Why I’d Rather Not Be Perfect
You’ve probably heard that good is the enemy of great. It’s true, but there’s a flip side to that. Perfect is the enemy of great too.
If you’re like me, you like to get things just right. I’ll take a task and try to complete it to perfection. If it isn’t quite perfect, but I don’t know how to make it better, I’ll go out and find a book or a course to teach me how to perfect it.
In the end, perhaps we get this tiny task done just right. But we neglect important tasks that not only don’t get completed perfectly, but they don’t get completed at all. Perfectionism is a form of procrastination, and it has caused me to put off a lot of important things.
If you feel yourself being pulled toward perfectionism, take a few things into account.
- Perfectionism is task focused, not goal focused. If you ask me at any given moment what I’m doing, I will likely to respond in task oriented or behavior oriented terms. I’m sitting at the computer. I’m writing a blog. I’m trying to correct typos. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. The best answer might be, “I’m encouraging people to give up on perfection and focus on excellence.” Put that way, it puts my tasks in perspective. Yes, I need to publish the blog. Yes, I need to find the typos. But if I spend all of my time on only those tasks, and even if I complete them perfectly, I won’t reach my goal. If I don’t have time left to post my article to social media, or to respond to questions about the subject, I’m not helping anyone. I’m selfishly focusing on my tasks and abandoning my goal.
- Iterate, iterate, iterate. We are often awed by those who only had one shot, took it, and made it. But this isn’t reflective of reality. Overnight successes are often years or decades in the making. Huge empires of achievement are built on mountains of failure. That isn’t to say you should try to fail, but to try and accept failure. You’ll get another chance. So get your idea, blog, book, song, or product out the door. And if it’s release reveal flaws, then go back, make changes and try again. Even when you finally break through, your final product won’t be perfect.
- The 80% Rule. Something which has worked well with my work for one of my clients is our 80% rule. If one of us has a task which has been completed, but not polished all the way we ask “Is this 80% of the way there?” Now, we’re talking about a completed task here. You don’t just abandon tasks at the 80% mark. But is it 80% of the way to perfectly polished? If it is, we stop and move on to something else. If it’s a team project, we hand it off to the next person. If it needs to be changed, added to, or improved, they’ll let you know. In the mean time, you can spend your time doing something which advances your goals, not tasks. Put off perfection. Ask yourself, is there something more worthy of your time, right now?
- The Catastrophe Question. As I look at the publish button, ready to publish this post it fills me with dread. I’m not finished! This post could be so much better. Perhaps I could include a better personal anecdote, or come up with a better title. But then I have to ask myself this question, “If I finish this task, and do nothing more, will it lead to catastrophe?” The obvious answer is no. I’ll have a less than perfect blog post on my site, which after a few weeks won’t even be on the front page. If the answer is yes, failing to improve what you are working on now will lead to a legitimate catastrophe, then it isn’t perfectionism. Otherwise, it’s best to have a bias towards action. Do it, finish it, ship it, and start on something new.
As my father always says, “Favor action over endless contemplation.”
For someone who struggles with perfectionism, I’m so far from perfect it isn’t funny. From now on, my goal is to reach for excellence, not perfection.
Are you a recovering perfectionist? If so, let me know in the comments. And let me know how you’ve been able to overcome it.