One of the first jobs I ever had was a temp job inputting data from paper files into a digital system. It wasn’t the most stimulating job so I made a game out of how quickly I could input the data whilst getting no errors.
Being young and eager to please I also thought that completing the work quickly would please my superiors. So I rattled through the files as quick as I could, finishing the work a couple of days early.
It turns out my superiors were pleased but not for the reason I wanted. The work was completed early so there was no longer anything for us to do. They let us all go early without pay. My haste to do an efficient job had cost me a few days of work.
Back then I thought that time was the only real metric that mattered. Growing up it seemed like that was what authority figured cared about and in a way I think we often teach that lesson to the children of today. We focus them on deadlines and are more than happy to complain if a task isn’t being done to the timelines we expect.
Psychologically it’s easy to understand why we do this. We’re already experienced in our careers and know how long a task should take. So when an inexperienced person comes along it can be frustrating to watch them take longer. This often leads to cases of pushing them to move faster in order to catch up and perpetuates the idea that speed is all that matters.
Despite my early termination I didn’t learn much from that lesson at the time. For years I strove to do a fast and efficient job, trying to do things as quickly as the more experienced staff. I desperately wanted to speed up and be as good as they were. Partly this was a desire for praise but also it was that feeling of wanting to shake away that perception people had of me as a junior employee.
But every time we rush it’s inevitable we will fall.
Rushing through to do lists just to clear them makes it easy to miss things and no matter how much we reassure ourselves that we’ve got quality in hand there comes a point where rushing will lead to mistakes.
Of all the mistakes I’ve ever made almost all of them were due to rushing. Over time having to apologise for mistakes because I’d been rushing started to stick in my mind and my employer’s. By trying to do things quickly I’d actually damaged all of the good work I’d done and the time I’d saved along the way.
For all the employees starting their journey all I can say is slow down or ask for more time. If the only metric you’re assessing yourself on is time, then eventually you’ll make a mistake. And when that mistake comes there’s no worse apology than saying it went wrong because you were trying to do it quickly.
For those of us training new employees, then go a little easier on them. They won’t be as fast as you at first and that’s ok. Slow things down to walk them through it step by step. In doing so you may find they bring new ideas to the process and you’ll reduce the risk of needing to get them out of a tricky spot later on.
Time is an important metric but it’s not the only metric. Sometimes I think we all need to slow down and remember that.