Q I find I'm making a lot of small mistakes at work; I think it's because everything moves so fast and there are so many things to get done each day. Do you have suggestions for ways I can keep things together?
A Keep your mind focused and give yourself some tools to help keep track of the details.
The inner game
The pace at many workplaces has picked up dramatically and leaves a lot of people breathless. It might seem paradoxical, but one way to cope with the pace is to slow down a bit. As a first step, take time to step away, unwind and set aside the frenzy so that you can think through a new approach.
Now analyze your mistakes. Errors on calculations or other numeric information, formatting or written documents might call for different solutions. Or you might be making time-management errors in which requests are slipping between the cracks. Resist the temptation to be hard on yourself in this analysis; take a few breaths, and use this as a neutral learning opportunity.
Reflect on your coping skills, thinking about times that you have successfully managed in a high-paced setting. What has worked well in those cases? What is different now that is making it more challenging?
Lastly, consider resources you might have available, particularly your boss and co-workers. You might not be getting all of the assistance you need to be successful, especially if people don't know you're struggling. Remember that it's a sign of strength to be willing to ask for help from your team.
The outer game
The single best step to reduce errors is to focus your full attention on each thing you're doing. Reducing distractions, even for 15 minutes at a time, will result in higher-quality work. So, close your e-mail and check it when you're at natural breaking points in your work. This also will help you accomplish each task more quickly, which will help address your volume issue.
Review your checking processes. Ideally, there's a second person confirming your data or an editor on high-visibility written documents. If you do not have this, develop procedures to replicate and confirm your work. In the meantime, try to get a buddy system set up; it's likely that others are in the same bind as you, so all will benefit.
Create a checklist that includes the types of errors you frequently make. For example, if you often forget to include information about data sources or use the wrong form of the word "its," add these to your checklist. Then print it and use it -- it'll help you remain conscious of the errors you want to remove.
If you're dropping the ball on requests, make a list of all requests so that they remain top of mind. Try a whiteboard so it can be easily updated.
And remember to take care of yourself. If you're short on sleep, not eating well, etc., your body might play tricks on you and errors will result.
The last word
Slowing down will help you bring the quality of your work back to your desired standard.