Master your Trade and Learn by Teaching
Last summer one of the best possible experiences for improving my attention to detail and understanding of the minutia of my workflow occurred. I was assigned a summer intern. For 12 weeks, I was going to have someone shadowing me, learning what I do week to week. This helped to improve my work in a number of ways.
My Initial Thought
This is going to slow me down, how am I ever going to get anything finished?! In all reality it truly did slow me down and while this may sound like a bad thing, it really wasn’t. Slowing down caused me to review my work more closely and look at it from a different angle. I now had to explain each and every step of the process, which created a situation where I couldn’t cut any corners. There was no trusting that the processes I had in place would produce the right results.
Instead, I was showing exactly how I had developed those processes, and what they did. I was taking my time and explaining every aspect of my work, and as such, it had a consistently high quality. Crunch time can make it hard to focus on the little things, but now I had to. As a result, my work improved, even if I felt like I wasn’t allocating time in the most efficient manner.
Rubber Duck Debugging
Teaching an intern also helped me to improve the quality of my processes. Coders and programmers have a concept called rubber duck debugging. Essentially, when you have a set of code with bugs, you explain to a rubber duck exactly what each line of code does, or does not do. Eventually, this process should cause you to find the error you made. Explaining how to run a set of analysis on a data set to someone who has never seen them before has a similar effect. I had to explain, in great detail, exactly why I did each step, and why I did them in that specific order. This type of simple explanation can help you to get to why something is important. It can also lay bare what it is you can do to improve it.
In one instance, I was explaining how a certain set of response options were being recorded. We talked through what each one meant, and what it told us about the respondents. When we reached the end, he asked what the difference was between two of the categories (“buy another brand”, or “make my own at home”). I explained that although the categories are different because they indicate different approaches to the product for the sake of this analysis we combined them into “found alternate source”. This let us look at a different grouping and better understand what motivated different groups.
Having a reason to slow down and approach your work with a new attention to detail can go a long way in improving both the quality of individual tasks, as well as overall processes. In my case, it was someone new who needed each individual item explained. In general, it can be as simple as talking to a rubber duck.