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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 May 21, 2019

    How to Be More Creative and Come up with Incredible Ideas

    How to Be More Creative and Come up with Incredible Ideas

    Regardless of how creative you already consider yourself to be, there’s a good chance you would like to level up your creative abilities.

    You might want to write a better song, think of better solutions to problems at work or around the home or maybe paint a picture.

    In any case, the good news is that creativity is not born: it’s made, and each one of us has the potential to be more creative and come up with incredible ideas.

    “Creativity is any act, idea, or product that changes an existing domain, or that transforms an existing domain into a new one.” — Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

    The definition of creativity is broad, and reminds us that creativity is not limited to artists or musicians. It does however require that we have some kind of impact on the domain in which we create.

    Creativity also emphasizes values.

    “The process of having original ideas that have value” — Ken Robinson

    This makes up for what Csikszentmihalyi misses out. For instance, we can make a change in the world without adding significant value. Any destructive act, like smashing a window, creates change, but it doesn’t necessarily create valuable change.

    In short, there isn’t one single definition of creativity It’s up to us to find a definition that feels true and useful. When you know what your standard is, It’s much easier to embrace creativity and start to cultivate it.

    And in this article, you will learn how to be more creative and take a good look at what goes into the creative skill:

    1. Cultivate Focus

    In order to create, there needs to be a focus on creating something, whether it’s a song, a theory, a product, or a sculpture.

    You could also call this “drive” – it’s the initial spark that drives the solution to a problem, or the will to get on your laptop and start typing.

    However, it’s worth noting there are different stages to the creative process: the divergent stage and the convergent stage.

    In the divergent stage, we want a broad focus – we want to be willing to let in lots of different inputs, ideas and insights. This is the time for brainstorming all possible ideas and solutions.

    In the convergent stage, we start to narrow our focus, like a camera lens. At this stage, we start to drill down to a handful of ideas or solutions, discriminating throughout the process.

    How to cultivate focus?

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    Take a 20 Minute Walk

    Walking away and getting your heart rate up is the best free tool you have in regaining your focus.

    I know it might seem counterintuitive to take a break right when you’re at your busiest, and especially when you’re drowning in your massive to do list, but the effects it will have on your clarity and ability to focus are undeniable.

    Walking is physiologically proven to release stress, and clear your mind. In fact, most of my most brilliant ideas (and some pretty terrible ones too) have occurred on my daily walks.

    If you give this technique a try, what you’ll find is that you’re much more productive than you were before you took a breather.

    Over time, if you do these walks daily, you’ll quickly find that your to-do list starts to feel a lot less significant, and a lot more doable. It’s all about keeping razor focused, and that’s what short daily walks will gift you.

    2. Build a Structure

    When I wake up in the morning, I start the day with a structure in mind. I know that 15 minutes will be dedicated to meditation, 30 minutes to coffee and reading, 20 minutes to yoga and so on.

    The structure of this morning routine might be boring, but the act of each task in itself has the potential to be, on some level, “creative.”

    The point of structure is that it gives you the space to make time for something you want to do. It helps you carve out the time to do your creative work. Once you begin that thing in itself, you are free to go about it however you’d like.

    Without structure, we can lose focus and can feel overwhelmed with possibility. If you’ve ever looked at a blank page and felt too overwhelmed with possibility to make a mark on it, you’ll know what I mean. How much easier it gets when you are given some guidelines or a deadline?

    The trick is finding the right amount of structure for you and your creative needs. Too little structure and we feel overwhelmed. Too much structure, and we risk feeling limited and stifled.

    Again, it’s worth thinking about creating in those two stages: divergent (less structure) and convergent (more structure.)

    How to build a structure?

    Create a Morning Routine

    Your morning routine doesn’t have to be rigid or so arduous you dread waking up. In fact, it should feel like the opposite. When you get a routine that works for you, you’ll look forward to starting the day.

    We all have different needs and preferences which can shape our ideal routine. In the book, Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey, you can be inspired over 160 different creators’ daily routines, from Charles Darwin to Pablo Picasso.

    Experiment with any that take your fancy, and see how you feel with a bit more structure to start your day.

    You can also take a look at this article about morning routine for inspirations: The Ultimate Morning Routine to Make You Happy And Productive All Day

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    3. Find Motivation

    There is a theory that suggests: people will be most creative when they feel motivated primarily by the interest, satisfaction, and challenge of the work itself — not by external pressures. This is also known as intrinsic motivation; a drive that comes from within.

    Think of a time when you did some of your best work — chances are you were totally absorbed in what you were doing, to the exclusion of everything else. You were completely focused on the work itself, barely noticing time flying by.

    Now think of a time when you felt under pressure to perform. Maybe it was an exam, or a commission for an important client, or maybe your boss had told you “there’s a lot riding on this.”

    Notice the difference? In the first memory, you were driven by intrinsic motivation, which made it relatively easy, even enjoyable, to be highly creative.

    In the second memory however, extrinsic motivation was breathing down your neck, distracting you by whispering about the rewards for success and the horrible consequences of failure: likely making it harder to focus on the task at hand.

    For this reason, intrinsic motivation, if you can find it, is what separates the good from great creative work.

    This isn’t to say only internal motivators help. I personally get motivated by luring myself to work with a good cappuccino at my favourite cafe. That will get me ready to write or edit or whatever I’ve been avoiding.

    How to find motivation?

    Connect to Your “Why”

    Your “Why” is your fuel: the thing that drives you forward, that gives you a reason to do what you’re doing.

    ‘He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.’ — Friedrich Nietzche

    When you have a reason to do something, a purpose or a goal that matters to you, you can connect your daily actions to it. Then, each act becomes infused with meaning and you find that intrinsic motivation comes naturally.

    The trick is to remember your “why” and connect with it on a regular basis.

    Think about how you want to feel on a daily basis. What would you like to accomplish in the next year? What would you like for yourself in the next five years? How about in your lifetime?

    Ultimately, the tasks you face on a daily basis, or at least some of them, will connect to a greater purpose if you follow this path and you will find you feel more motivated to create and less resistance.

    If you aren’t sure where to start looking for motivation, this will help: How to Get Motivated and Be Happy Every Day When You Wake Up

    4. Be an Expert in a Chosen Domain

    Research has shown that just as expertise in one domain does not predict expertise in other unrelated domains; creativity in one domain does not predict creativity in other unrelated domains.[1]

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    So just because you can paint a pretty picture, doesn’t mean you can creatively solve a mathematical problem.

    If you’ve taken one of those tests like the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking, which will ask you to think of a bazillion uses for a pencil, and scored well, unfortunately this is only an indicator of divergent thinking skills. It is not a predictor for creativity all round.

    The good news is, you can train your creativity in your chosen domain. Much like a muscle, you can isolate exercises to strengthen it.

    Of course you can still do a total body workout – or atotal creativity workout – but it means your creativity-training exercises need to come from a wide variety of domains; not just thinking up uses for a pencil.

    How to become an expert?

    Make a Mastery Training Plan

    Following our physical workout analogy, it’s worth applying the habits of great athletes to your chosen creative domain. For example:

    1. Decide what area/s you want to work on

    Much like a tennis player who decides they need to improve their serving technique, you can decide what area within your creative domain you want to improve at. Get specific.

    2. Decide how much time you can dedicate

    Most of us don’t have all day to train like a pro tennis player might, but you can likely squeeze 20 to 30 minutes in a day, if you want to. Whatever the time you can allow is, decide to dedicate yourself to it.

    3. Review your progress

    Finally, in order to check your progress, you can take regular reviews. Decide what your metrics are, and take time each week to check in with yourself.

    How many days did you practice? How did you compare to the previous week? This kind of review can help you stay on track, and actually creates more intrinsic motivation as you see yourself develop.

    5. Create a Conducive Environment

    A psychologist in 1943 proposed that behaviour is:[2]

    “a function of both the person as well as the physical environment they are in.”

    I would suggest that the act of creating is a behaviour and that, even though it begins as an internal process, it’s very much affected by and even dependent on the environment we are in.

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    I started noticing how environment affects me when I worked in an office. Over time, I realized that the more people who were in or who were talking, the more distracted I was. If I got to the office early before my coworkers arrived, I was twice as effective.

    I was even more effective if I was at home. Now that I work from home, I know I’m even more effective when in certain coffee shops. Ideally, places that have high ceilings, gentle lighting, some barely noticeable background music – and excellent coffee.

    It’s these little variations in our environment that can really shape our creative output.

    If you’re an introvert, you probably do your best work alone. If you’re an extrovert, you probably do your best work in the company of others.

    This isn’t to say you should find one way of doing things and stick to it: in fact, varying your environment from time to time is a great way to stoke the creative fire too, which we’ll touch on more later.

    How to create a conducive environment?

    Add or Subtract Stimuli

    Novelty in our environment has been shown to stimulate the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that increases our desire to seek out reward.[3]

    If you’re looking for creative motivation, adding some novelty into your environment can be just what you need.

    On the other hand, some people are highly sensitive and when it comes to having too much stimulation in their environment, they find it difficult to focus.

    Experiment with working in different environments. Note how you feel. Note whether you do better creative work or have more interesting ideas when you’re alone or with others.

    Try listening to music, people chatting or try being in complete silence. Try a dimly lit room, try working in bright sunlight.

    In each case, note how you feel before, during and afterwards and rate the quality of your work.

    The Bottom Line

    Creativity is not one particular skill or talent one can have. It comes in as many broad and unique flavors as there are people on this earth.

    To be more creative, take little steps each day. Acknowledge where and when you feel most inspired, motivated and original and spend more energy in those areas.

    More Articles About Creativity

    Featured photo credit: Sticker Mule via unsplash.com

    Reference

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