When we talk about job skills, we’re usually talking about hard skills: industry-specific software packages, programming languages, writing proficiency, etc. — basically, anything you can take a class on, and then feature proudly on your resume the next time you’re looking for a job.
But just because hard skills will grab the attention of the hiring manager doesn’t mean that you should focus solely on technical expertise. Hard skills will get you the job, but certain soft skills will help you succeed once you have it. In particular, the lost art of paying attention will make you better at your job and more popular with your coworkers.
1. When you don’t pay attention, details fall through the cracks.
Attention to detail is important. How important? In PayScale’s report, Leveling Up: How to Win in the Skills Economy, 56 percent of hiring managers said it was a skill lacking in recent grads.
It’s not just nitpicking on their part: nearly every job that requires specialized knowledge and training involves getting the details right. Mechanics, accountants, surgeons, web developers and administrative assistants all have one thing in common: their work is dependent on getting those details right.
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2. Real communication requires real listening.
Most of us unknowingly adhere to Fran Lebowitz’s famous observation, “The opposite of talking isn’t listening. The opposite of talking is waiting.”
If you spend conversations waiting for your chance to talk, you’re not paying attention to what the other person is saying — which means that you’re missing an opportunity to engage with them. You might even be losing out on some great ideas.
3. If you ignore the details, you might miss an opportunity.
Where do you want to be in five years? It’s probably one of your least favorite interview questions, and it’s totally OK if the answer is, “I don’t know.” But if you go about your workday focused solely on the big picture, you might miss the details that will show you your next move. Don’t confuse busyness with productivity.
How to Learn to Pay Attention
1. Do one thing at a time.
Most people aren’t good multitaskers, despite what they tell themselves. Even task-switching costs something in terms of energy and focus. Do one thing at a time, and you’ll stand a better chance of doing that one thing well.
2. Identify the parts of your job that require special focus.
In a recent article, The Muse founder and president Alex Cavoulacos shares her three-step method for catching mistakes. She checks for accuracy, consistency and completion. Those steps will work for almost any detail-oriented job (which, again, is most of them).
It’s also a good idea to break down your specific duties with an eye toward opportunities for error. Where do mistakes happen most often? Where are they most serious? Get in the habit of making a note when you do drop a thread, so that you can avoid making the same mistakes over again.
3. Practice mindfulness.
One reason you might have trouble paying attention is that there’s a lot to pay attention to, these days — and a lot distracting you, from social media to smartphones to ever-expanding workdays.
Mindfulness and meditation techniques can help re-train your brain to focus on the here and now, not what’s coming down the pike. A few minutes a day can make a big difference. There are even apps to help you get started.
Tell Us What You Think
Have you learned to pay better attention? Tell us how you did it. Share your tips in the comments or come talk to us on Twitter.