to be diligent about quickly getting yourself back on track when you slip up.”

6. 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. Unsubscribe from any e-mail newsletters, magazines, and book-of-the-month clubs that aren’t crucial to your professional development or personal interests. "Try the ‘unsubscription’ for three months and at the end of those 12 weeks, you can re-up if you want to,” he suggests.

7. Stay in touch. Now, this might sound like one more thing that’s going to clog up your to-do list, but it’s actually a great way to train yourself to keep an eye out for important details. "Probably the ‘secret sauce’ to getting more done is to let members and colleagues know you’re thinking of them when you don’t need something from them,” explains Womack. "When I find an article, read a book, watch a movie, etc. that reminds me of someone’s interests, I will pass it on to them. So many times over the years, this constant value-add initiative has paid off in major ways.” It’s a great way to show members and colleagues that you care about them and that you pay attention to what’s going on with them.

8. Listen more. There are three different learning styles—visual, auditory, and kinesthetic—and everyone on your team falls into one of these categories. Visual people need to see and draw things—they might say, "I see what you’re saying.” Auditory folks need to hear it and say it—they might say, "I hear what you’re saying.” And kinesthetic people create models, print decks, and draw on flip charts or whiteboards—they might say, "That makes sense to me.”

Association media team leaders should listen carefully to individual staff members and determine how best to communicate information to them. "When you know how they work, you can give them the details that are more important to them, which will help you work better and more efficiently together,” says Womack.

Because association media professionals are so overloaded with information, we often approach our days focused on getting as much done as possible. "But when that is your big goal, you end up ignoring important details, and the details are where big opportunities are found,” Womack points out. "When you retrain yourself to live in the details, you can improve everything you do and truly make the most of your relationships.”

Carla Kalogeridis is editorial director of Association Media & Publishing.


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