Over-Reviewing: Working On The Wrong Side Of The Bell Curve

To preface, I look at the review process one goes through when analyzing anything as working on a bell curve. For those not familiar with it, a bell curve has a single high point where maximum efficiency is reached. Before that high point, your efficiency in whatever you are doing is increasing. After that high point, your efficiency is decreasing. With this in mind, we can move on to the purpose of this article.

When conducting a review, it is very easy to fall into the trap of Over Reviewing. This can also be seen as where you are working on the wrong side of the bell curve, or after the high point of efficiency. Basically, you have gotten to a point where further review is not only unnecessary, but it’s actually detrimental to the final product.

Now, I know that the common belief is that you can never spend too much time reviewing. However, I would like to make an addendum to this: You can never spend too much time reviewing as long as you have not reached your review high point. The hardest part of reviewing something is not the review itself, but knowing when you have reached this high point. Unfortunately, until you’ve had some experience, you might not know that you’ve hit your high point until you start to slide down the other side of the curve. However, here are a few ways that you can tell it’s time to put up the red pen:

  • Your Deadline is impacted – This is a major sign that you have spent too much time on the review. When your deadline for the final product starts to slip because you are still in the review process, or you took too long reviewing, then most likely you should have stopped reviewing already. Now, this may not be true all the time. For example, if the product you were given to review was awful to begin with, that might mean that you need more review time than was originally budgeted. Also, if you initially under-budgeted your review time, then this could be a cause as well. However, I find that most of the time the problem is that you don’t know when to stop. If you set aside a period of time for review and find yourself coming close to going over it, you need to re-evaluate how much time you are spending on review.
  • Your changes are causing problems – This is one is tough because it is really a judgment call. First off, when you change anything, you have to be aware that there could be other problems caused by this change. For example, if you change the size of a table in a document, you should know that this could change the layout of the other pages in your document. When you start spending too much time on your review, you will notice that minor changes are causing more problems than they are worth. Using the table example, say you want to make the one row on a table slightly smaller to match the other rows. However, by doing this you are going to change the page layouts of all of pages following this table. Should you do it? Your answer should be no. I’m not saying you should never make a change that causes other problems (sometimes you need to), what I’m saying is that if you are running into this a lot, it probably means you are over-reviewing.
  • Your other work suffers – Pretty obvious one here. If your other tasks suffer from lack of attention, then you are probably spending too much time on this one task. Most of the time you will have more than one thing to work on. While your time should be budgeted for each task accordingly, if you exceed this budget the time you use has to come from somewhere. There are only so many hours in any given day where you can effectively get work done. If your current review genuinely needs more time, then so be it. But make this decision carefully, and make sure to take into account the time the rest of your tasks need.

In the end, only you can decide on how much time you spend reviewing something. However, if you keep the above points in mind when doing so, I think you’ll see an increase in both the quality of the finished product and the quality of your other work as well.