Tips for big-picture thinking

Big picture thinking

A typical day for an accountant can be filled with endless small tasks. Those at the beginning of their career, in particular, can spend hours making their way through seemingly meaningless admin, sifting through email, and crunching numbers. It can be easy to get buried amongst a mountain of to-do items and feel as if no worthwhile progress is actually being made.

But an understanding of where everything fits into the bigger scheme of things is essential if you want to advance your career. Not only will this keep you motivated, but this ability to pay attention to all your firm's angles is a quality evident in the best leaders and managers.

If you're a partner of your firm you probably already see that every task contributes towards a much bigger beast. But you must remember not all your staff are in the habit of continually considering the bigger picture.

Often you could feel that personally you’re not really getting far but knowing that what you’re doing is benefitting the firm is reassuring.

Jack Oates, Thomas Noble & Russell

These strategies will help you or your team to see a broad view of your accounting firm’s goals, and understand where individual tasks contribute toward them.

Ask yourself what the client wants

If you’re playing a small part in a client relationship, think about what that client wants. Don't just consider the tasks that have been allocated to you, think about every action that needs to happen across the team to leave that client satisfied with your firm. You'll see that most of these tasks link together—relying on the successful completion of others to be worth anything. 

Taking a step back will give you a greater understanding that your own tasks, no matter how small, will impact this client relationship far beyond the outcome of that individual task itself.

Break down your goals

Try breaking the big goals of your firm into smaller ones that are relevant to you personally. To begin, look at your accounting firm’s values. One may be along the lines of delivering outstanding service to clients at all times. Even if you don’t often speak to clients directly, this is something that can still apply to you. How consistently you meet deadlines, personably respond to emails and maintain a keen eye for detail will all impact the overall ability of your firm to provide this great client service.

Using this example you can apply measurable personal goals that relate to all the overall aims of your firm. You’ll soon realize that many of your tasks are vital pieces of a much bigger puzzle.

Take time to think

It’s amazing how often we put our heads down without ever taking a step back to think about what we’re working on and why. Fight the habit of methodically working through your to-do list without considering where everything fits in. You might find it useful to block out some time in your calendar once a week for this.

During this time think about what you’ve completed over the past week, and what you need to complete the next week (hint: if you use Karbon, your To-do list will show you this). Look at the bigger jobs going on in your firm and the more profitable clients. You’ll soon see how many of your tasks relate to these ‘bigger items’ in some way. 

Looking back beyond the previous week will also pay dividends. Something as simple as a tax return you completed may have been what convinced a seasonal client to engage your accounting firm for ongoing work.


To fully understand the big picture of your accounting firm you need to be chatting with your colleagues. Find one you feel comfortable bouncing ideas off, and explore with them the wider goals of the firm. The best ideas often stem from a conversation, so it’s important you have someone in your team you can do this with on a regular basis. 

Your buddy doesn’t need to be someone in a similar role or at the same level as you. In fact, it may be better if they’re not, as you will both gain a greater appreciation for how other parts of the team operate and work. If your team has a mentoring program, these are great points to touch on with your mentor or mentee.

Thinking big-picture takes deliberate effort. It is not a natural viewpoint for accounting grinders who don’t often see the big outcomes right in front of them. But understanding this is extremely important and necessary as you progress through the early stage of your career. Implementing these strategies will equip you with a greater understanding of where you fit in, not to mention a sense of pride for the impact you are making.


If you’d like to learn how millennials are changing the face of the accounting industry, what this means for your firm, and how you can capitalize on it, download Accounting for the generational shift for free.