There are lots of reasons that we can miss small things that are important to ensuring that big mistakes are avoided.  It gets even scarier when those mistakes cause accidents.    

How can we possibly keep on top of everything?
We have at a minimum over 50,000 thoughts in a day.   Our brains can’t fully process every stimulus it experiences.  Our brain sorts things into categories such as ‘important’ and ‘not important’ based on our past experiences.   If there’s never been a negative consequence related to a piece of information, we’ll probably filter through it quickly – so quickly, we may not even notice it.  So it’s no wonder that we can miss things.  We couldn’t survive if we stopped and took action or fully processed every thought.

Remember the first time you drove a car?  
You were probably very focused on driving, but over time you were able to be more on auto pilot.  And now, you don’t have to actively think about driving as much.  That’s what we do with everything we take in from our environment – whether it be smelling, tasting, seeing, hearing or feeling something.  Over time, we have made decisions about what’s important to pay attention to and what can be skipped….making  decisions more subconscious or intuitive.

Photo of a person's feet standing on a multi tiled floor in an aerial view.

When we focus on one specific thing it tends to cause us to lose focus on the bigger picture.  On the positive side, this can serve us well when we need to focus on a task in order to get a particular result.  For example, for some if we turn off our phones and stay away from other distractions such as television, internet and any reminders about other tasks that need to be done, we can generally complete the task that we’ve set our minds to.  But, we risk missing an important phone call that requires our immediate attention.  

So how can we win?
Start with taking a broad view of your work and identifying your priorities.   Set specific times of the day to check e-mails and phone calls and then focus on your priorities one by one.    You will find by starting with a broad view of your projects you will be able to identify potential risks.  Then by focusing on each project one at a time without distraction, you will be able to complete them faster by using more of your cognitive capacity.

The message is you can’t see everything at once.  But, by switching your view back and forth from broad to focused you will improve the overall success of your work.