paul le

Perfect is the Enemy of Good

Once you overcome the initial hurdle of starting a project, there is another obstacle that lies in the way, that makes it difficult for you to complete your project. That is the obstacle of perfectionism, also known as analysis paralysis.

This is characterized primarily by procrastination - spending too much time planning and waiting for perfect conditions, as opposed to actually doing the work and making any significant progress on your project. More importantly, it prevents you from even completing what you had started.

The root cause of this kind of procrastination (different from the kind where you just don’t want to do the work - that is a different issue) is striving to achieve perfection. Often, you procrastinate because you don’t think you can produce anything that is good at the moment, so you wait a little longer for perfect conditions so that you can produce something good.

This is a difficult trap to get out of.

How do you avoid the trap, or get out of it once you are stuck in it? Similar to starting something completely new, just starting whatever it is you must start, no matter how bad it ends up being, is often enough.

The truth of this is evident in how people often suddenly become productive when a hard deadline approaches, and their expectations of the quality of their output drops. The work that results, although it may not be perfect, is often good enough. In some cases, it may be great work.

Another related hurdle to overcome is actually finishing your endeavor. A lot of time can be wasted in trying to perfect your work, despite minimal change to the final product. After a certain point, you begin to receive diminishing returns, whereby the amount of time you spend in order to incrementally increase the quality of your work rises exponentially.

There is a lot of value in paying attention to detail, but in reality, nothing in truly perfect. Sometimes, all you end up doing is wasting a lot of time. A good rule of thumb is that as long as your completed work is at a 8/10 level, you can consider it finished, and start on your next project.

Although ideally, we would all like to be able to produce perfect work, in the end nothing will ever truly be perfect to us. Only things that have been completed will have impact, even if it is only “just good”.

October 9th, 2018