Forest vs Trees?

Do you focus on the forest or the trees when you look at projects or all the things you have to do?  I know some people who only look at the trees; they see each individual tree and can’t see that they make up something much bigger.  Other people I know only seem to see the forest; the individual trees don’t exist to them.  Unfortunately, these folks are both missing part of the picture which can hamper their ability to get things done.

I’ve known a few unique people who seem to be able to see both the forest and the individual trees at the same time.  These are a rare breed of people and yet they are the ones who seem to get the most done in the most efficient manner.  So how do they do it?

First they look at the overall picture to see the overall scope of the project (the forest).  This allows them to understand the size and shape of what is to be tackled.  Looking at the bigger picture can really help identify the boundaries of the project, anyone else who going to be impacted by it, and what resources are going to be needed to get it done. 

Once they get the lay of the land it’s time to look at the details (the trees).  This is the time to get into the nitty-gritty of the tasks.  What needs to happen, when it needs to be done and by whom.  Taking the time to identify all the steps in the project along with the specific timeline and resources is critical to the successful completion.

Most of us can, and do, look at projects from both perspectives.  The trick is to be able to switch back and forth between them on a frequent basis.  It is so easy to get caught up in the details that you totally lose track of the bigger picture.  Focusing on what has to be done next, what the current obstacle is, or who is not keeping up are all vital actions.  However, they aren’t the only critical things to keep track of during a project.  Take a few moments to step back from the details and make sure the project is still on track and heading in the right direction.  Evaluate if the scope has crept up (gotten bigger) or if the project is going to impact other people who were not previously identified.  These can only be done by looking at the forest.

When things are overwhelming and there seems to be too much going on shifting your natural focus is difficult, if not seemingly impossible.  The good news is it doesn’t take long to make the shift for a status check.  Looking at the forest if you are a detail person can really help you keep things in check.  As well, if you are a big picture person looking at the trees will help you make sure all the needed steps are being taken.  The other perspective will help you get a handle on the whole picture and may reduce stress because you now have a better understanding of where you are and where you need to go.

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2 Comments

Filed under Change Management, Leadership, Time Management

2 responses to “Forest vs Trees?

  1. Excellent post Carol, it is hard at time to not only be in the forest but to also be able to identify each tree tht is there. It does take the ability to step back and away to get a better focus. Many time I personally will enlist others help to gain a clearer perspective on things.

    • Tina,

      You are so right about enlisting help from others to gain new perspectives. Having a diverse team where some are great at identifying each tree and some who can map the forest is a huge key to success.

      Have a great day!

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