“Perfect is the enemy of good.” – Voltaire
It feels good to wrap up a perfect project. We like our work to represent us, and so it’s natural to want to be known for flawless production. However, rarely do we measure the cost of perfection, and often that cost is surprisingly high. Is one perfect project preferable to three of four good projects? Your ego may say yes, but stakeholders will likely disagree.
Letting go of perfection will give you more time, better mood, greater flexibility, and more opportunities for growth. In many respects, accepting less than perfect will actually bring you closer to true and consistent excellence, and will significantly boost productivity. Here are five tips to help you climb out of the perfect pit and start getting more accomplished.
1. Define priorities
Indefinite priorities make is easy to spend inordinate amounts of time polishing things that don’t really contribute to the overall value of a project or product. Instead of obsessing over each and every detail, identify the aspects of a project that really drive its value and aim for excellence with those. In other words, know where it’s important to maintain high standards and where “good enough” is good enough. It’s helpful to keep the 80/20 rule in mind: 20 percent of inputs are usually responsible for 80 percent of the results. This will save you time and energy to tackle new projects, learn, and be generally more productive.
2. Remember: High standards and perfection are NOT the same thing
For high achievers, “average” is often equivalent to another person’s “very good” or “excellent.” If you have high personal standards, you’ll find yourself getting loads more accomplished if you give yourself permission to do average work (assuming your priorities are right – see above). Plus, imperfections open you valuable lessons from feedback on how to do things even better next time. Take time to reflect on which of your standards are high, and which are impossibly high. The latter is an obstacle to achievement, not a driver.
3. Don’t be afraid of negative feedback
Business, production, and innovation move faster today than ever before. In many cases, if you’ve spent time agonizing over the perfect touches to a product or project prior to launch, you’ll hit the market too late. Instead of aiming for perfection the first time around, shoot for “good enough” based on your priorities, and then make improvements based on feedback. This is known as “rapid iteration,” and successful designers are finding that peer and market feedback gets them closer to perfection much faster than they could have on their own. On a smaller scale, the same can hold true of bringing a good but imperfect project to a colleague or supervisor for feedback. Most people are flattered by requests for advice, and negative feedback used constructively is a rapid route toward improvement.
4. Just get started already!
Don’t let waiting for the perfect idea keep you from ever starting in the first place. Aiming for perfection frequently leads to dithering, and so instead of waiting for the perfect idea, just get started with something – anything. If that perfect idea comes to you later, great. If not, you still have something you can work with. And once you start, keep vigilant for the point where rework and improvements no longer produce significant benefits. Good on time is practically always better than perfect way behind schedule.
5. Set and stick with deadlines
Flexibility isn’t a bad thing, but deadlines that are too flexible can lead to unproductive deferrals in the pursuit of unattainable perfection. With every deadline extension, you’re losing time that’s probably better spent on new projects and learning new skills. In fact, it’s worth considering a move in the opposite direction: set fake deadlines. Setting fake deadlines prior to real deadlines will help you clarify priorities and standards, and eliminate unproductive time spent searching (or waiting) for the perfect idea or solution.