The Devil Is In The Details

I need to say something.

And I hope we can still be friends after I say it.

Here we go.

There is nothing – NOTHING – that stresses me out more than a bunch of details.

I’m not talking about the details that someone might use when they’re telling a story. For the most part I think those kinds of details are charming and delightful.

The details I’m talking about are the ones that manifest as lots of tasks. I’m talking about the little things that have to be done in order to complete a project. I’m talking about the hoops that you have to jump through in order to pay taxes, renew a car tag, return clothes that you ordered online, work on a long-range plan, keep track of mileage, or set up new processes and procedures at your job.

Heaven forbid that spreadsheets enter the picture. Because if they do, you might as well send me a nerve pill when you email me the spreadsheet file.

I’ve been this way as long as I can remember. I’ve always liked the big picture – the possibilities, the what-could-bes, the touchy-feely objectives that might make people laugh or provide some encouragement or remind folks to hug their people a little tighter.

But as far as figuring out the hows and the whens and the wheres of those things? HERE IS WHERE I STRUGGLE. The to-do lists start to feel endless to me, not to mention that all of those troublesome details interfere with my Happy Feelings and Optimistic Reveries.

You can imagine what joy I bring to type-A, goal-oriented personalities.

The irony in all of this is that I live with two very detail-oriented people (as far as I know Hazel is a big picture girl like I am, and I think I will just continue to tell myself that because SOLIDARITY). David and Alex have never met a plan or a process or a set of objectives that they didn’t like, and while that makes for nice balance in terms of personalities (and also in the sense that, for example, my husband is going to the bank for me today since I have a book table at a conference this weekend, and a book table requires that you be able to make change, but unfortunately trying to figure out how much change – and what denominations – is pretty much enough to put me in the bed for the better part of two days), it makes me crazy sometimes (and also a little jealous) that they thrive on structure and lists and plans and goals.

Dealing with details reminds me of when Alex was little and we’d have playdates with different friends who made those toddler behavior charts for their little ones. There were always lots of lines and boxes and stickers and checks, and just the thought of keeping up with something like that made me all itchy and fidgety. I am all for affirmation and accountability and consequences, but if there is a series of daily poster-related action items that have to be completed in order to encourage good character, then I am instantly transported to the boondocks of the far reaches of my comfort zone.

And I will probably suggest that maybe a better idea would be to look at all the stickers and make a pretty picture and talk about how those pictures make us feel.

This past Monday afternoon Alex came home from school with a chart that he put on the refrigerator. I was immediately suspicious because of my long-standing resistance to charts, tables, graphs, etc.,, so I asked Alex what was up and pretended to be totally casual about the whole thing.

“Well,” he said. “We’re studying water usage, so for the next couple of days we have to keep track of how we use water.”

This was when I started to feel faint.

“So on this chart,” he continued, “every person in our family will make a tally mark after they wash dishes, wash clothes, flush the toilet, take a shower – you know, pretty much any time we use the water.”

Oh. Say it isn’t so, my child. Say it isn’t so.

And here’s what I knew within seconds of Alex’s explanation: 1) there was no way I would remember to fill out the chart, and 2) the task-oriented people in my family were going to totally overachieve with those hash marks.

For the last two days I’ve watched them dutifully document their water usage. They are prompt, they are consistent, and they even make all their tally marks the same size. It is a sight to behold.

I, on the other hand, have been true to my usual form. I’ve forgotten to mark the chart, then glared at it for awhile, then tried to count how many times I’ve washed my hands since Monday, then made a bunch of marks in the wrong column, then scratched them out, then thrown up my hands in frustration because IT DOESN’T EVEN LOOK PRETTY. I’ve been reminded by a certain fourth grader that I should just fill out the chart throughout the day instead of waiting to mark stuff down all at once, and I have politely smiled and nodded my head while silently wondering if he has ever met me before.

Mercifully, however, today is the last day of our chart-keeping. I can once again wash a load of clothes without a the pressure of a follow-up task afterwards.

Other than moving those clothes into the dryer.

And folding them.

And putting them away.

(Hold me.)

(The details never go away, do they?)

So, I’m curious. Which are you? Do you like the big picture? Would you rather get lost in the details? Or are you a little bit of both?

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • email


  1. I’m totally a big-picture, go-with-the-flow person who is in a very detail-oriented job and it is brutal. I texted my sister the other day to ask her what sort of profession I could go into that wouldn’t require me to be in charge of any details…we couldn’t think of one.

  2. I’m a little bit of both, but good grief I would lose it over that chart too. I’m a procrastinator who likes to get things done. There’s not even a term for me…:)

  3. Oh, sister, you are speaking my language now! Sometimes it seems like my husband and I are on different planets – apparently, his is the one where the taxes get done and bills get paid, so I am quite grateful that it exists, although it frightens me something fierce. Meanwhile, I have an ever-growing pile of papers from school, work, to-do lists, etc., that continually migrate around the house from chair to bed to dining room in an endless loop until I chain myself in my bedroom and deal with the details (shudder). Thankful with you that the stress of continuity is over for you in one area; have a blessedly detail-free rest of the week. And thanks for the excuse to vent! Love your blog SO much.

  4. I am the worst kind of combination – a procrastinator and a perfectionist stuffed into the same fluffy little body. So I make detailed lists, and never complete them. And if I can’t do something perfectly, and color coded, I end up not doing it at all (which is the usual scenario.) I also believe that I can’t reward myself with anything fun until I’m Caught Up, which never happens.

    • Wendy^, I think we might be twins! BooMama, yes, amen, and yes! I am married to an engineer, I have an English degree, and he has put me in charge of the apartment hunting for our temporary housing here in Charlrston. Do you know how many questions (details) must be asked? My head hurts from the details. Bless my second son’s heart, he is just like his daddy, and it took me 7 of his 8 years to figure out why we butt heads!! If I made him a chart, he’d be over-the-moon elated, but I haven’t figured out yet what color I want to make the chart, where to post it, why I would make one…well, you get it.

    • See my reply below. We were separated at birth. Or at the very least are sisters from different misters.

  5. Jennifer says:

    Big picture all the way, Sister!!!

  6. I used to be a very, very, VERY detail oriented person. Still am to a point. But something happened when I had children. All of my “perfectionism” is so unattainable now, so I have apparently decided to just go with the flow. Except I don’t do that very well.

    I guess I don’t know what I am anymore.

  7. Melissa says:

    Well, just the fact that I mentally compose replies to nearly all of your blog posts… but almost never get them typed out or posted, should give you a clue as to what type I am. I LOVE the idea part of a project… the creativity… but as soon as the real work (details) begin, my enthusiasm disappears. I do not like details… or homework that requires keeping track of how many times I flush or floss. Be prepared for part 2 of this assignment. After we completed the water usage charts, we got hit with “turn off the water faucet while you brush your teeth” and “take showers lasting no more than 2 minutes”(no baths allowed) and many other mandates for water conservation. My least favorite was “place a brick in the water tank of your toilet… this will cut down on the amount of water used each time the toilet is flushed.” (It also cuts down on what disappears from the toilet bowl when you flush.) I have 104 good reasons why a brick in the tank is a BAD idea. Then, the grand finale… estimate how many gallons of water you save each day by following the suggested practices… and CHART it! Ugh!
    Funny thing… it has been nearly 15 years since I had a 4th grader… but as soon as you mentioned “water usage” and “chart” I could feel your pain!!
    Love your posts! And I love the details you share with all of us! Your words are such a gift!

  8. I am SO WITH YOU. The details relating to renewing my drivers license, making a doctors appointment, calling the veterinarian’s office are the bane of my existence. Ugghh!

  9. Give me the details please! I make lovely to do lists with lots of sub points and I get great satisfaction out of crossing each minute detail off!

    • that’s me, color coded too! the big picture overwhelms me. I need to break it down into parts or I freeze up and accomplish nothing.

  10. Totally get this, no details, please, they are just exhausting. Just told someone yesterday that I actually don’t even like facts!

  11. Oh, I sooooo relate to this. I am completely right-brained. All the details start to make my brain feel fuzzy, and then my head starts to spin, I get overwhelmed, start to feel panicked, and finally think, “oh, just forget it,” and attempt to bury the details until someone else deals with them.

  12. It’s like we had some sort of psychic connection with this post. I am normally totally detail oriented (hello! This is why I am a scientist.) But even I have been losing my mind this week with all the details involved in this four-year long research grant proposal. That’s four years of very specific information needed. Which is totally overwhelming and keeps sending me into panic attacks as I am forced to carefully plan out what I will be doing four years from now.

    The hilarious coincidence: it’s a research project on water use. I just had a debate with my colleagues yesterday about whether or not anyone who isn’t a farmer would be able to tell us how much water they use. The answer is clearly NO, with the exception of A and D.

  13. Melissa says:

    I am totally both. I love to have plans for projects. But, then, sometimes I get lost in the details. Woe is me. :-)

  14. Definitely details! Big picture thinking just makes me feel like I’m out there dangling on a limb. It is just so…scary!!! There is safety in the details, charts, and lists! 😉

  15. Sophie dear, we may have been separated at birth. Every year during tax time I have to leave the house for at least 24 hours and not return until I get a call that my husband is done with them. I am convinced this is the only way I can get through it. The details of it all makes me break out in hives.

  16. Cheryl L. says:

    Oh, Sophie…..I am you, my hubby is D….do we think opposites attract? Here in our household, our problem is I just accept the fact that the hubs and I are different…the hubs? even after 35 years, he thinks he can still bring me over to his way of thinking. Silly Man!!!

  17. I am a big-picture girl at heart, but often find myself doing detail-oriented tasks, usually not very well!

  18. Oh my goodness Girl, I am just like you! Those things make my brain break down! My husband ends up handling most of the menial things while I sit on the chair in the corner dreaming up the perfect world. *sigh*

  19. Jennifer S says:

    I’m with you Sophie – big picture all the way!

  20. Debra D. says:

    I started to hyperventilate just reading about THE CHART! Well played, A., by placing it on the refrigerator! The most-frequently-accessed-by-the-mother-and-unable-to-ignore-it areas in the home.

  21. Julee Rachels says:

    I love making lists and sub-categories! I love checking them off even more. I feel like I’ve accomplished so much and keeps me on track. If I’m not working off my list, I don’t know what I did that day. It just goes somewhere! I LOVE your blog and can’t wait for your new book.

  22. Nancy D says:

    It seems the older I get, the less I care about details, or more accurately, the worse I am about details. I still care about them, but am just not good at them any more. Now I’m much more interested in the WHY of things instead of the what and where and how many. I think it’s much more important spend brain cells on why we need to chart our water consumption than to actually do it.

  23. Today is the the very first time I have ever read your blog and I could have written that entire post. It is exactly my life down to the 4th grade detail-oriented boy child and husband that doesn’t even live on my same planet. Glad to know I’m not alone.

  24. You are absolutely hysterical!!! Today’s post was a classic! Love your writing!

  25. Julie in Michigan says:

    I’m a details person but not OCD about it.
    This post made me laugh out loud several times!!

  26. I would NEVER be able to report to anyone how many times I actually flush the toilet each day. No one needs to know that. What I might do is find out, by way of an Internet search, how many times per day a normal person flushes the toilet and then mark the chart accordingly.

  27. Oh my stars! I am such a big picture, enjoy the moment kind of person. It still makes me shake to think that I started all that scrap booking stuff when my only child and precious son was 8. I got page 1 done at a friends home party one night, bought a ridiculous amount of supplies, then got everything home and remained overwhelmed by all the rules and have never made it to page 2. My now even more precious son is 24. HA! At least I took pictures but the details of the books, stickers, letters, sayings, etc. just drove me over that last edge!

  28. I am a details person. But it takes all kinds. With your personality, you need to surround yourself with people who have strengths where you don’t. (It sounds like God took care of part of that for you.) Hire someone to make change at that table and you focus on being charming to all the people who show up to meet you, for instance. I can’t help you on the water usage chart.

  29. Julie Reynolds says:

    totally big picture, love to have people who are organized and detail oriented on my team for big projects so that it all gets done! Love your post about grocery shopping before 9AM yesterday Sophie! It made me feel like an over-comer just reading it!

  30. Well, you will never outdo the Boberry post but I’m telling you, this one comes mighty, mighty close. Sophie, I swear, I think the fabric you and Pioneer Woman were cut out of, just happened to overlap when I was cut out–well, except I’m so much older than you two–I didn’t know my quirky personality still existed anywhere. So glad I’m not alone!

  31. Oh I am a detail junkie… lists, charts and the whatnot are my happy place and my “big-picture” sisters make me a little crazy and often confused- but what I have learned living in community is that we really need each other. It is all to easy for me to lose sight of the big picture and make the means the end.

  32. Big picture. Details give me a rash.

  33. Oh my goodness! I am just like you! And I am also married to a wonderful Type A+ man. My type of personality leaves him living on the (literal) edge almost daily!

    Just reading this post made me all itchy and fidgety…

  34. Sandy K says:

    Before my retirement last year; for 16 years I have been a technical writer;
    In charge of all forms of graphs, charts and presentations.
    I still do my bills on a spreadsheet as do I use it for family address and phone numbers.
    You could get use to it. Really!

  35. Oh, give me the big picture. But I want it NOW! No time for details.

  36. For the most part I’d rather dream about it than do it! I love the big picture and imaging the end results and if I have to do the details I can do them, but if you give me too many details I will feel overwhelmed and accomplish nothing. Nothing. Which is why I am currently sitting at my worktable, reading blogs and leaving comments instead of organizing the papers that have been strewn on my table for two weeks plus two days. Give or take. I clearly need an intervention. This also explains why I can’t seem to shake all the pounds I have so faithfully put on over the past 30 or so years. Too many details (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.) I never really saw the point of keeping charts – I mean what am I proving and to whom? Chart keeping is only a good idea, if you are actually going to apply what you may have learned from keeping said chart. Ok…you started a little moment with me on this topic. And yes, we are still friends.

  37. I am a mesh of both. I LOVE to make lists and things, but am woefully helpless when it comes to actually completing things on the list (unless the list includes watching tv/netflix or playing Candy Crush; I *excel* (see what I did there?) at those things!).

    My most recent creation was a a color-coded list of the places we wanted to eat at during our fall break trip to Disney World. One color was for table service restaurants, and one for quick/counter service. Then I circled the meal if it was a character dining experience. I had separate lists for each park. My oldest daughter said I must have been in heaven making those lists. It was pretty close. The lists came in quite handy when we made our ADRs this week.

  38. michelle gray says:

    You are speaking my language! I always thought I had something wrong with me that I could not stand to attend to detail! Now I think ill just “own” it! Somehow I managed to raise 4 children without a single chart! They are all productive members of society by the way! Or at least on their way! Thanks for this post! By the way I LOVE your pod casts with Melaniie! Please record more. You ha e some fans in Atlanta!

  39. I used to make lists so I wouldn’t forget to do anything. Then I would feel guilty for not doing anything on the list and tear it up. Then feel guilty for that….. Now I figure if it bites me in the butt I do it. Until then, it can wait.

  40. I am at work and just read your post. I cannot stop laughing! Oh gracious, I’m going to get in trouble for day-dreaming, blog-reading and general internet perusing now.
    Oh BooMama, you amaze me. We are sisters, aren’t we? Please tell me we are sisters. I am a BIG PICTURE kind of gal, too! I love you to pieces. ♥

  41. Karen Beymer says:

    Oh please! I have never met a detail I wouldn’t rather run & hide from!
    I am a big picture gal, totally.

  42. So feel you on that water usage chart! I just stopped washing clothes until Mallory took it back to school. It was like the chart was demanding that I wash clothes, and we can’t have that!

  43. I’m a detailer who desperately needs my touchy-feely friends, which is I’m sure why I love you as I do.

  44. Oh my gosh. We are twin souls. I am currently in charge of organizing/teaching/arranging rides for non-English speakers/childcare/etc 3 levels of ESL classes at my church, and it’s total chaos most of the time. Why? Because I am seriously organizationally-challenged, plus I forget things like crazy. I figure I’ll be senile by the time I’m 70 but that’s okay–it will feel very normal to me.
    Perhaps we could start a support group? We’d all forget to show up, but we’d all understand and forgive each other.