Planning with purpose

5 ways to think big, any day of the week

“How do I make sure I’m thinking about the big picture, when I’m always working on a lot of small things that seem to take up all my time?”

This was a question a product manager once asked me when she felt lost in the weeds, and one you may have asked yourself.

How can you empower yourself to step back and look at the big picture so you can lead your team more effectively?

Last week, Fast Company published an article I wrote tackling this very topic; here are some highlights of strategies that have worked for me, and you might consider:

Allocate time to thinking

If you allow yourself to just do what’s next on your to-do list, you’ll never find the time to think about the big picture–there will always be something that feels more urgent. Block off time on your calendar based on when you’re most creative (morning, afternoon, evening).

Buddy up

Once you’ve allocated time to thinking, you’ll likely come upon a stumbling block: it’s hard to sit down and say to yourself, “Okay . . . think!” The best ideas often bubble up through the course of conversation, so it’s valuable to find another person to think with and bounce ideas back and forth.

If you’re in a management position, consider buddying with someone who reports to you: teammates who don’t often get the chance to strategize will be energized by the opportunity to do it with you. Through this exercise, your teammates will get a sense of ownership over the conclusions you come to together, while you’ll gain focus and clarity.

Choose specific goals

Unpacking your big-picture thinking into a handful of specific goals will make it that much more actionable. If you want to redesign your product, break down this ambition into more specific actions that have a finite timeline: For example, I want to write a draft for the product roadmap over the next two years, broken up into a hierarchy of themes.

Big questions are worth asking but they should be framed in a way that doesn’t feel burdensome or insurmountable. If they do, decompose them into smaller pieces until each one feels doable.

Identify first steps

Creating tasks in Asana with Due Dates and Assignees is how vision becomes action.

If I have a big goal, I will generally procrastinate on tackling it unless I immediately choose the first steps. If I want to create a new product roadmap, my first steps may include finding all the various Google Docs and Asana projects where we’ve done roadmapping in the past. Next, I will read them. Next, I’ll make a list of potential features, then group those features into themes. Then, I’ll ensure there’s a specific deliverable and audience for the proposals.

Having a time and a place when you know you’ll need to present your ideas (such as at a big meeting) to an audience is a good way to force you to structure your approach.

Ground yourself in reality

What are the big opportunities you’re actually able to tackle? Thinking big occupies a divergent brainstorming space–an alternate reality where there are no wrong answers. The last and most important part of this exercise is to move from the divergent space to one that is solidly based in reality. Be realistic about what options are actionable, and then take next steps. This is the convergent phase.

Encourage teammates to submit ideas onto a single project. Then, have everyone heart their favorites. Sort ideas by number of Hearts.

When followed up with action, regularly scheduled divergent big-picture thinking can bring new, better ideas to light, and give you confidence that the small tasks you’re doing all day are steps along the right path.

For starter ideas on how to think big on any project, check out the article in Fast Company.

Visit The Guide to get suggestions for using Asana to generate ideas, brainstorm, and turn those ideas into action.

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