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.
Last week I was off the grid during a spring break trip to a family farm. This farm has been in the family for around 100 years now. During this time they survived the great depression and weathered the ups and downs of agriculture in a small southwest town. The family has long practiced the idea of waste not / want not. It has given our kids a glimpse of the past and family history. However, it has created more work now to make the buildings safe. The process of cleaning up 100 years’ worth of debris got me thinking about the practice of waste not /want not. By the end of the week I was convinced the value of this practice can be a myth if not executed wisely.
I am a big believer in reusing or recycling items that no longer serve their original purpose, it is very important to reduce what goes into our landfills. This only works if careful thought is given to what you save for later use. As we were cleaning up the tool shed and garage buildings we found buckets and buckets full of bent nails. During the depression it was important to save all the nails, even the bent ones, so that you would have one available when needed. This was probably even true up to the 1950’s as the country recovered from WWII. Unfortunately the practice carried on into the 1990’s. At this point the old nails weren’t being reused so the piles of waste nails just grew and grew. When we cleaned out the buildings, all these old nails were sent to the scrap metal recycling center. They will now be melted down and used in new steel products. It seems that the habits of the past were carried on without any real thought of whether or not it would make a difference in how they lived their lives.
Digging through decades of broken tractor parts, farm tools, and bailing wire has renewed my commitment to keeping only the things that truly serve a purpose. Keeping old items just because they might be useful one day leads to tons of waste that must be dealt with at some point. In the case of the family farm it’s been up to us and our kids to clean up the old and make it new again. We saved many items for family history’s sake or because they really can be used again in the new and improved farm. I often asked “what are you going to do with this?” when my husband wanted to save something that could have been reused but in reality would never be used by us.
I would challenge you to ask yourself these questions whenever you are contemplating keeping something you no longer use:
- Is it still is a useable form?
- Will I really ever use it again?
- Can someone else use it (donate or sell)?
- Can it be recycled?
If you can answer yes to the first two questions, then keep the item. If you can answer yes to either of the last two questions, then pass the item on for someone else to make use of it. If the answer is no to all four questions, then dispose of the item properly. Saving items for the sake of saving them will create wasted time and effort at some point down the road. Choose wisely.
With the advent of spring there has been a lot of discussion and focus on spring cleaning and getting rid of things. The extremists believe that you should get rid of just about everything which will simplify your life. Others take a more moderate approach to minimizing things. Everywhere you turn there is information on getting organized. If you’ve been looking at sale ads you have been seeing storage containers to organize your clutter. So what really works? That will be unique to each person. Personally I use the recycling model “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” to determine what to do.
- Reduce: Get rid of the things that no longer are needed, clothes that don’t fit or you don’t where, household items that you haven’t used in in the last year, paperwork that is out of date (old tax returns, receipts, bills). Make sure you keep what you need for tax purposes and shred the older items.
- Reuse: When you clean out the old paperwork, save the file folders in good shape to use later. Can you find new uses for items you no longer use for their original purpose? Old kitchen storage containers make good holders for office supplies like paper/ binder clips. How can something be reused?
- Recycle: Give you old clothes to a charity, you may get a tax deduction and others will get affordable clothing. Non-sensitive paperwork can be recycled. Cleaning out the garage you may find scrap metal which can be sold to a metal recycler. We’ve used sensitive paperwork to create fire starters for our camping trips.
Once you clean up the unused things it’s time to figure out how to store the things you are keeping. Figure out what works for you. I’ve seen people who use labeled storage containers for everything and it’s all perfectly organized on shelves, etc. For me that would not work at all, it requires too much maintenance long term. I use containers for some things, baskets for others, and keep things on shelves in some cases. There is no one system that is perfect for everyone in every situation. Look at different systems to understand what they offer and take the pieces that work for you.
Spring is a time of new beginnings and is a great time to clean your house. Use the ritual of spring cleaning to refresh your personal organizational system. The idea of minimizing what is in your life can be liberating. Go as far as is comfortable for you, what you can live with and be happy. Simplicity looks different for all of us, so find you own.
The key is to create a system in your life that becomes natural and easy to maintain. If it feels like work to do everyday it will not work longterm.