Have you ever wondered how some people have a talent for keeping their eye on the prize? The answer is big picture thinking, and it’s something we can all learn to do.

We don’t always tend to think the same as others. There are some who are incredibly detail-oriented and will spend hours making sure that each piece of the puzzle is perfect before putting it together.

Then, there are those who see the bigger picture. They keep the end goal in mind and don’t tend to stress about the nitty-gritty.

Signs you’re a detail-oriented thinker:

  • You spend too much time trying to get one task perfect
  • You prefer to be given a plan, rather than create one yourself
  • You have great attention to detail
  • You overthink the standard to which a task needs to be done
  • If you need to highlight something, you may as well color the whole page
  • You double (and triple) check your own work
  • You ask a lot of questions
  • You work methodically
  • Quick decisions stress you out
  • Your work is high quality (but sometimes you have low output)
  • You’re a perfectionist
  • You’re a bit of a micromanager
  • Everyone asks you for advice on how to improve
  • You notice small changes that others don’t

Signs you’re a big picture thinker:

  • You find patterns quickly, even in complex or difficult problems
  • You like coming up with new projects and ideas, and get them randomly without trying
  • You get bored with tasks that require a high level of detail
  • You’re great at knowing what needs to be done, but you’re not so great at doing it (it’s boring!)
  • You just assume things will work out okay
  • You’re not always realistic with capabilities and goals
  • You get bored following through with your own plans
  • You thrive under pressure
  • You’re not the most observant
  • You’re more of an optimist than a realist

The importance of big picture thinking

Both styles of thinking are essential to a project and complement each other well. However, there are some instances where having a good perception of the bigger picture is important.

Being a big picture thinker allows you to see a project as the sum of its parts. Creating a roadmap for a project allows you to see where potential obstacles might be and take action to prevent them.

This also tends to reduce stress, since there isn’t a hyper-focus on details that won’t necessarily matter in the long run.

This is why people with the ability to see the bigger picture also tend to reach positions in management and leadership. They can see what needs to be done and create a roadmap to complete it.

That’s not to say that detail-oriented thinkers aren’t important also. To make a project work, you need a blend of different personalities. Both big picture and detail-focused thinking are important because one always has limitations the other can make up for.

However, if you’re looking to lead a team or build a business, big picture thinking is an essential skill to have in your repertoire.

How to sharpen your big picture thinking skills

1. Identify habits that focus you too much on the detail

The first step in becoming a big picture thinker is to break the habits that prevent us from zooming out. If you’re detail-oriented, you tend to look for perfection.

Research shows that too much attention to detail in the early stages of a project can actually promote failure. If you’re constantly fixing and changing things from day dot, you may end up giving up or scrapping the project completely.

Focus on the end goal and constantly remind yourself of it. When you think you’re spending too much time on the wider picture, remember what it is you are striving for. This will help to remind you what you need to do and keep you from jumping down the detail rabbit hole.

Work as a team and delegate certain tasks to also help to move the project forward. With several people working towards the same goal, you can get the same level of high-quality work without sacrificing deadlines.

2. Ask yourself some big picture questions

In his book, The Magic of Big Thinking, Ph.D. author, David Schwartz, reminds us to “see what can be, not just what is.” Asking yourself certain big thinking questions can help you become more optimistic in terms of what you can achieve.

Some questions include:

  • What am I trying to achieve?
  • What are the intended consequences?
  • Who might this be good for that I hadn’t thought of?
  • Who am I actually doing this for?
  • Could this start a new trend?
  • Could I build on this work in the future?
  • Could I collaborate with others on this?
  • In what way is this different from what is already out there?
  • Are there any ethical questions surrounding this work?
  • Are there any social groups this could affect more than others?
  • Are there any unintended consequences?

3. Look up!

Physically moving our heads can spark different kinds of thinking. When we focus too much on the detail, we tend to look down, often at the thing we are trying to focus on.

Experts recommend that looking up can inspire big picture thinking. By looking up, we stimulate our brain to begin inductive reasoning, allowing us to be more creative.

We then start to become more abstract in our logical connections which can encourage new thoughts and ideas to add to a project.

4. Map out your entire project

If you have trouble looking at the bigger picture, a helpful strategy is to map out exactly what it is you’re trying to achieve, and how. Not only does this improve time management and allow you to create achievable goals to track progress, but it also reminds you of what you’re working towards.

Keep your project map within eyesight and look at it a few times a day to stay on track and limit the focus on minor details.

5. Start a journal or practice mind mapping

If you’re looking to become better at big picture thinking in general, training your brain is key. Journaling gives your brain time to process your thoughts as you go, which can inspire new ideas or connect concepts you’d never thought about before.

Mind mapping is also a great option for big picture training. You can draw or write out a mind map, you can physically see connections between concepts, even see where there are weak spots in a plan. Both of these methods help you get used to shaping plans and methods to fit the bigger picture, or even create a new one.

Successful entrepreneurs tend to think more broadly than others by up to 48%, but that doesn’t mean they were born with the ability.

These are only five of the best ways to get yourself used to big picture thinking, but there are many more. Training your brain to focus less on the detail and start looking outwards at what might be possible can open so many doors and present new opportunities. So what are you waiting for?

If you’re interested in learning more and assessing your personality, check this article to find out whether you are a judging or perceiving thinking type.


  1. The Magic of Big Thinking, David Schwartz
  2. https://hbr.org

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