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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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    Last Updated on January 12, 2021

    Science Says Silence Is Much More Important To Our Brains Than We Think

    Science Says Silence Is Much More Important To Our Brains Than We Think

    In 2011, the Finnish Tourist Board ran a campaign that used silence as a marketing ‘product’. They sought to entice people to visit Finland and experience the beauty of this silent land. They released a series of photographs of single figures in the nature and used the slogan “Silence, Please”. A tag line was added by Simon Anholt, an international country branding consultant, “No talking, but action.”

    Eva Kiviranta the manager of the social media for VisitFinland.com said: “We decided, instead of saying that it’s really empty and really quiet and nobody is talking about anything here, let’s embrace it and make it a good thing”.

    Finland may be on to something very big. You could be seeing the very beginnings of using silence as a selling point as silence may be becoming more and more attractive. As the world around becomes increasingly loud and cluttered you may find yourself seeking out the reprieve that silent places and silence have to offer. This may be a wise move as studies are showing that silence is much more important to your brains than you might think.

    Regenerated brain cells may be just a matter of silence.

     A 2013 study on mice published in the journal Brain, Structure and Function used differed types of noise and silence and monitored the effect the sound and silence had on the brains of the mice.[1] The silence was intended to be the control in the study but what they found was surprising. The scientists discovered that when the mice were exposed to two hours of silence per day they developed new cells in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a region of the brain associated with memory, emotion and learning.

    The growth of new cells in the brain does not necessarily translate to tangible health benefits. However, in this instance, researcher Imke Kirste says that the cells appeared to become functioning neurons.

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    “We saw that silence is really helping the new generated cells to differentiate into neurons, and integrate into the system.”

    In this sense silence can quite literally grow your brain.

    The brain is actively internalizing and evaluating information during silence

    A 2001 study defined a “default mode” of brain function that showed that even when the brain was “resting” it was perpetually active internalizing and evaluating information.

    Follow-up research found that the default mode is also used during the process of self-reflection. In 2013, in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, Joseph Moran et al. wrote, the brain’s default mode network “is observed most closely during the psychological task of reflecting on one’s personalities and characteristics (self-reflection), rather than during self-recognition, thinking of the self-concept, or thinking about self-esteem, for example.

    “When the brain rests it is able to integrate internal and external information into “a conscious workspace,” said Moran and colleagues.

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    When you are not distracted by noise or goal-orientated tasks, there appears to be a quiet time that allows your conscious workspace to process things. During these periods of silence, your brain has the freedom it needs to discover its place in your internal and external world.

    The default mode helps you think about profound things in an imaginative way.

    As Herman Melville once wrote,[2]

    “All profound things and emotions of things are preceded and attended by silence.”

    Silence relieves stress and tension.

    It has been found that noise can have a pronounced physical effect on our brains resulting in elevated levels of stress hormones. The sound waves reach the brain as electrical signals via the ear. The body reacts to these signals even if it is sleeping. It is thought that the amygdalae (located in the temporal lobes of the brain) which is associated with memory formation and emotion is activated and this causes a release of stress hormones. If you live in a consistently noisy environment that you are likely to experience chronically elevated levels of stress hormones.

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    A study that was published in 2002 in Psychological Science (Vol. 13, No. 9) examined the effects that the relocation of Munich’s airport had on children’s health and cognition. Gary W. Evans, a professor of human ecology at Cornell University notes that children who are exposed to noise develop a stress response that causes them to ignore the noise. What is of interest is that these children not only ignored harmful stimuli they also ignored stimuli that they should be paying attention to such as speech. 

    “This study is among the strongest, probably the most definitive proof that noise – even at levels that do not produce any hearing damage – causes stress and is harmful to humans,” Evans says.[3]

    Silence seems to have the opposite effect of the brain to noise. While noise may cause stress and tension silence releases tension in the brain and body. A study published in the journal Heart discovered that two minutes of silence can prove to be even more relaxing than listening to “relaxing” music. They based these findings of changes they noticed in blood pressure and blood circulation in the brain.[4]

    Silence replenishes our cognitive resources.

    The effect that noise pollution can have on cognitive task performance has been extensively studied. It has been found that noise harms task performance at work and school. It can also be the cause of decreased motivation and an increase in error making.  The cognitive functions most strongly affected by noise are reading attention, memory and problem solving.

    Studies have also concluded that children exposed to households or classrooms near airplane flight paths, railways or highways have lower reading scores and are slower in their development of cognitive and language skills.

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    But it is not all bad news. It is possible for the brain to restore its finite cognitive resources. According to the attention restoration theory when you are in an environment with lower levels of sensory input the brain can ‘recover’ some of its cognitive abilities. In silence the brain is able to let down its sensory guard and restore some of what has been ‘lost’ through excess noise.[5]

    Summation

    Traveling to Finland may just well be on your list of things to do. There you may find the silence you need to help your brain. Or, if Finland is a bit out of reach for now, you could simply take a quiet walk in a peaceful place in your neighborhood. This might prove to do you and your brain a world of good.

    Featured photo credit: Angelina Litvin via unsplash.com

    Reference

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