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Linda Samuels, CPO-CD®

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Practical Possibilities for Deciding When to Think Big or Small

As we shift solidly into the fall season leaving summer memories behind, we open our minds to many choices and possibilities for next. In thinking about the future, we might be focused on something big or small. How do we decide how to match our energy and situation with our focus? Have you noticed that there are times of inspired dreaming and other times of total overwhelm? Let’s explore how our choices are influenced by our situations.


Deciding When to Think Big

If you’re in a thinking-big-mode, you have large blocks of uninterrupted time. You have time to breathe and to take care of your basic needs like sleep, exercise, and nutrition. Your brain is in high gear and you aren’t feeling preoccupied by a million and one other things that need your attention. You either have the time or have carved out the time to focus on the bigger picture. Thinking big requires enough quiet to sift through and capture ideas. Thinking big demands enough mental energy and space to allow the seed ideas to surface.

Of course there are times when we’re super busy and stressed, and big ideas will surface. This is a normal occurrence. But to truly act on those ideas, we need that quiet space to sort, process, and marinate them.

When are good times for thinking big? Scheduling personal retreats, vacations, or days off are great ways to carve out some thinking big time. If you want to focus on BIG, make sure you create the environment to allow big to flourish.


Deciding When to Think Small

If you’re in a thinking-small-mode, you’re feeling overwhelmed and stressed. Your time doesn’t feel like your own. Your schedule doesn’t have much empty space. The number of to-dos and responsibilities you’ve committed might be keeping you up at night. You’re managing life, but feeling like you’re on that continually moving hamster wheel with no stopping in sight. Does this sound familiar? If so, thinking small will help.

It doesn’t mean that you won’t future think or allow a big idea to be captured. It does mean that in order to move on at this moment in time, using a different approach will help. Taking small, next steps will encourage forward movement while reducing overwhelm. It will help you move on so that you can eventually focus on thinking big when and if you’re ready. But it’s hard to get to that point when you’re in the high stress, high overwhelm mode.

These are fluid phases. Having an awareness of where you are, locating yourself on the energy and overwhelm scale will help you to better navigate. What have you noticed for yourself or others? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Come join the conversation!





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Reader Comments (16)

I find fall a hard time to think big or small, once September hits and school starts, that boulder starts rolling and it doesn't seem to stop until Christmas. That said it is also a time of momentum that last hurrah for the year, the last quarter to see how much we can accomplish.

October 4, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJill Robson

So many situations bring us into those intense, small moments. One of my daughters is going to have to have her tonsils out in November, and I know at that time, I will shift from "big picture" to "moment by moment." I love the thought here of knowing that just because today is a small moment, doesn't mean you won't have chances to think big in the future. Take today as it comes, use the energy you have, and have grace with yourself for whatever sits on the plate in front of you!

October 4, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSeana Turner

I love your terminology of 'thinking big' and 'thinking small'. Giving yourself permission to go with the flow and make decisions as necessary lets the feeling of overwhelm recede. I agree with Jill in that this time of year is naturally busy up through the New Year.

October 4, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterdiane Quintana

So wonderful hearing your amazing voices! Thank you for being here and adding so much to the conversation.

@Jill-You bring up a valuable perspective that for you, fall is an intense season of "doing" that doesn't quite stop until the end of December. It's a holiday-filled time mixed with the beginning of the school year. So it feels more like being in "the home stretch" part of the year, than in starting anything new.

@Seana- I'll be thinking of you and your daughter with her upcoming tonsil surgery. Guess you'll be stocking up on ice cream. I'm sending some virtual, advance hugs to you both. Thank you for introducing the beautiful word, "grace" as a way of managing the small moments in a gentle way.

@Diane-I'm so glad you found the thinking big and small idea useful in helping to reduce the overwhelm. It sounds like for you, like Jill that this particular time of year is extra busy. Matching where we are with what's happening can help in figuring out how to approach next.

October 4, 2016 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

As an ISTJ, I'm not by nature a big picture thinker, and sometimes that holds me back. But some of my best ideas have come to me while walking in the woods or otherwise completely away from the little details that consume my daily life and thoughts.

October 4, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJanet Barclay

My husband is a big thinker (he builds big structures for a living), whereas I'm more detail oriented. I find talking with him or seeking out his viewpoint often helps in changing my perspective. It's good to have someone in your life to remind you to back up the lense!

October 4, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSarah Soboleski

@Seana, my son had his tonsils out on November 1st 10 years ago, it was the best thing we could have done for him. I hope all goes well with her surgery.

October 4, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJill Robson

@Janet- Interesting that you don't consider yourself a big picture thinker because you always seem to come up with innovative ways to share new ideas and value-added for your audience. The woods' walks and daily diversions are obviously working well for you. And for most of us, it's about figuring out the right combo of big and small thinking. That mix is different for each of us.

@Sarah- How lovely that you and your husband provide the "thinking" balance. You also bring up the point about how we expand our thoughts. Sometimes it's setting aside time and doing the work internally and sometimes it's about being exposed to big thinkers through conversations, reading, learning, or traveling.

@Jill- You're so supportive.

October 4, 2016 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

Thank you, Linda! I think running a business has led me to develop those skills, because you can't grow if you're always focused on the day-to-day tasks.

October 5, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJanet Barclay

What a new perspective on big and little picture thinking! I am both depending on circumstances and time available. I like to do my big picture thinking in the morning. That's when my brain is working best! As a person of systems, I use my time during the day for little picture thinking. Like Seana, there are times that I shift to intensely little thinking too with my family. One of the best things about our work is the flexibility we have to do the work we do and my big and little picture thinking is in high gear with my clients as we create time and space together.

October 5, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterEllen Delap

@Janet- You're most welcome.Isn't it great to know that we can expand who we are and develop new skills? You go, Girl!

@Ellen- What wonderful awareness you have about the seamless way you move back and forth between the different types of thinking! And lovely too that you know in which conditions your big or small thinking works most effectively. I know what you mean about morning being a good time for big picture thinking, Like you, my brain is most alert and able to process the larger ideas at that time of the day. It's not that I can't do it later, but my brain starts to tire later in the day, so the smaller tasks and thinking flow better then.

October 5, 2016 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

I love this post Linda! This post is the perfect example of why you should schedule off time for yourself. To think big! Make sure you have some white space in your week. If I look at my week and it's too full it causes me anxiety right there. I have truly tried to change that. I want more white space! More time to be spontaneous with my family and more time for myself to walk, read, cook etc. At 41, I have learned the power of saying NO thank you! :)

October 5, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAutumn Leopold

Great post about thinking big and small. I personally, like to do big thinking the beginning of the year and around the middle of the year. The small thinking is done throughout the rest of the year to aid in the big thinking goals and ideas.

October 5, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSabrina Quairoli

@Autumn- So happy to have you with us and glad you like this post. I know exactly what you mean about feeling anxious is there's no white space during the week. We need some time, whether it's daily or weekly or monthly to NOT do...or do what we feel like...nothing quite like being spontaneous. Bravo to you for figuring out the balance that works for you.

@Sabrina- Great idea to do that big picture thinking around the new year and again in the middle! It gives you two touchpoints during the year to check in, explore, and possible adjust the plan. Love that!

October 5, 2016 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

Great post Linda! It's helpful to recognize the difference between these 2 types of thinking. I'm a thinker and try to balance big thinking and small thinking, but often get caught up in the day-to-day smaller details and don't make time for big picture thinking. I think I naturally tend to do big picture thinking a bit more in late Dec/early Jan looking back on the past year and looking forward to the new year, as well as late August/early Sept with the new school year. But I think I need to carve out a bit more time for big picture thinking at other times of the year as well.

October 5, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterHilda Rodgers

@Hilda- It sounds like you and Sabrina are similar in that you are intentional about making time for that big picture thinking twice a year. I just read a really great post that Autumn Leopold wrote about eleven ways to create more "think time" during your day on a regular basis. She has some easily implementable suggestions for doing that. Here's a link to her post:

October 5, 2016 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

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