Perfection is the Enemy of Done

I don’t know who originally coined this phrase, but I heard it for the first time today from one of my coworkers. It stuck with me for the remainder of the day.

How many times do we get stalled, sidetracked, or defeated because of a need for perfection? I know I do. On one hand, I’m a “Type A” personality who likes to get things done. On the other hand, I’m a perfectionist. If something is going to be done with my name attached, it needs to be the best of which I’m capable. It’s quite a dichotomy.

At work, my analysis and storyboards need to be thorough enough to give the client a picture of what the training will be, detailed enough for the development team to put it together, and have a flow that is easy for a learner to follow. I’m working on something now that I’ve written and reorganized several times. Every time I look at it, I find something I want to change. If I want to make it perfect for others, it needs to be perfect for me. At some point, I’ll get tired of reworking it and simply want to get it done.

When I was a dog groomer, I had a hard time thinking a dog was ‘done’. There was always a stray hair, wonky curl, or some part needing “just a little more” attention.

When I clean house, I may set out to simply vacuum and wash the floors, and find myself washing baseboards, door frames, and windows.

Many years ago, when stuck in yet another rut because I couldn’t get something as perfect as I wanted it, someone said to me, “Sharon, you have to realize your 80% is someone else’s 100%.” Yeah, but…

It’s one thing to hear and another to put it into practice. I am driven to always produce, what I perceive to be, my best work. Imagine how it felt when one workplace started to use agile methodology. I had to learn the concept of “good enough” and get things out the door quickly so it could be tried and reiterated upon. It was uncomfortable…at first.

It didn’t take long before I started to see things didn’t have to be perfect. In fact, perfection impeded progress. Clients preferred regular updates and offering feedback during development, rather than waiting to see a finished product at the end. It made them feel part of the process and it helped us, ultimately, produce a near-perfect product.

I groomed a dog just last night and didn’t think I was finished after two hours of work. The owner, however, loved how much better her dog looked and walked away happy. If I’d wanted it to be perfect, I may still be grooming it – he was 190 pounds of dog!

When I competed in my first CrossFit Open, I knew I was not (in any way, shape or form) close to perfection for many of the movements. There were some I couldn’t do at all. Yet, perfection wasn’t the goal. Getting it done was. Being able to say I did it, for the first time at 50 years old, was enough for me. If I’d waited for perfection…well, I simply wouldn’t live long enough!

Think about your own life. When is “done” enough? What things need to be “perfect”? Is it realistic to want to achieve perfection? If so, at what cost?

When is perfection the enemy of done?

%d bloggers like this: