Have you heard the expression, “Can’t see the forest for the trees”? It is meant to describe a person who focuses so much on the details that they lose sight of the big picture.
I’m usually very relaxed in my job. I thrive on taking on many projects. The more, the merrier! But I recently experienced a severe case of stress from taking on too much. Or, so I thought.
With so much to do, I began breaking down my various projects using the Salami approach. This is a tactic in where you slice up your project into bite-sized pieces. The theory goes that by attacking the project piece-by-piece, you prevent yourself from becoming overwhelmed by the enormity of your project. For me, it had the opposite effect. It may have made it easier to tackle the problem, but it also makes it hard to for me to see the big picture. And, without seeing the big picture, I started to get stressed out.
Change Perspective When You Can’t Change Circumstances
In my hometown of Saginaw, MI there was an abandoned section of railroad tracks near my old neighborhood. I used to meet a couple of friends, Rudy and Frank, there from time to time. Rudy was average size, but Frank looked like he had never missed a meal in his life.
We used to challenge each other to see who could walk down the track the farthest without falling off. Every time Rudy and I would walk a few steps and fall off. But Frank could walk and walk and keep going. When he did this, Rudy and I would get frustrated. We couldn’t understand it. Was it his “bulk” that kept his momentum going?
One day, Rudy and I got fed up and demanded to know his secret. Before sharing his secret, he demanded that we promise to buy him a steak sandwich from Tony’s, his favorite restaurant. Grudgingly we agreed. He pointed out that Rudy and I were always looking down at our feet, and therefore kept falling. But, he explained that he was too fat to see his feet. What Frank did was to pick out a target down the track and walk toward that spot. When he got close, he just selected another target and walked toward it.
“Frank-turned-philosopher” showed us was that when you look down at your feet, all you see is rust, stinkweed and all the other stuff that distracts you from seeing the big picture (your goal). When you look for a distance down the track, you not only look at your goal, you can see yourself reaching your goal.
I decided to take a two-prong approach. I continued with the Salami approach of slicing up my projects into bite-sized pieces. And remembering what Frank said, I wrote down the “big picture” outcome for each project on a 3X5 index card which I kept on my desk within view while working on the bite-sized pieces. The work didn’t go away, and sometimes it looked like too much to do. But, seeing how beautiful the forest would look when finished made the most mundane tasks all the more pleasurable to do. And, I owe it all to Frank!
I forget if Rudy and I ever bought Frank his steak sandwich. But, Frank if you’re ever in Chicago, a steak dinner at one of Chicago’s finest is on me!
About the Author:
Gabriel Najera is the president & founder of the Najera Consulting Group. Gabriel is a frequent speaker for organizations. And, is a highly sought-after advisor to corporate and nonprofit executives looking to develop a strategic thinking mindset.
Gabriel is the author of the forthcoming book, Lessons From the Field: From Farmworker to Fortune 500 Consultant. Gabriel is available to speak to your organization. To inquire about scheduling Gabriel for an upcoming speaking engagement or to inquire about our consulting services, please click on this link.
Losing sight of the big picture is often way too easy when there are many different bite-sized pieces. Writing down an overall goal for each section is a wonderful way to combat that! Good thinking. I often find that when a project is too big, it overwhelms me and I can’t tackle it at all, but when I break it down into sections I find more motivation in successfully completing the pieces. Although I do experience stress if I create too many small pieces. May need to try this approach!
A friend of mine is a well known marketing guru and he basically taught me the same lesson. He works with large companies doing market planning, often for worldwide markets and he basically taught me to use a combination of thinking big and acting small–meaning that you always have to keep the big picture in mind, but that you can’t do it in one step or by taking steps that are too big to manage. He also taught me to never place the things that matter most as the mercy of the things that matter the least.
I am in the restaurant business and have been in it now for over 25 years. When I first decided to go out on my own, I made the same mistake. Figuratively I kept looking down at my feet. I fretted over things that didn’t matter and lost sight of the big picture. I came very close to losing my business. But then I learned the “Fat Frank” lesson from, of all places,” the guy who I say as my biggest competitor. (Although he did not see me as much competition.) In talking with him one day he told me that the secret to his success was thinking big, and thinking ahead, and that in his opinion I didn’t have that ability. (He was trying to buy my location from me and “help me out”) Well, that conversation really got me going. I now own four restaurants and with my son’s help will be opening two new ones in a neighboring city. Thanks for refreshing the lesson for me!