Understanding the Bigger Picture and Why It's Important

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated June 1, 2022 | Published April 13, 2021

Updated June 1, 2022

Published April 13, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

If you're interested in enhancing your decision-making skills at work, being able to understand and consider the big picture can be an essential skill. Having a big-picture perspective can help you prioritize effectively, set better goals and improve time management. By developing a complete perspective of a situation, you can make decisions that drive long-term results, which can help you advance in your career.

In this article, we discover what it means to consider the bigger picture, why it's important and how you can incorporate big-picture thinking into your professional skill set.

What does it mean to understand the bigger picture?

Considering the bigger picture means thinking about how your actions can affect the overall success of a project or company aim, rather than focusing on minor details. Big-picture thinking can be crucial for achievement in the workplace because knowing what to focus on can help you budget your time efficiently, manage stress levels and create actionable, achievable goals. You can use big picture thinking in a variety of roles, including:

  • Entry-level

  • Managerial

  • Supervisory

  • Client-facing

  • Leadership

Why is it important to consider the bigger picture in the workplace?

By striving to achieve a big-picture perspective at work, you can ensure you understand the connections between basic tasks and long-term targets, which can make the goals you create more efficient and achievable. Cultivating big-picture thinking can also help you:

  • Recognize the link between specific projects and broad company goals

  • Address challenges at work rather than minor symptoms and create a successful problem-solving plan

  • Stay open-minded, which can positively benefit your work relationships

  • Find the clarity to make achievable, actionable goals by understanding the larger context

  • Respond to obstacles objectively and patiently, which can improve your mental health at work

  • Manage your time more effectively, which can make project planning more efficient

Related: 10 Visionary Jobs for People Who Think About the Big Picture

Detail-oriented thinking vs. big-picture thinking

While both are useful strategies, employees can apply detail-oriented thinking and big-picture thinking to a variety of challenges in the workplace. To understand when to use these types of thinking, consider the ways they contrast:

Context

Detail-oriented thinking typically emphasizes focusing on a specific aspect of a project, while big-picture thinking may target the entire project or the project as it relates to company goals. For example, a big-picture thinker at an automotive company might think about ensuring a finished vehicle's crash test results meet company safety standards. In comparison, a detail-oriented thinker may focus on conducting crash tests and collecting the results.

Time period

Big-picture thinkers frequently consider the long-term effects of a project, while detail-oriented thinkers focus on short-term priorities. For example, at a fashion design company, a big-picture thinker might predict the next year's industry trends based on best-selling clothes from the current year. In contrast, a detail-oriented thinker may dedicate time to creating garments based on current trends for an upcoming fashion show.

Mindset

While detail-oriented thinkers may strive to achieve the highest quality product within a specific time period, big-picture thinkers focus on meeting quality standards and moving on with production. For example, a big picture-oriented teacher may structure lesson plans based on standardized tests with the goal of boosting scores and helping students get into their preferred colleges. In contrast, a detail-oriented teacher might expand standardized lessons to include interesting activities or extra information.

How to consider the bigger picture at work

You can follow the steps below to develop skills for big-picture thinking in your professional life:

1. Form habits that promote big-picture thinking

You can limit habits you may have that limit big-picture thinking to ensure you're focusing on the larger context by shifting thought patterns such as:

  • Quality over perfectionism: Rather than attempting to complete any duties at work perfectly, big-picture thinkers often consider the overall priorities of an organization. For example, if a client values high production, a big-picture thinker might strive to complete a high-quality product within the time allotted.

  • Setting worthwhile goals: To ensure you're setting effective goals, you can consider what's a priority in the larger context. For example, if an organization is launching a new service, a big-picture thinker may set goals that contribute to promoting that new service.

  • Delegating duties: Big-picture thinkers often delegate responsibilities that may distract them from taking a broader perspective. For example, a manager might focus on interviewing new employees while delegating scheduling, writing interview questions, onboarding and training responsibilities.

Read more: 7 Effective Delegation Steps

2. Try making organized lists

To boost your big-picture thinking, you can create a free-form list of what you'd like to get done at work. Then organize the list into categories such as:

  • High to low priority responsibilities

  • Short-term and long-term duties

  • Daily, weekly and monthly targets

  • [Project name] goals

If your category lists are longer than three bullet points, you can add subcategories based on the order of importance. To help you determine which duty is the highest priority, consider a specific deliverable you're aiming for and who might expect it. For example, you could schedule a meeting with a client to present a product, then determine what you need to do to prepare for the meeting. For feedback about how to best organize priorities for your job, consider sharing your goals with a supervisor.

Related: Tips on Setting Goals

3. Chat with a coworker

Through conversations with teammates, you can expose yourself to new perspectives, which may promote big-picture thinking. Informal conversation, including asking questions, giving honest answers and providing friendly suggestions can help you strategize about how best to approach a project. This collaboration may also motivate teammates to offer further support and guidance as you're completing the project, as well as provide them a sense of satisfaction when you succeed.

Read more: Ultimate Guide To Strategic Planning

4. Reserve time for reflection

Rather than acting on short-term conditions such as emotions, fatigue, time pressure or distraction, deciding based on the big picture can ensure you prioritize effectively and set achievable goals. Here are a few methods you can use to think about the big picture:

  • Meditate

  • Keep a journal

  • Go for a thoughtful walk

  • Talk to a friend or family member who is a good listener

Related: 12 Tips To Work Smarter Not Harder

Examples of understanding the bigger picture

Here are some examples of how to consider the big picture at work:

Big-picture thinking when working with a client

Consider this example of how you can think about the big picture when completing projects on behalf of clients:

Debbie is a graphic designer responsible for creating 10 modern, minimalist logos for a new client. To maintain a sense of the big picture, she asks the client about their timeline, overall goals for the logos and an example of a logo they like. Rather than focusing on how to make each logo a masterpiece, she creates 10 high-quality pieces that follow the client's standards within the allotted time.

Big-picture thinking for entry-level employees

You can use this example to develop big-picture thinking in an entry-level position:

Oliver is a sales representative in a retail store responsible for stocking new items, tidying shelves and tracking inventory. He creates a list categorized by his responsibilities and organizes each subcategory from highest to lowest priority to help him plan his workday. Then he focuses on the departments that need the most attention, which creates an increase in positive customer feedback about the cleanliness of the store.

Big-picture thinking for managers

Here's an example of how you can use big-picture thinking to enhance your managerial skills:

Francis is a manager on a flower farm. She often asks members of her staff about what challenges they're facing with the plants and if they have any suggestions for how to improve efficiency. This gives her valuable insight into the daily operations of the farm and reveals strategies for how to improve the overall production process. By involving staff in the planning and decision-making process, this method also boosts company morale.

Big-picture thinking through reflection

If you're interested in using reflection to boost your big-picture thinking, consider this example:

Josiah is a software designer who's working on debugging and testing a program before delivering it to a client. Since his job demands attention to detail, he uses journaling to help him maintain a sense of the big picture. He writes about the obstacles he's facing with the program, the standards the client is looking for and how he feels about the process. After reflection, he can look at his responsibilities objectively and easily prioritize them, which helps him create a plan of action to accomplish his goals.

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