Word for word, that sentence was screen printed on the back of a shirt that my brother was given by his high school basketball team. I couldn’t help but laugh at the typo back then, and I still can’t forget the lesson it unintentionally taught.
Little things are what make big things happen—the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and all that—but someone’s failure to proofread made the idea, the shirts, the team, and by extension, the school, look like a joke.
It’s often the little things about the way you work that separate you from your competition, so do yourself a favor and make sure you’re giving these easily overlooked tasks the attention they deserve.
1. Edit and proofread everything. Twice.
I graduated with a minor in Professional Editing that required me to spend more hours poring over the rules of grammar than I care to count (and I’m sure the fact that I mentioned that means that I’m inevitably going to screw something up here) so my opinion of editing’s importance is probably a little biased, but blatant errors like the one I mentioned above are inexcusable in a professional setting.
2. Reply to email in a timely manner.
You wouldn’t pretend that you didn’t hear a client or customer say something to you in person, so don’t do it via email, either. It’s a common courtesy that goes a long way toward fostering goodwill.
Note: I’m not saying you should refresh your inbox 80 times a day—you’d hardly get anything done. Just do your best not to let any messages slip through the cracks for over 24 hours.
3. Have a routine.
Having a routine gives you clearly defined blocks of time within which you can plan your day, and it makes it exponentially easier to get things done.
For example, I wake up about two and a half hours before I need to leave for work so that no matter how busy the rest of my day gets, I still feel as though I’ve had a partially relaxing day. Then when I sit down at the office, I tackle my to-dos in order of most to least difficult because I tend to get less creative as the day goes on. Find whatever works for you and make a habit of it.
4. Make a plan.
Once you’ve established a routine, start planning within it. Make a prioritized list of things you need to accomplish and plan to do the most important task during whatever time of day you’re at your peak. I’m a morning person, so I never plan to get important work done at night—it would take me twice as long and be done half as well. If you’re a night person, try not to schedule 8 AM meetings. You’d be surprised at what you can accomplish when you’re not fighting your natural tendencies.
Seriously. Even if you have to fake it. Even if you’re just writing an email or answering the phone and the client will never actually see the smile that you’ve just plastered across your face. Just smile, and you’ll feel better about what you’re doing and be more likely to have a positive interaction. And even if things don’t go your way, at least you’re already smiling!