The Lost Art of Attention to Detail

Minimalism is being exercised improperly by many professionals today. It’s becoming all too common for people to stop reading e-mails after two lines, halfway listen to a client or colleague and then jump to an immediate answer without much thought, or skim required reading material rather than thoroughly digesting it. Things like “The Four-Hour Workweek” and the 80/20 rule lead too many people to believe that success and efficiency are all about cutting back, delegating, and automating. Getting things “off your desk” becomes paramount to doing deep work (which, if you really study the aforementioned principles, is still essential).

The Phenomenon

Digital articles must be prefaced with a note about how long it will take you to read them - and the prediction doesn’t account for time spent thinking through principles in a meaningful way. Professionals (particularly women) are urged to let go of perfectionist tendencies, to the point where typos and snafus are more common than not. Grammar is no longer part of the curriculum in many schools (or at least it’s not sinking in!). You get the picture.

I call this phenomenon “The Lost Art of Attention to Detail”. Ironically, the root of the problem is the massive number of details now at our fingertips. It’s imperative to exercise minimalism, to “pick your battles” and “be selective about what you give your time to” in today’s world to avoid, well, implosion. We are bombarded with so much information, the pace is so fast, the pressure to deliver so strong, that attention to detail can be one’s downfall if not exercised judiciously.

Why It’s Problematic

Most jobs still (and always will) inherently require more than four hours a week, and success in many fields will always remain based primarily on a standard of perfectionism, where nothing less than 100% is the goal. At least I hope that people like airplane mechanics and brain surgeons (and my hairstylist) are still operating in accordance with these standards. But I’m a lawyer, and I’m observing that attention to detail is becoming increasingly rare in the legal profession. Sure, nobody’s life is on the line (at least not in the immediate sense), but if a profession couched in nuanced analysis is being swept up in the trend, that’s indicative that much of our population is operating on a less attuned level.

I see too many people in my profession and in the broader business world acting with an urgency that is, at its core, inconsistent with the task at hand. The result is subpar work product. And in terms of relationships, this harried style leads to miscommunications, mismanagement, and missed opportunities.

But there’s more. Attention to detail means you care. So many people now lack true care in the majority of the things they do. It’s faster and easier to skip the time and attention required to involve not only your whole conscious brain, but your emotional self too. This type of holistic attention to detail is the same driver for doing the right thing even when nobody’s watching. It’s the same psyche that pushes people to go the extra mile to help someone else out even when it’s not particularly convenient, despite all the “noise” preaching to us to “learn to say no”. It’s the mindset that helps parents make true connections with children, and managers forge effective relationships with employees.

And in terms of our mental health, mindfulness and gratitude require this type of attention to detail too. This is why some people are literally addicted to yoga or keep Oprah’s gratitude journal religiously, while for others, these things are passing fads. The difference lies in those who are astute enough to realize the nuances and deeper levels of these exercises, as opposed to merely the superficial. Those who gloss over the details are susceptible to stress, anxiety, and the physical manifestations of mental overload caused by the hyper-paced digital world.

How to Apply Minimalism Effectively

So what’s the take-away from all this? If you want to be uber successful, "tidying up" your approach to your career does not mean glossing over details. The real key to thriving in today’s world is balancing a minimalist approach with the care and focus that is necessary for important tasks. It’s about honing your sense of judgment so you’ll know when to devote your full attention to important details and when you’re getting lost in details that are immaterial.

It’s true that there’s an art to crafting a succinct e-mail. But there’s a much higher art in synthesizing myriad details into cohesive and thoughtful summary (that’s not so long the recipient will quit reading before the end). If you compartmentalize, pare down, streamline, and automate everything, you run the risk of missing the bigger picture. You miss flashes of brilliance where your mind makes connections that are unique and beautiful and that a computer just can’t replace. Pausing to reflect on details fosters creativity, perspective, and quality. And this is what separates the good from the great in today’s world - if you care, that is.

About the author: Amy Bowen is a career coach who helps high-achieving professional women feeling trapped, overextended, or burned out find their authentic and streamlined path to success by “cleaning up” their careers (and lives) applying minimalist principles and strategies. To learn about Amy’s career coaching programs, visit