Making mistakes is fine, ordinary and to a certain degree, expected—once. But when you fail to learn from them, you can be in a world of trouble.
So how can you prevent yourself from falling into the mistake trap again? Get out a notebook and pen or pencil and follow along:
Write Down What Went Wrong
Writing is key, and I’ll tell you why in a minute.
Okay, you screwed up. You forgot to call the client back. You missed a final payment. You forgot to tell the manager that Mary would be checking in late. It doesn’t matter.
Deal with the immediate ramifications immediately and put out the fire. Now, breathe, step away from the computer; and with your pen and pad, write down exactly what went wrong. Keep it simple—no excuses—just the facts, ma’am.
- You forgot to call the client
- You missed a final payment
- You forgot to tell the manager Mary was going to be late
Determine The Cause
Now that you’ve identified the mistake write out why you think it happened. Be honest with yourself—this notebook is not for publication. Some of your reasons might look like this:
- The sticky note got lost under a pile of papers
- I got tied up on the phone trying to sort out an issue with an airline
- My husband/wife/partner/roommate/dog ticked me off this morning, and my mind was elsewhere
- I tried and must have written down the wrong number
Write down what led to the mistake. It’s that simple!
Decide What You’ll Do Differently
Now that you have hopefully figured out the reasons behind your mistake figure out how to mitigate them the next time. Write down specific tasks that you are not going to do the next time.
The next time I need to call a client back, I am going to:
- Make sure to enter a reminder into my CRM or calendar
- Make sure that there is a clean spot on my desk for action items
- Maintain an up-to-date “to-do” list
- Try to resolve personal issues outside of work
The Writing Is Important
Why put your mistakes in writing? Because it helps! Just think about it; if you did not take the time to evaluate your mistake, how long would it take to be out of your mind? The end of the day? The hour? Your brain is like computer RAM—it keeps the info handy for you to use in the short term. But if you want to go back and work on it and you turned the computer off, it’s a goner! You need to store it on your hard drive. When you write something by hand, you are more apt to retain it. And let’s be honest, a hard drive will fail way before a pen and paper!
Writing makes you accountable. When your friend asks you to dinner, and you say “sure,” it is easy to cancel out. But you will likely be there if that friend asks you to RSVP to their wedding in writing.
And as a bonus, studies have shown that people who write down their goals are more likely to succeed than those who don’t.