9 Ways To Improve Your Attention To Detail

Don't let your big-picture thinking stop you from caring about the small stuff. Paying attention to the details could give you a competitive advantage.
January 14, 2014

"Details matter," Steve Jobs said. "It's worth waiting to get it right."

But many entrepreneurs are big-picture thinkers who have a low tolerance for details. They're very clear about where their visionary journey will take them, but they may neglect the practical, en route details.

To be successful, we require both—strategic thinking and attention to detail. If your big picture thinking trumps your ability to deal with the details, you may be jeopardizing your chances for long-term success. Here are nine tips for not letting a disregard of details trip you up:

Learn To Plan Effectively

A great vision can quickly dissipate in the fog of confusion if you cannot manage the process. Avoid this by learning how to effectively plan all aspects of your project. For example, get a flow charting software program that handles PERT and Gantt charts. It pays to learn how to use these to manage your project details.

Keep Your Eye On Your Cash Flow

Cash flow can cripple your company even when you're profitable. Don't neglect this crucial area of your business. A useful tool to help you track your cash flow is to do a break-even analysis so you know what your margin of safety is. This handy break-even calculator can also help you figure things out.

Be Courteous

Don't let your focus on your business cause you to neglect the everyday niceties of dealing with people. Disgruntled employees and vendors can quickly toss a wrench into your operations. No matter how harried your day is, make a point to be courteous with everyone. As American lawyer Henry Clay puts it, “Courtesies of a small and trivial character are the ones which strike deepest in the grateful and appreciating heart.” Grace and civility make relationships run smoothly.

Mind The Little Things

Tom Peters, author of The Little BIG Things: 163 Ways To Pursue Excellence, suggests we pay attention to the "little things" that have enormous impact. This can be as simple as fixing your voice message to be different from that of your competition to using a round table instead of a square table to promote a greater flow of ideas.

As Peters puts it in his Details essay on the same topic, "Nothing, absolutely nothing is irrelevant to individual branding ..." Check all the little things in your company, whether it's the tidiness of the reception desk, the cleanliness of the bathroom or the last client email you sent: Is each one excellent? Do they indicate that you care?

Fine-Tune Your Communication Style

Seeing the vision and communicating it to your stakeholders in a way that they, too, can visualize it is often a challenge for visionary entrepreneurs. Be specific and provide pertinent details to explain your vision. Make an effort to explain your ideas in concrete, not just abstract or theoretical, terms. Give specific examples to substantiate your ideas. Follow a sequential method of imparting information. Make an effort to provide background documentation or handouts to help others grasp what you're talking about.

Raise Your Tolerance For Routine 

Big picture thinkers are often impatient with anything that smacks of bureaucracy, and they may disregard routine business procedures. The fact is, grunt work is essential to running a successful business. It's easy to cast aside tried-and- true methods while pursuing the maverick path, but it's also easy to introduce harmful chaos to the process. Learn to be less dismissive of essential business procedures that provide checks and balances. A postmortem that analyzed startup failures shows that a lack of checks and balances due to team deficiencies resulted in failures almost one-third of the time. If this is a challenge for you, partner with someone who can bolster your weakness in this area.

Learn To Love Checklists

Nothing improves your attention to detail like creating checklists for what you do. It will help you to keep track of what you might otherwise miss. In The Checklist Manifesto: How To Get Things Right, Atul Gawande, a New Yorker staff writer and professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School, shows how checklists, in the business world and medical professions alike, lead to greater efficiency and success. "Checklists seem able to defend everyone, even the experienced," says Awande, "against failure in many more tasks than we realized. They provide a kind of cognitive net. They catch mental flaws." Get in the habit of creating checklists for your business. It will pay dividends.

Remember People's Names

Brain research shows that there's greater brain activation when we hear our own name in relation to the name of others. Our name is indeed the sweetest sound to our ears. Remembering that it is Helen, not Ellen, or Stephen, not Steven is a small detail that shows you care. Paying attention to your customers' name is another small way to set your business apart.

Make Quality A Non-Negotiable

In our fast-paced zeitgeist, it's easy to cut corners and rush to market, whether it's insufficiently tested products or services. Adopt a quality mindset, and stay with something until you've worked out the kinks, or as Jobs suggested, until you get it right. Quality is a competitive advantage.

Bruna Martinuzzi is the founder of Clarion Enterprises Ltd., and the author of two books, Presenting with Credibility: Practical Tools and Techniques for Effective Presentations and The Leader as a Mensch: Become the Kind of Person Others Want to Follow.

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