Taking a Step Back

Sitting outside, doing some work on my laptop, I looked up to see a cable hanging down on the outside of the house. When inquiring into what it was, I discovered the contractors working on the outside of our house had moved the speaker cable to do their work but did not put it back when they finished. This led to a discussion between the two of us about how, if the contractor had taken a step back, he would have seen it hanging down. How do we know he didn’t and just chose to move on? We then discussed the multiple people we have had to follow up with recently to explain how helpful it would be if they put things back the way they found them or took some extra time to step back and look at what they did before saying it was complete. I got to thinking about how sometimes it is challenging to find the balance between getting something to the finish line and what it looks like before the sign-off or send-off. My heart says to give my best despite not-always-ideal circumstances.

Quotes such as “Is your work finished or is it just due?” by author Laura Ruby and Aristotle’s famous “Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work” speak to circumstances where quality of work is affected by other factors, such as time allotted and enjoyment in doing it.

Every day, I speak to people in this industry who used to be more passionate about their careers. Their passion was contagious, leading others to feel the same way, yet it was no longer or not as consistent as before. Other discussions revealed many things took longer to accomplish than ever before, yet similar deadlines still surrounded the work.

Do unrealistic deadlines or lack of enthusiasm for your place of employment cause you to deliver less-than-ideal results to others? What happens when you don’t take a step back to check your work before you submit it and move on to something else? What happens when you just don’t care as much anymore?

What happens is the feedback and return on the investment of your time and energy can be reduced and will further diminish as the pattern repeats itself. Often something that seems so small, yet is a big deal to someone else, can set off a myriad of unconstructiveness.

The speaker wire hanging down was not hurting anything and was not a big deal at that moment. It was the fact that not fastening the wire back in place to protect it could cause further damage. There was also the fact that the contractor had the ladder and the tools out to do it then and there, and now we had to do the rest of his job we paid him to do. Both things, including the aesthetic of the unfinished look, added nuisance to what could have been a perfectly done job.

In construction management or when drafting an email about a particular situation that accompanies a previous email string, taking a step back before hitting send can often give you insight into what might be helpful to the receiving party. Do you need to attach a photo for more clarity? Do you need to cc someone else who might need to be informed? Do you need to correct verbiage to remove any ambiguity or animosity? Do you need to provide a phone number to call?

Often people send us emails from their phones or LinkedIn to call them, yet they don’t have a signature block or access to their phone number turned on. Instead of being able to just smile and dial them, we have to send correspondence back to get the number, and that causes not only a delay but also them wondering what took us so long. If they had taken a step back to add the number to their request, they would have also had a prompter reply. Remembering to include your cell phone number on everything you send will pay off in ways you don’t even realize.

I discussed email etiquette and cleaning up or putting things back after a project. What are some other oversights or omissions from others or things you learned to correct that would help you and those you work with?

“The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is that little extra.”—Jimmy Johnson

To Three Seconds and a Step Back,

Suzanne Breistol


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