Squared Away: Three Steps to Task Completion

Over the last few months, the above picture* has been making its way among the pages of Facebook users worldwide. During this time, several of my friends took the test, resulting in it appearing on my news feed on multiple occasions. I, too, took the test. My answer was sixteen. However, as I continued to see more and more friends answering the question, many of them with different answers, I began reflecting on why so many answered differently. I even began to question whether my answer was correct. Being the analytical-minded person that I am, and someone who is passionate about performance management, my thoughts turned to how this relates to the work place. Specifically, I thought about how it relates to accomplishing one’s assigned tasks. While there are many things that impact one’s ability to perform, my analysis of this “How Many Squares Do You See” challenge led me to three things that impact an employee’s ability to complete a task.

#1 – Knowledge / Understanding
In order to achieve success, one must possess a certain level of knowledge and understanding of the task(s) with which he or she is tasked to perform. In this case, if you choose to take the challenge and determine how many squares you see, you must have a basic understanding of geometric shapes. You must know what a square is and how it differs from other shapes. Most notably in this example, one needs to know the difference between a square and a rectangle.  

When you lack the necessary knowledge to complete a task, or do not clearly understand what it is you have been tasked with, your odds of success will be much lower. A crucial component of success is ensuring that employees have the knowledge they need to accomplish assigned tasks. The responsibility for accomplishing this is in the hands of both management and the employee.

#2 – Distractions
One thing that often prevents someone from accomplishing tasks is distractions. There are many things that distract us. It can be something you saw, something you heard, a co-worker, electronic devices; any number of things can be a distraction. Many times the distractions are obvious, but you do not view them as distractions, or do not think they are actually distracting you. You think all is well, but, in reality, it isn’t. The thing or person you saw or heard has caused a distraction within your mind, changing your thought process, which could impact the decisions you make.

Consider the “How Many Squares Do You See” challenge. The challenge appears on your Facebook page. Before taking the challenge you see that many of your friends have answered it. In fact, you see their answers and immediately notice how many have answered differently. You decide to take the challenge. You carefully examine the image, counting each square you think you see. As you do so, your mind becomes distracted. Your thoughts reflect back to the answers your friends gave, but you don’t realize these thoughts are actually impacting your view of the image.  As you struggle to come to a conclusion, two more distractions suddenly appear. You notice the wording at the bottom of the challenge, “90% Fails this Test!” Fails, you think. “That’s not right,” you mumble. “It should say 90% fail this test.” Then, you suddenly realize how negative and demotivating that statement is. This thought distracts you, resulting in the wrong answer or your decision not to complete the challenge.

In order to accomplish the things you need or want to do, you must find a way to minimize the distractions and stay focused. For me, one of the key things that helps me minimize distractions is staying organized. When I’m organized, it is easier to stay focused and I am less distracted. Disorganization will lead to stress, resulting in frustration, and possibly poor decisions. Also, when organized I can focus on the most important aspects of the task that are required to be completed at that time. Of course, staying organized is just one way to minimize distractions. There are many other things you can do that perhaps I will discuss in a future post.

#3 – Perception
Another thing that can impact your ability to complete a task is perception. Perhaps you are at a point in a particular project where you are not sure where to go next, or how to accomplish the next step in the process. When this happens, you need to take a step back and view things a little differently. The key to this is keeping an open mind. You must be willing to consider all the variables impacting your perception of the task at hand and your ability to come to the correct conclusion.

Consider again the “How Many Squares Do You See” challenge. On the surface it may appear to be a simple task, but if you fail to carefully look at the entire image and its design, your count may be off.

Now consider this. Sometimes, what may appear on the surface to have become a difficult task is, in reality, not so. If you truly approach it with an open mind, then the way you perceive it may be completely different, and in the end it may be the correct way to view it. 

According to the Merriam & Webster dictionary, a square is defined as “a four-sided shape that is made up of four straight sides that are the same length and that has four right angles.” A right angle is “an angle formed by two lines that are perpendicular to each other.” Lines are perpendicular if the angles at which they intersect are right angles. To intersect, the lines must “meet at one or more points.” In the case of the “How Many Squares Do You See” challenge, none of the lines actually meet. They do not touch. Based on this, it would appear that the answer to the question is zero. There are no squares.

Together, knowledge/understanding, minimizing distractions and perception, are just a starting point. In addition to these three things, there are many other variables that can impact success. If you are struggling to complete a task, I encourage you to evaluate your situation. Take the time to identify the the things you need to do to be squared away; to be ready to successfully accomplish your task(s) at hand.

*Image posted on Facebook by 96.5 KOIT San Francisco

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