- Sloppiness or carelessness. None of us likes to think of ourselves as sloppy or careless. Yet we are over-committed, over-scheduled, and managing over-flowing email boxes. This can result in unintentional sloppiness: forgetting a meeting, overlooking an action item, not returning a phone call, etc. It’s easy to forgive ourselves for these types of mistakes – we are so busy, after all. But they look bad to others and demonstrate a lack of commitment to the task at hand. At worst, sloppy/careless errors can lead to big problems or even disasters.If there’s a pattern of sloppiness in your work, you’ll have to dial back the “overs.” Trying harder won’t do it – that will likely make the problem worse. Find a way to reduce your commitment load. Go to fewer meetings. Filter your email. Push back on your boss when she overcommits you. (It can work – my wife is the best I’ve ever seen at managing her boss this way.) For those commitments you do take on, take them seriously. Use a system like Getting Things Done or the Action Method to make sure you don’t forget anything.
- Playing to your weaknesses. We are always told to “play to our strengths,” but the opposite happens, too. There are parts of our jobs that we haven’t mastered yet or just aren’t well-suited for. I was once responsible for sales planning at my company, and found that I was hopelessly over-optimistic in my forecasting, resulting in a series of plans we didn’t meet.In a case like this, there are three options. Management textbooks (and the 4-hour work week guy) would tell us to delegate tasks we’re not good at. Fine advice, but not everyone has a subordinate they can readily delegate to, or the cash to outsource lots of tasks.You can also work to improve the weakness. Training, self-development, and working with a mentor can all help here. But be cautious in trying to improve too many areas at once.A final approach is to compensate for the weakness through collaboration with a teammate. Find someone who is very strong in your weak area and work together to complete the task. For example, the CEO of Mazor Robotics assigned one of his managers to be a “devil’s advocate” to ensure their revenue forecasts had “humble enough assumptions.”
- Making errors under pressure. Many of us don’t work well under pressure; we rush, we try to meet stated and unstated expectations – our company’s, our boss’s and our own. Examine where the pressure is coming from – do you have a crappy boss, or are you putting the pressure on yourself? Are there ways to alleviate the pressure – renegotiating deliverable dates, reducing the scope of the work product, collaborating with a colleague?Essential to this exercise is understanding where the value is in your work. What is directly customer-affecting versus internally focused? If you know what’s most valuable and what isn’t, you will be armed for a discussion with your supervisor to spend more time on the top priorities and less time (or no time) on the others.
- Look for sins of omission. Where did you stop yourself from doing something and thereby missed out on an opportunity? How will you approach these situations differently in 2012?
- What deliberate mistakes do you want to make in 2012? Closely examine the way you operate every day. In a world as dynamic as ours has become, operating assumptions go out of date quickly. Pick one or two areas and, in a controlled setting, make deliberate mistakes: intentionally do other than your habit, and see what happens. You may find profitable new ways of doing things.