Have you ever taken a picture of a spectacular moonrise only to be disappointed at how small the moon looks in the resulting photo? This is called the Moon Illusion. Humans have an incredible ability to remap our perception to match our attention. We can focus so much on one part of a scene that our senses convince us it occupies more space than it does in reality.
The same thing can happen to us at work. We can focus so much on certain details that we mistake those for the whole picture. This can be useful. When we are polishing a finished product, ensuring we are fully compliant, or working on a core interaction it’s good to care about details.
But it can also be bad if the time we spend in one area is out of proportion with the impact. Taken too far, we may fix a problem affecting a small number of people while neglecting the problems of a dramatically larger number. More often than not, the problems that grab our attention are ones that resonate with us emotionally rather than the ones that are objectively the most important.
It is challenging but important to maintain perspective. We must simultaneously track and care about the smallest details while keeping in mind how those details map to the larger program. And we must try to find objective measures of impact to help us allocate our time. Ultimately we should allocate our time in rough proportion to the size of our opportunity to improve things.