How Perfect Must You Be?

I wish I was perfect in many things: in my writing, in my coaching, in my personal life. I’m often good, sometimes great, and sometimes a disaster. I can only be a disaster if I’m willing to try an experiment. That means I try to live Voltaire’s quote:

The perfect is the enemy of the good.

When we seek perfection, we too often don’t release our work. We try to make our work better and better, often to diminishing returns.

I manage this perfection problem several ways:

  1. By working on small chunks and finishing them.
  2. By calling things possibilities and experiments so I can try something and get some feedback before investing too much time or energy.
  3. Use the 80/20 rule to determine how much more to perfect this work product.
  4. By understanding and breaking my perfection rules.

Here’s how I do this:

I work in 15-minute chunks for almost everything. Some pieces of my work take longer, so I make them as short as I can before assessing how good they are. For example, I often find that finishing a video for my teachable workshops takes closer to 20-25 minutes, even though I try to keep the videos to 5-6 minutes. I certainly write in 15-minute chunks.

That means I have a choice after 15 minutes: do I want to work on this thing more by adding to it, finishing this chunk, or go on to something else? I have options. For these blog posts, I often realize I need to tidy the post (put things in the right order for flow, and possibly create more transition sentences). Then, I can call it done and proceed to some other work.

For my books, I often realize that “finishing” isn’t worth it, certainly not now—it’s much more useful to write more in another small period of time. Too often, I find that that “finishing” a piece in the middle of a chapter isn’t worth the time I would spend on it.

Because these things are done enough, I can ask for feedback before I invest any more time or energy before I “finish.” I can ask people for feedback, and possibly collect some data about the idea or writing or talk before I do any more work.

The 80/20 rule says that 80% of the value I deliver arises from 20% of my work. Is it worth getting to perfection? I will certainly have diminishing returns the more I perfect something. I do want to finish my work, but how much more will it take to finish?

Sometimes, my perfection rules are the most difficult to change. I use the ideas in What Are Your Rules for Getting It All Done? and transform my rules.

Imperfection allows me to progress and finish my work.

That is the question this week: How perfect must you be?

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