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Does double-checking really help?

Updated: Apr 11, 2023

Here’s a thought: make your numbers double check themselves.

How often have you noticed a mistake from a coworker and the “fix” is suggesting that they just double check the numbers next time?

Double-checking feels like a good idea. The optimistic idea is that the person doing the task again might see something that they didn’t notice the first time. 

Is it practical to believe the same person who mistakenly or sloppily missed something originally is expected to be more detail oriented or alert or careful on a subsequent viewing? Numbers are consistent. People aren’t. Asking the inconsistent part of the conversation to step up and change is not strategic.

If you have a set of numbers in a spreadsheet that must be 

  • totaled

  • contained within a certain threshold

  • not fluctuating more than a certain percentage

you can probably get your tools to do more of the double-checking instead of relying on the person who is already prone to make mistakes.

Learn conditional formatting- have the incorrectly entered numbers (e.g. more than 31 days in a month) automatically flagged as unusual or incorrect.

Set a separate formula to calculate the same total along a different view (horizontal vs. vertical is a common method in spreadsheets) and ensure the numbers match. If they don’t, flag that with conditional formatting.

Have percentage changes automatically highlighted if they are unusual. Your phone bill shouldn’t jump by 50% in a month: set a threshold as a “this may mean data entry error” indicator.

If it’s typed in by someone, it can just as easily be mistyped. Pull the data from a sourceinstead of relying on it being entered by hand. Harder to do up front, and much less susceptible to error from double entry.

Unless someone is going to really change their approach or attention, having them double check something may be a waste of time. And if they are going to only be thorough on the second viewing, why not just do that the first time?

Make your checklists and spreadsheets do more of the work. Most people use only a tiny fraction of the power of Excel or Google Sheets. Invest more upfront and you’ll save hours of repetitive checking.  

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