Life is busy! We are inundated with interruptions (count how many times your cellphone chirps while you read this to tell you about a new text, email, or Facebook update…) Our attention is a valuable commodity, and everyone from magazines to television to YouTube works hard to catch our eye and drag us from what could be productive pursuits into mind-dumbing distraction. As an executive/organizational coach, business owner, spouse and parent, I recognize that all of us need a certain amount of “down time” for our brains. I am not saying that any of these things is evil; I happen to be a bit of a YouTube geek myself, and laugh out loud at certain TV shows that the rest of my household can’t stand.
I am troubled, however, by a recent trend I’ve noticed in many people who are perhaps so busy, distracted, or just plain unorganized that they fail to bring excellence to the table in their businesses, jobs, volunteer positions, and even personal life – attempting to identify “details” as nothing more than “distractions”, thus giving themselves an excuse to bring less-than-their-best.
I think it’s important to discern the difference between what a distraction is and what a detail is. A distraction is something that prevents you from giving your full attention to something else. Being distracted is by definition the state of being focused elsewhere – some of the online dictionaries highlight this well with the alternative words, including “mental confusion”, “amusement”, “bafflement”, “tangle”, “perplexity”, and “bamboozlement” (who even uses that anymore?!)
Ask yourself these questions: Is it keeping me from completing a goal in the timeframe desired, or from excelling in an area of need? Is it reducing my overall effectiveness as a leader? Does it leave me confused, or unable to refocus on the important areas? Is it filling necessary mental space with unnecessary information? Yes to any of these questions probably means that you are letting a true distraction grab your attention; many others have already taught about how to deal with the daily blurps, tweets, bells, and screens in your world that are often the culprit.
Today, I am talking about the neglect of details. A detail is a part required to be considered separately from the whole. It is the small elements that collectively make up a work of art – such as the effect of light from the windows of a Thomas Kincade painting, or the individual carvings in an ancient relic. When we consider the details of a process, project, goal or task, it is the small parts that, if left undefined or unfinished, will lead to confusion in your team, and a lack of quality in the overall whole (a great example of the value of defining the details can be found in the level of planning that goes into the Disneyworld experience.)
Details are the little things that are required to achieve a specific goal with quality and excellence. They are the parts that are needed for overall effectiveness. In business, the details respond to the emotional needs of customers – cleanliness, smiling representatives, telephone greetings, neatness, and quality control for example – as well as the preparedness of your employees – standard operating procedures, team handbooks, training, etc. When you hear the cliché, “the devil is in the details,” it is meant to highlight that every detail is important, and failing to pay attention to them is what destroys businesses, organizations, and even families, slowly and painfully.
“That’s just a distraction; I need to focus on this moment” has become the new version of “I don’t want to get bogged down in the details…” It is an excuse for lack of preparation and planning. These so-called distractions are really details that, if identified, properly defined, and communicated, will result in a higher level of excellence, goal achievement, and satisfaction. Your team will not only be able to follow your lead, but be able to clearly communicate where you are headed to others – and a well-organized team will always go farther and faster than the one that is just “winging it,” moment by moment.
Next Blog: Addicted to Distractions? Keeping them under control.