I’ve never liked the trite phrase “don’t sweat the little things.” I have no argument with the general idea that you should spend most of your time on the large, important things. But I reject the implication that the little things aren’t important and not worth spending time on. It offends my passion for detail and belief that details are important. More importantly and more defensible is the idea that “little” is relative; what is little to one person is large to another.
Let me offer an example.
One of the projects at my research shop, the Law School Survey of Student Engagement (LSSSE), focuses on law schools and law students in the U.S. and Canada. I don’t have any formal responsibility beyond general collegiality and professionalism to work with the project and its staff. However, I work on LSSSE projects when they need assistance and my schedule permits because (a) the work they do is important and interesting and (b) I love working with the LSSSE staff. A few months ago, the LSSSE folks needed some help preparing their latest Annual Results and I was very happy to help. They surprised me a few weeks ago by letting me know that in return for my assistance they gave me “top billing” in the Annual Results by including me in the LSSSE staff listing on page 1 of the report.
In many ways, this was literally a little thing. It costs the LSSSE staff virtually nothing to do this. It’s less than half a line of text that few people will ever read (even if you’re interested enough to read the LSSSE Annual Report I doubt that you’ll read through the staff listing, too!). And it only took them a few second to include my name in the document.
But to me, it’s not so little. How wonderful that the LSSSE staff thought enough of me to claim me as one of their own! What a kind and unexpected gesture of thanks!
That is why I think it’s important to spend a little bit of time “sweat[ing] the small stuff:” You never really know what is small. So spend some time working on the little things because they may unexpectedly grow into big things.