Big Picture Thinkers: How to Pay Attention to Detail

Mar 24, 2011
6 Min Read

If you are a big picture thinker, you are likely excellent at most things strategic and creative, but perhaps you also have a low tolerance for routine tasks and are disorganized. But success in a dynamic working environment often requires both big-picture skills as well as attention to detail.

I have a feeling that the big picture thinkers are the procrastinators of the world. They are the ones who grasp concepts quickly and understand abstract principles easily; and thus, they might have picked up a few bad habits in school when they found they didn’t need to devote as much time to studying.

Unfortunately, not everything in our work life is conceptual. Procrastination may have been inconsequential in the past but may hold some of us back when it comes to leadership effectiveness. And in many fast-paced corporate environments, paying attention to details and not letting things slip through the cracks is paramount to success.

So what can be done about it? How can this natural tendency to overlook the details be overcome?

Rely on Others

If the details bog you down, outsource them! There are services that will do routine tasks for you, you can hire a virtual assistant, you may have an executive assistant, or perhaps someone on your team is much better with the details and can help you out. The first thing to do is to decide what only you can do and what can be done by others. Perhaps you write draft articles and someone else proofreads and edits them. Maybe you design the marketing strategy, but a teammate carries it out.

Use Checklists

As Atul Gawande writes in The Checklist Manifesto, there are two basic types of failures: failures of ignorance and failures of ineptitude. With failures of ignorance, we make mistakes because we just don’t have enough information to carry out a task. With failures of ineptitude, however, (much more common these days) we make a mistake because we fail to apply knowledge correctly. And one way to avoid failures of ineptitude is to keep and use simplicity of checklists to guide us through the complexity of our days.

Automate Tedious Work

Since you can't delegate everything you don't want to do, I’m a big fan of streamlining the things you must do on a regular basis. When you create habits, you are essentially training your brain to do the things it would not normally want to do. To automate something, you must first have to have a task that recurs. Then, you’ll create a trigger point that activates the task. Over time, this develops into a habit.

For example, let’s say that you always forget to type up the notes after one of your client calls. Maybe you get distracted or something more important comes up or you have another meeting. Those things always seem more important at the time than typing up one little note, but you have decided that keeping notes on client calls is really a priority. For the next thirty days, commit to making a note (no matter how short) right after you hang up the phone—no exceptions. Perhaps the “click” or the “end call” is your trigger point. Create each note the same way… either in your email, in a notebook, or in a spreadsheet. The first few days might be difficult, but if you keep following this same process over and over without exceptions, you’ll notice keeping notes will soon become a part of your daily routine.

What strategies do you use to deal with the details and to avoid making errors?

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