There’s this famous quote which goes: “Don’t miss the forest for the trees”. Generally, it means not to focus on details so much that you forget the big picture. It’s a clichéd saying but it conveys a deeper idea about ‘focus’.
Focus, by definition, is the ‘center of attention’. When you’re “focused”, you concentrate your energies toward one goal, stay at it, and prioritize that goal to the exclusion of everything else.
In other words, you focus on the trees, and end up missing the forest. But when you miss the forest, it’s proof you’re actually focused; this is a good thing.
Point is, ‘peripheral blur’ and ‘central focus’ go hand-in-hand, and this is necessary.
Here’s the problem at hand: I spoke to a friend the other day, and we shared how the sheer amount of information thrown at us is huge. Every email has a context; every context has its embedded sub-contexts; every sub-context has a range of second-order tasks; every task has its own to-do lists.
Things are not simple or linear anymore; they’re complex, interconnected, and dynamic. The end-goals are not well-defined anymore; they’re ambiguous and loosely-defined. Work is not formulaic or the “crank-widget” kind; it’s “define-and-do” work, meaning, you’re supposed to define what you’re supposed to do, and then do it.
In this context, central focus is imperative to do great work. Two examples:
- Delay in this newsletter for the past few weeks,
- Personally, no time for self-reflection.
At the same time, I’ve realized that my quality and output of work have significantly improved for no other reason except peripheral blur. In other words, as I’ve missed out on the “other” things of life, I’ve observed a sharp uptick in doing the one thing that matters to me, now: Work.
And yet, there are moments when I feel I should probably prioritze something else. As I reflected on that, here’s what I’ve learned: To do anything great, you need to have sustained periods of central focus and peripheral blurs.
The lesson is obvious in many ways; it’s what we intuitively know. But experiencing it and putting it into action is the natural next-step, which, unfortunately, we don’t take. And that’s what this issue is about: To help us recognize what moves the needle.
To end with a revised quote, then, here’s what I think is a viable, middle-ground, more realistic proposal: Miss the forest for the trees, but look at so many trees, so many times, that you cover the forest.
Until next time,