5 Ways to Beat the 4 States That Lead to Mistakes

Jan 6, 2012 | Leadership

By Julie Perrine, CAP-OM, MBTI Certified

Have you ever made a mistake?  Maybe it was a little one that no one even noticed (except you). Or maybe it was a big one that caused you not only additional work and frustration but a fair bit of embarrassment with your boss, your peers, or customers. Mistakes happen for all of us, but a lot of the mistakes we make can be avoided completely when we raise our awareness of the mental states that cause them, stop and analyze each mistake to identify the root cause, watch for patterns in ourselves and others, and develop new habits to support making fewer errors. Let me explain.

There is a popular workplace safety program called SAFESTARTTM which identifies four states that can cause or contribute to critical errors which increase the risk of injury.  SAFESTARTTM identifies those four states as: rushing, frustration, fatigue, complacency.  As my husband and I have chatted about these four mental states in evaluating our own near misses or minor injuries at home, I’ve come to realize these same four states are what lead to mistakes in our daily work as administrative professionals also.  How many mistakes have you made because you were simply rushing? Or were the mistakes caused because you were frustrated, tired, or simply not paying attention to things the way you should have been? I know it has happened to me…and I’m certain it’s probably happened to you. But the good news is we CAN decrease the number of mistakes we make when we apply these five simple strategies.

  1. Raise your awareness of the four mental states which cause mistakes: rushing, frustration, fatigue, complacency.It may take a little practice to catch yourself heading into one of these states, but the more you pay attention to what is causing the mistakes you are making, the quicker you’ll be able to identify that state when it tries to sabotage your work and stop it before it gets started.
  2. Stop to analyze each mistake when you find one and identify what caused it.Ask yourself these questions:
    • Was I rushing?  Why?
    • Was I frustrated? Why?
    • Was I tired? Why?
    • Was I complacent? Why?
    • What can I do to avoid this state in the future and avoid having this happen again?
  3. Watch for patterns of behavior in yourself and others that may be increasing your chances of making mistakes.The more you analyze each mistake, the more likely you are to see a pattern of behavior that led to it in the first place.  Are you not getting enough sleep so you’re consistently tired which creates the fatigue that led to the mistake? Are your executives or team members continually throwing last minute requests at you that cause you to feel rushed or frustrated which lead to increased likelihood of mistakes being overlooked?  Are you simply not paying as much attention to the task at hand because it’s one you do repetitively?
  4. Develop new habits to support a mistake-free work zone.There are several things you can proactively do to support your quest for fewer mistakes in your work:
    • Set better expectations on the amount of time you need to complete the assigned work or project up front.
    • When you’re given an assignment or project, always ask: When do you want this by? When do you absolutely need this by?  Then you know the specific time constraints instead of assuming and the requestor is clear on them also because they set them.
    • Find a proofing buddy.  A second set of eyes is always valuable in helping you catch mistakes you may easily overlook because you’ve been working on something so long and you’ve become too familiar with it.
    • Always print a paper copy to proof before sending something out electronically.  You’ll catch things on paper that you won’t catch on the computer screen.
    • Proof your work for specific things one by one instead of trying to catch everything at the same time.  And realize good proofing requires reviewing it several times!
    • Create step-by-step procedures and follow them line by line. This can help you with both difficult or labor intensive projects and repetitive tasks.
    • Use templates and forms to help you catch all of the details for repetitive tasks and assignments you work on.
    • Take breaks throughout the day to refresh and stay alert. And never skip lunch!
  5. Don’t beat yourself up for a goof up.Figure out how and why it happened, fix it if you can, learn from the experience, and move on.  There is no value in beating yourself up, thinking negative thoughts, or calling yourself names verbally or in your head. There is great value in identifying the root cause and committing to following these steps so it doesn’t happen to you again.

We’re all human. We’re all going to make mistakes. But raising your awareness of the four mental states that lead to most mistakes and applying these five simple strategies when you do occasionally slip up will help you successfully avoid embarrassment and improve the quality of your work – which is ultimately what you want to be known for!

Share your thoughts with us below! What strategies do you employ to avoid mistakes in your work?

© 2012 Julie Perrine International, LLC


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Julie Perrine, CAP-OM, is the founder and CEO of All Things Admin, providing training, mentoring and resources for administrative professionals worldwide. Julie applies her administrative expertise and passion for lifelong learning to serving as an enthusiastic mentor, speaker and author who educates admins around the world on how to be more effective every day. Learn more about Julie’s books — The Innovative Admin: Unleash the Power of Innovation in Your Administrative Career and The Organized Admin: Leverage Your Unique Organizing Style to Create Systems, Reduce Overwhelm, and Increase Productivity. And request your free copy of our special report “From Reactive to Proactive: Creating Your Strategic Administrative Career Plan” at www.AllThingsAdmin.com.


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