Make no mistake: Careless errors can spell big trouble for your career

I have a unique problem I hope you can help me with. My problem is that in my enthusiasm to complete a project, I tend to make an unacceptable amount of mistakes on my way to a solution. My communication skills and my skills at analyzing problems are good, but I just make too many careless mistakes in my work.

I've tried keeping a log of the mistakes I've made so that I can learn from them. I've also tried to put aside time to double-check my work, yet neither of these strategies seems to do enough. I am the type of person who needs to be very organized to be effective at work and I think I do have good organizational skills, but when I am under pressure and rushed for time I tend to neglect these skills, which leads to more mistakes.

I feel I have the ability to be a success but this problem is holding me back. Can you recommend a personal-management book that could help me or do you have any advice?

Does "enthusiasm to complete" really mean "rush to finish?" Are you too caught up in every detail to perceive problems? Are you "rushed for time" because you procrastinate? Carefully consider the answers to these questions. Be honest with yourself. Your career may depend on it. Do you know exactly what is meant by "unacceptable" and "careless" mistakes? If your boss hasn't spelled it out, it's your responsibility to find out. Soon.

Take a proactive, not a reactive, approach to solving this problem.

First, you might as well burn your "logbook of mistakes" unless you have also recorded the actions you will take to prevent them from happening again. Focus on what you will do, not what you have done.

Use your organizational and communication skills to your advantage. When you receive a project, probe for all the details before you begin. Be sure to ask "What do you want the end results to be?" Discuss how your success will be evaluated. Because your time seems to run out frequently, schedule some meetings with your boss between now and the end of the project to report on the progress of your work. This will not only help you pace yourself, but will force you to look for problems along the way. It also puts your boss in a position to coach you if he or she perceives something is "unacceptable."

If someone held your job before, it may be appropriate to ask for her advice before or during a project.

If the project includes or affects other people, schedule a "contracting meeting' much like an outside consultant would conduct.

At this meeting, discuss the roles and responsibilities of everyone involved, deadlines, checkpoints and anticipated problems. End the meeting with clear action steps for everyone. Set a follow-up meeting for a logical time somewhere in the middle of the project.

To avoid the pressure and errors caused by a time crunch, plan the entire project on a calendar, in advance. Work backward from the due date.

If you tend to procrastinate, break the project down into manageable pieces with due dates for each one.

Make a "To Do" list for yourself each day. At the top of the list write out the results you want to accomplish. This will help you to avoid getting sidetracked by minute detail.

Because you "need to be very organized to be effective," you must find ways to stay in control of your time and your task. Try to find ways to limit interruptions. Avoid doing several things at once. Develop a good filing system. Keep stacks of papers and other projects out of view while you work.

Consider showing your project to a co-worker who can analyze it from a fresh, objective distance. It may help you see things you've missed.

Finally, anxiety about making mistakes can paralyze the best of us. Don't let it wear you down. When you discover an error, don't make excuses, blame others or put yourself down. Simply solve it and write down how you'll handle it the next time.

Learn how to take a deep breath, back away and forget it for awhile. When you return, you'll feel more relaxed and in control -the two things that will probably help you most of all.

P.S.: A good book is Alan Lakein's "Get Control of Your Time and Your Life."

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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