Help me to stop making simple errors
August 9, 2012 2:20 PM   Subscribe

I am making stupid mistakes at work and I need a strategy to help myself overcome them. Sorry for the length.

I have a task that I do at my job. It is a big part of my job that I enjoy doing. I can (and will) literally spend hours upon hours doing this task which I enjoy doing because I have a LOT that I need to do and I like being able to see progress in the numbers of things I'm knocking off my to-do list. I also like the hyper-focus mode that I get into and I don't like to stop when I'm on a roll. If it helps, the tasks are a specific sort of math work on accounts, of which I have around 1000.

As with most tasks there are several different things that need to be taken into consideration/done for the thing to be done properly. Some aspects are more important than others. I tend to get very focused, almost hyper-focused, on doing the important things right that I will sometimes overlook a smaller aspect. The thing I overlook is not a big deal in the grand scheme of things but that I have overlooked it several times is starting to look bad. I have ADD and am taking medication which helps me a lot. I used to have a similar problem at a previous job where I was writing reports for clients that often contained a lot of complex financial information. I would spend so much time calculating and recalculating the numbers and ensuring not only that they were correct but that they made good sense to a client who might not understand the more obscure concepts and also that it made sense in the bigger scheme of all of the client's history and dealings that I would miss simple typos in the reports.

It didn't help that I was writing the reports myself and using a very similar narrative (on the non-numerical stuff) across all reports. So it was basically a narrative that was mostly memorized. I would read each report a few times before I sent it but because it was so familiar to me my eyes would skip over simple misspellings. I was doing this again and again to the point where it was a problem because my boss was noticing it. My solution was to read my reports UPSIDE DOWN on the final proofread, which would sort of force my eyes to slow down and read each word separately. This helped considerably though it did slow me down tremendously. I was not on ADD meds at that time.

The task that I am doing now is not a reading one, but is really just forgetting to consider a small aspect in each task, which causes a small error and too many of these can affect certain coworkers for whom these errors make up part of their performance review.

The thing I am overlooking only comes into play for about 1/3 of my accounts and on those 1/3 I am probably remembering it and getting it right 90% of the time. I work on such a large number of accounts though, that the ones I miss have added up to about 5-10 times this has happened this year so far. This is more than it should happen for such a simple thing.

Is it possible to devise a strategy to remind myself to remember to do something when I work on these tasks? I could slow myself down considerably and only work on, say, five accounts per day, but I can't really do this over the long term. There are days when I need to maybe look at 50-60 accounts and I do tend to get in sort of a lull and pattern when I'm doing this, which is why can I forget to look at this minor aspect. I do not need to do this task every day, though I do need to make progress on how many I get done over time.

I'm sorry for the length of this but I wanted to be thorough because of the anonymity. Any strategies you could give me would be appreciated. These are errors of omission (which cause a bigger problem) rather than actively doing something incorrectly (which I never do). This is not the type of task that I can run before a second pair of eyes before I complete it or I would have considered doing that.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (11 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
My solution was to read my reports UPSIDE DOWN on the final proofread, which would sort of force my eyes to slow down and read each word separately.

I get a pen and cross off each word - it is amazing how quickly you can do it whilst picking up all the mistakes.
posted by heyjude at 2:25 PM on August 9, 2012 [3 favorites]

Could you use checklists for these details?

Perhaps forcing yourself to click a few 'did you ___?' questions at the end of each task would remind you if you'd forgot something.
posted by grudgebgon at 2:26 PM on August 9, 2012

Yeah, I feel you.

One thing to do is a check-list. I use written step-by-step instructions and make sure I read through them for every thing.

Another thing is to build in error detection calculations (I use Excel a lot) If something is supposed to match another field, if it doesn't, it can highlight a certain color. If something is outside of certain parameters, it can highlight a different color.

Run spell-check if you can, especially on Excel or Word Documents.

Put it aside for a bit and then go back to it for proofreading.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:27 PM on August 9, 2012

I recommend setting up a checklist. Put every step that goes into these reports on it, even if it only applies 1/3 of the time, and include an "N/A" field to check off as well. Do one for every report. Also, are you writing your reports by hand? If not, then use spellcheck!
posted by The Light Fantastic at 2:28 PM on August 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

For proofreading: My trick is to run a paper or report through a speech synthesizer, then read along (silently) with the robot voice. (Obviously this only works if you're allowed to use headphones at work.)

This forces me to slow down and really read it, while not being excruciatingly slow. I find that, in my writing, I'll catch a fair number of grammatical errors, as well as a few spelling errors that slipped through spellcheck, because they happened to be valid (but incorrect) words.
posted by jcreigh at 2:48 PM on August 9, 2012 [4 favorites]

Checklist, checklist, checklist. Everyone in every profession has these issues, and checklists are the solution. Why checklists are awesome.
posted by jpeacock at 2:48 PM on August 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

Are you misspelling the same words or doing the same typos over again? I have a few words that I consistently mistype, and I have an automated check for them that I run. It's enormously helpful, and ensures that I don't send out an email about statues instead of statutes.

I proofread one sentence at a time, working from the end. It slows you done enough to interrupt the flow.

If you're really working off a template, build that template, use it, and customize as needed.
posted by punchtothehead at 2:50 PM on August 9, 2012

Another vote for checklists. I use them. They work. Do you ever stop, can of corn halfway in the cart, pulse quickening, wondering if you remembered to to task 4 on project Z? That doesn't happen to me any more. Checklists.
posted by alienzero at 3:22 PM on August 9, 2012 [4 favorites]

Nthing checklists. They're invaluable if you have a multi-step task that you're doing over and over and over. Print one out and put it in your line of sight.

One thing that helps me avoid typos when I'd otherwise be on autopilot is to read what I'm typing "out loud" in my head - i.e. I imagine myself saying/hearing the text. This is especially helpful when I'm working with numbers: transposed digits don't look wrong like most misspellings do, but if I say "six five nine three" in my head I'll be much less likely to write "6953."
posted by Metroid Baby at 3:57 PM on August 9, 2012

This thread about careless mistakes might be relevant to you.
posted by tinymegalo at 4:05 PM on August 9, 2012

The thing I am overlooking only comes into play for about 1/3 of my accounts

Do you know which accounts these will be ahead of time? If so, separate those accounts from your other accounts and work on them as a batch. Put them in a folder (real or virtual) labeled "accounts needing special treatment Y" and always spend the same part of your day on them (in the morning, just after lunch, whatever).
posted by anaelith at 5:36 AM on August 11, 2012

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