Build or burn?

Sweating the small stuff

‘Don’t sweat the small stuff’ is an excellent book that will help you keep things in perspective.  For example, it invites you to consider what you would talk about in the last hour of your life and suggests that if something that is bugging you now would not be on the list, then it’s not a major problem after all.  Next to that test almost nothing is important, which is why the book is subtitled ‘It’s all small stuff’.

At work, however, there are times when you do need to sweat the small stuff:

1)  Assimilating a learning experience.

When something goes wrong at work, I often dwell on it, going over and over what was said, what I should have said but didn’t, what was at fault and who is to blame, and what to do now.  Let me tell you, these are not positive emotions.  They cause me stress.  Often, at the root of my stress is not anger at the event, but anger at myself for not handling it better or, simply, for having made a mistake.  I find I reflect on these experiences in quiet moments such as during the daily commute, during exercise or just before I go to sleep.  Although the feelings are negative, the outcome is positive.  It helps me learn.

When car accidents happen, even if you were not at fault, it is often the case that you might have been able to avoid the accident by behaving differently, for example driving more slowly.  So it is at work.  Even if you are not the source of the problem, often there are lessons that you can learn.  Our ego can get in the way of the learning process because we want to believe we are a good person who always behaves well and generally does not make mistakes.  But this is not always the case and only by mulling things over do we get at the truth.

2)  Helping you to feel in control.

One of the primary causes of stress is feeling that you are overwhelmed or events are out of your control.  You may have a difficult task ahead of you but be unsure of the first step to take to get underway.  In such situations I make a list.  Because I know the principles of time management, I put at the top of the list only the more important strategic priorities.  However, I frequently find in such situations that by doing the last 3 or 4 items on the list I feel much better.  It gives me a sense of achievement and momentum and, in turn, gives me the confidence to tackle the big things.

3) Attention to detail.

Sometimes you just can’t wing it.  In such circumstances, you need to roll up your sleeves, get your hands dirty, and concentrate hard on the nitty gritty.  If you think attention to detail is not important, consider the predicament of the TSB bank that recently made a mess of a changeover in IT systems.  They damaged their brand severely and lost their CEO as a result.

The rock band Van Halen used to stipulate in their contract with venues that there should be a plate of M&Ms in their dressing room, with all the brown M&Ms removed.  They figured if people miss the difficult stuff how can the band be sure they have got the easy stuff correct.

4)  Setting high standards.

If you are aiming for world-class service or working on developing a new product sweating the details is important.  Steve Jobs is famous for obsessing about not having visible screws to hold the iphone together, such was his commitment to his vision for the product.  Having a zero tolerance approach to product quality is the opposite philosophy to not seating the small stuff in which you let things slide.  The six sigma approach doesn’t really work if you think 3 or 4 standard deviations is good enough.  In these circumstances not sweating the small stuff leads to mediocre performance.

The little things are important, just don’t beat yourself up if they go wrong.

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