The “devil is in the details” is a centuries-old saying that refers to how something might seem simple at a first glance but ends up taking more time and effort to complete than first expected. Now, I may be going out on a limb here (what else would you expect from a monkey), but I have to assume that everyone reading this blog—and everyone not reading it—has at one time or another failed to see the devil in the details.

  • How many times have you told your boss, “Sure I’ll get you that info in a few hours,” only to wind up working into the wee hours to complete the task . . . if at all?
  • What about that household DIY project that should have taken only a day to complete but winds up taking you a week and 3 to 4 trips to Home Depot to finish?
  • And let’s not even get started on being repeatedly late for—and you can insert “dinner,” “lunch,” “date night,” “beers with the bros,” etc. here—because that “thing” that was going to take just five more minutes at work before you could head out to meet your spouse, partner, date, friends, or colleagues, has taken on a life of its own.

Am I right?

So how can you and those around you avoid becoming a victim to the devil in the details? Here are some ideas:

  • Slow down and practice good listening skills. Whether in verbal or written form, take the time to interpret what’s being said to you or asked of you. A few minutes spent up front understanding the scope and the nuances of a project or request can pay great dividends in the long run.
  • When someone asks you to do something, consider all the possibilities. Of course, no one likes a negative Nelly or Ned, but sometimes you have to read between the lines and consider worst case scenarios. What happens if you don’t get all the information for a particular project by the time you want or need it? What does that do to the rest of your timeline?
  • Set realistic expectations. There’s a famous scene is Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, where Spock tells then-Admiral Kirk when assessing damage that “hours could seem like days.” Of course, Spock was using subterfuge to thwart any would-be eavesdroppers, but the goal was to set Kirks’ expectations as to when a rescue realistically could occur. Similarly, set proper expectations with yourself, those on your team, and with any one awaiting a deliverable from you. It doesn’t do anyone any good if you promise one thing and fail to deliver. If it’s going to take two days, say it’s going to take two days.
  • Don’t tell people what they want to hear just to make them happy. See “setting expectations” above. Humans (and even a few monkeyz) inherently don’t want to disappoint. That’s an admirable trait, but the surest way to disappoint is to overpromise and fail to deliver. Be honest in your assessment of what it will take and what you need to complete a project or task, and then let the other person know those parameters.
  • Be clear in how and what you communicate. Clarity of language in today’s tweet- and social media-verse is severely lacking (even though Twitter recently expanded its character limit to 280). Words matter, choose them wisely—and use more if you need to.
  • Make sure the person or persons you are communicating with actually hear what you want to be heard. Just saying or typing the words isn’t always enough to ensure effective communication. Summarize what you say concisely and then ask the other person if he or she heard and understood it. If not, repeat your request until it is heard properly.
  • Along those same lines, be thorough in your questions and your answers. We’ve all been victim to those email responses that only seem to tell half (or less) of what we need. If you need the whole truth and nothing but the truth, or you’ve been asked six questions, don’t give just partial answers. Thoroughness cuts down on a lot of back and forth and wasted time.
  • Learn how to collaborate well with others. “No man (person) is an island unto himself,” is a famous quote by John Donne that underscores how humans don’t necessarily thrive when isolated from others. No one person has (or can be expected to have) all the answers. Work with others. Often, they will be able to see through the details that you can’t and vice versa.

Delays are inevitable. Monkey do-do happens. That’s okay and it’s unavoidable. But by practicing good project management and good communication/listening skills you can avoid falling victim to the devil in the details.

What ideas can you add to my list above? Monkeyz readers want to know.

Paul June is King Monkey of BARREL O’MONKEYZ, a San Diego-based strategic marketing agency specializing in Sports and Active Lifestyle markets. We serve as a seasoned, outsourced marketing team for companies looking to ramp up sales and launch new products. Our barrel is full of talent and creative arms ready to prove we don’t just monkey around!