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Last Updated on November 26, 2020

Why Details Can’t Go Before the Big Picture

Why Details Can’t Go Before the Big Picture

I’m sure you’ve come across the expression: “You can’t see the forest for the trees.” This simply means that if you’re walking within a forest, you can only see trees around you – not the forest itself.

This type of scenario is actually quite common in life.

For example, imagine for a moment that you’re writing an important document or thesis. Several hours of focused work sees you making great progress. You’re really in the flow. Unfortunately, you interrupt your fluent writing to fix a typo. This then leads to you to choose to rephrase the whole sentence. Which then leads to you changing the whole paragraph. Ultimately, this starts you thinking that you need to change the content of your project in it entirety.

In other words, you’ve allowed yourself to become lost in the details. Your initial clear end goal is now lying in tatters. You can no longer see the forest for the trees.

Now, to be fair, our vision of what we want, who it is that we want to grow into and where we’re going is blurry most of the time. For many people, it may even be a big question mark. In our daily grind, we can work feverishly, yet aimlessly – unsure of how it all fits together. We may find ourselves keeping our head down and working very hard on small things that don’t contribute much to our ultimate goal.

This can happen easily to anyone, as our brain is wired to see things in the short-term. We’re not so good at seeing the big picture and long-term things.

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Seek the big picture first

The big picture is all you should be concerned about in the beginning.

One reason for doing this, is that you often won’t recognize the details that matter most until after you’ve created your end goal. Once you start building on the big picture, you’ll begin to see what’s missing. And it’s only at this time that you need to pay attention to the details.

I want you to remember the following:

Once you’ve decided on the big picture, the rest becomes easier as you just need to fill in the gaps required to reach your target.[1]

Don’t get me wrong, details are important and definitely make a difference. However, becoming obsessed with details too early leads to endless disagreements, changes, meetings and delays. You’ll doom your project from the very start by putting your focus on things that don’t really matter. You’ll also waste time on decisions that are likely to change.

When you start with details, you can end up expending your energy on the wrong things. This is unproductive and will leave you feeling exhausted. It may also lead you into a state called ‘analysis paralysis’. This is where you over-analyze or over-think a situation or decision, with the result that you become frozen and end up taking no action.[2]

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Hiten Shah, the co-founder of KISSmetrics, admitted recently that he and his business partner wasted $1 million on setting up a web hosting company that never launched. Shah said,

“We were perfectionist so we built the best thing we could without even understanding what our customers cared about.”

    Fortunately, they learned from this loss, and have now built a hugely successful company that spends smart, optimizes learning and focuses on customer delight.[3]

    The big picture essentials

    I don’t want you to ever lose $1 million dollars, so please read on to discover how to build and focus on the perfect big picture.

    1. Make room to think and master your preferences

    If you allow yourself to constantly just complete what’s next on your to-do list, you’ll never find the time to think about the big picture. Instead, block off time on your calendar based on when you’re at your most creative, and use that time to think through your goals and priorities. Trust me, you’ll never have a bold, vivid picture in your mind if you don’t assign time to get a clear picture in your mind of your ultimate goals.

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    I remember years ago working with a colleague who always looked busy. It didn’t matter whether it was the first hour of the working day or the last, he appeared to have genuine focus and energy. But there was a problem. Despite his effort, he wasn’t completing projects on time or delivering results as expected. I sat down with him one day and asked him what the problem was.

    He immediately stated that he just had so many things to deal with that he couldn’t find enough time in the day. However, as he went into more depth, it became obvious to me that ‘details’ were the issue. It was clear from his conversation that he had become obsessed with details, and he was putting almost all of his time, energy and focus on these – rather than keeping the big picture as his mental goal and focus.

    Interestingly, when I pointed this out to him, his face lit up, and he had an ‘a-ha’ moment.

    2. Identify the essential steps (but not the details)

    Once you have your big picture or end goal, the next thing is to ask yourself: “What are the must dos for now?” and “What are the ‘should have’ and ‘good to have tasks’ for the moment?”

    Ask yourself these questions to know if what you choose to do now will contribute to the big picture instead of drilling into details that may be likely to change – or won’t contribute much to the bigger and important picture. In other words, pick out the essential steps that you need to take, but don’t worry at this stage about filling in the details.

    Let’s say you work in sales and you often need to do presentations to clients. If you’re good at your job, you won’t be satisfied with making the same presentation to different clients, instead, you’ll choose to customize your presentations to be appropriate to clients’ needs.

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    Of course, customizing your presentations can be time-consuming, and with no guarantee of any payoff at the end. The trick in this case, is to always keep the big picture in your mind when customizing your presentations. Everything you do and say to clients should bring them closer and closer to buying your services or products. Keep this in mind when you customize your presentations, and you won’t be tempted to go off into a world filled with unnecessary fluff and details.

    Big-picture thinking will get you big results

    Don’t get caught up in the details. Put your initial focus and thoughts on determining the big picture. After that, work out the essential steps you need to take to reach your goal. Only after you’ve completed these tasks should you give your time and attention to focusing on necessary details.

    If you plan all your major projects this way, you’ll complete them sooner and more efficiently than you might have ever thought was possible.

    And one more thing, if you need any help focusing on important tasks, then I highly recommend you check out this helpful article: One Question That Will Help You Refocus and Achieve Greatness at Work

    Featured photo credit: Freepik via freepik.com

    Reference

    More by this author

    Leon Ho

    Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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    Published on April 14, 2021

    8 Surefire Problem-Solving Strategies That Always Work

    8 Surefire Problem-Solving Strategies That Always Work

    Whether you’re dealing with a creative block on a personal project or you’re facing challenges in the workplace, finding sustainable solutions to problems is an integral part of personal and professional growth. As the British-Australian philosopher Karl Popper once said, “all life is problem-solving.”

    As important as problem-solving is to success, not all approaches are created equal. The best problem-solving strategies ensure both efficiency (finding a solution as quickly as possible, with the minimum number of barriers) and effectiveness (finding a solution that actually solves the problem long-term).

    To accomplish both, you may need to try out some new ways of seeing and handling challenges. Here are 8 surefire problem-solving strategies that work, no matter what you’re struggling with.

    1. Break It Down Into Smaller Pieces

    Staring down a big problem can feel overwhelming, especially when the stakes are high. That sense of overwhelm doesn’t just cause you to feel on edge, but it also compromises your ability to work effectively. Studies show when the stress response is active, the part of the brain required for problem-solving tasks essentially shuts down.[1]

    To ease that stress and enlist the much-needed logical part of your brain, try breaking the problem down into smaller, individual issues you feel more confident tackling. For example, if you’ve missed your revenue goal two quarters in a row, try to resist framing the problem as “we’re losing money.”

    Instead, identify the individual problems contributing to the larger one—for example, marketing, supply chain, or communication issues that may be at play. Then, work—slowly but surely—to overcome barriers in each area, ideally, in order of importance. Not only will you feel less stressed in the process (which leads to smarter decision-making), but you’ll also feel more motivated to press on as you gain a sense of accomplishment, one step at a time.[2]

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    2. Ask Someone Else for Input

    I remember it clearly: I was sitting in my office, staring at the computer screen, trying to figure out where I went wrong in a line of code. Two hours in, and I wasn’t any closer to figuring out where I’d messed up (and, more importantly, how to fix it). Then, a colleague I’d planned to have lunch with came in. Almost instantaneously, she looked over my shoulder and saw the issue. I had to laugh—she hadn’t even been working on this project with me, but her fresh set of eyes solved my problem.

    One of the most effective ways to reach a solution, faster? Don’t rely only on your own mind for an “aha” moment. Involving people who see the world differently than you—ideally, someone with a different skillset or from a different department—to chime in will help you more easily and quickly find the right approach.

    3. Understand the Root Cause

    Albert Einstein famously said, “If I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute resolving it.”

    It sounds like common sense, but it bears repeating—you can’t solve a problem unless you know what the issue actually is. Before you start mapping out potential solutions, ask yourself, “why did this problem occur in the first place?”

    For example, imagine one department in your business is consistently not meeting its goals. That’s certainly a problem, but it may not be the problem. When you dig a little deeper, you might find a need for better communication or more training.

    Ensuring you have a deep and accurate understanding of what’s causing the problem will save you time working toward a solution and prevent you from having to backtrack to find a better one.[3]

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    4. Define Success

    One of the most important things I’ve learned as an entrepreneur: start with a clear vision of success. Before I launched my business, I envisioned what people’s lives would be like if my product succeeded. I try to follow the same approach when I’m tackling challenges.

    Begin the problem-solving process with a clear understanding of what “success” would look like when the problem is solved. How will your company and team function if this problem isn’t an issue anymore?

    Once you see how you want things to be, you can work backward to find practical ways to achieve that vision. For example, if you’re consistently frustrated by low morale among your employees, imagine what a motivated, positive team would look like in everyday operations. What do you want to achieve, and how would it change the course of your business?

    By picturing your ideal situation, you can more easily pinpoint the steps you need to take to make it happen—in this case, perhaps implementing team-building events, more paid vacation, and incentives for reaching goals.

    5. Try Silent Brainstorming

    Enlisting other people’s perspectives can be a good way to find the answer you’re looking for. But if you’re attempting to tackle a problem with others, keep in mind the dynamic of the group.

    Think back to your last Zoom or in-person meeting. Whose ideas do you end up hearing or applying most often? If I kept a running tab, I’d guess my most outgoing, assertive team members “win” these brainstorming sessions most often—simply because they’re not afraid to speak up.

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    If you’re hitting a wall in problem-solving, you’ll need to find a way to hear everyone’s voice. One way to do that is a silent brainstorming session. Invite team members to spend a designated amount of time coming up with solutions for the same problem. Then, have them share their approaches and ideas in front of the group, or individually with you.

    When everybody has a chance to contribute equally—without the distraction of a lively discussion—you’ll be more likely to develop an effective problem-solving strategy and find the answer you’ve been looking for.

    6. Imagine Someone Else’s Perspective

    Can’t get a group together but feeling like you need someone else’s brain to solve the problem you’re struggling with? One of my favorite problem-solving strategies is to use someone else’s perspective to see all sides of a problem and potential solutions.

    As you brainstorm, imagine you’re sitting at a table with different personality types and thinkers—for example, a critic, an optimist, an artist, and a data analyst. You can think of real people you know and imagine how they’d respond to the problem, or you can simply imagine people who think differently than you.

    The idea is that by using your own creativity to adopt different perspectives on the same issue, you can more quickly reach an effective solution.

    7. Decide What Won’t Work

    Process of elimination can be a helpful tool when you’re trying to figure out how to overcome a challenge—mostly so you don’t waste time “reinventing the wheel.”

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    Next time you come up against a problem at work, ask yourself (or someone else) if you or anyone else in the organization have encountered similar issues in the past. If so, what are the solutions people tried, and more importantly, did they work? If not, cross it off the list and keep brainstorming.

    If the past solutions proved to be effective, then ask yourself one more question: “Do I have the resources to apply this solution in my current situation?” If the answer is “yes,” then you have a resource at hand—and you just saved yourself some time.[4]

    8. Take Breaks

    It might sound counterproductive to step away from a problem you’re trying to solve, but doing so can actually save you time and help you develop an even better solution.

    Sometimes called the “wanderer technique,” taking breaks has long been shown in research to boost creativity and attention span.

    When you’re focused on (and stressed about) a problem, your brain can grow fatigued, which prevents you from finding innovative ways to deal with the issue. On the other hand, when you step away and think about or do something else, your brain can wander. Given some stress-free time with your unconscious mind, you can make connections you wouldn’t have if you were staring at a screen or notebook.[5]

    Final Thoughts

    As common as it is to encounter challenges at work and in life, it can be frustrating to spend time finding solutions, especially if you’re not sure if the solutions will be effective. By approaching your problem-solving with a bit of strategy and intention, you can both save time and find better solutions. It’s a win-win!

    Just follow these 8 surefire problem-solving strategies and you’ll have higher chances of overcoming obstacles in your journey to success.

    More Problem-Solving Strategies for Overcoming Challenges

    Featured photo credit: Annie Spratt via unsplash.com

    Reference

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