Ms ZiYou Sunflowers

Perfect is the enemy of getting things done

It may be a cliche, but lately, I’ve been finding it is true in my own life.

I’ve been allowing my flaw of perfectionism to stall my life. And lately, it’s stopping me getting things done.

I like perfect

I tend towards Type A. Giving my all is normal. Working on tasks, refining them and making the best I can is just the way I am wired.

I love doing my best. I don’t feel good if I only put in a mediocre effort. If I can spend a bit more time on something and make it better, I will. I am not saying here that I work oodles of hours, nowadays I rarely work more than 7 hours a day. But those 7 hours can be pure focused work.

As I’ve got older I have realised that for a lot of things my good is many levels above other peoples. And consequently my perfect is more than most people need. Over the years as I’ve worked in many different places with a variety of people this has become clear.

On the other hand, I sometimes I miss things others care about and concentrate on the wrong bits. And this is something I’ve become more and more aware of. Working in high performing organisations they expect perfection. But working in more mediocre places perfectionism becomes a problem and displaying those characteristics means you don’t blend in.

I also like getting things done

Ms ZiYou Art

Getting sh*t done is one of my major strengths and I abso

lutely love completing tasks and crossing them off my list. Inbox zero is a regular occurrence around here – and I use my inbox to store tasks and reminders.

In the working world, especially as I work freelance, getting things done matters. When people are paying a high day rate for your services, they want you to be able to get things done quickly.

But Perfect is not correlated to getting things done

Ms ZiYou Daffodill

Making things perfect means everything does not get done.

As an example, In my current job, I completed in 2 weeks myself what a team of 2 had been trying to do for 6 months. As I reflect on how I managed this task so simply, and the previous people failed – the answer was perfection. They were trying to take into account every single possibility. And that complexity confused them.

Moreover, one of the things they failed to do was to framework the problem and check the understanding with the client. And they struggled thinking conceptually of what sort of creative solution would work. I came in and was able to understand the issue and create a framework immediately. Then within a few days, I had identified the pinch points and presented a solution to the clients, with the known limitations clearly laid out.

This was a clear example where perfectionism failed but a simpler solution agreeing and accepting known issues was preferable. Not to mention why I am comfortable getting paid well.

Cultural expectations differ

And again, the norm between high performing and mediocre workplaces varies widely here. High performing places always ensure that everything is done to the best of their ability, and they check with the recipient that it is all perfect. And are more than happy to make changes and tweaks afterwards as required.

However other places that I’ve worked for have displayed different characteristics. Where people need constant monitoring and supervision to complete work. And any sort of road bump or decision needed tends to lead to the work being shelved. Moreover, people in this sort of environment can also struggle to articulate the issues and explain why they have downed tools.

Ease off on the perfection

Ms ZiYou - Orchard


But lately, I’ve been feeling the I’m tending too much towards perfectionism myself and missing out on getting things done.

As an example – I love all the pics on this post, but they are all not perfect in some way. For example, see all the deadheads in the sunflower field? And then this orchard pic looks awesome. Except, the hoses. They are not symmetrical, and I feel they ruin the picture.

I need to stop myself from refining and polishing things and just get them finished. What springs to mind lately is blog posts; ideas are easy for me, but then when the words don’t sound right or convey the message in the way I imagined I double down. And probably spend far too much time on work that really isn’t adding any value.

Another place I’ve found this is podcasting. I love making the podcast, but I am far from a natural. Editing is great fun yet also very, very time-consuming. I want to make myself and guests sound like smooth talkers who don’t um and er. But that takes time. And possibly ends up with an unnatural sound in the end.

I’m also starting to slack on my Chinese, as I feel I’m not good enough. After a break, I am now realising perfect is overrated and it’s ok that I can’t hear certain sounds yet and my pronunciation is dire. I need to concentrate on getting it done and practising every day, rather then getting disheartened if it’s not perfect.

Perfect is not always your friend

I do believe perfect is the enemy of getting things done. And the truly successful can always identify the correct response for each situation; sometimes perfection is needed, other times things just need to get done. It’s a skill that I really value in others, and that brings a lot to the table.

So now I need to rework my balance between perfect and getting things done. Life is a series of many decisions we make on a daily basis – and I want to make them quickly and easily to give me an easy life.  While I already apply this in many areas of my life – hello cleaning, my home is where the minimum viable housekeeping has been performed for years. And my sense of dress and unwillingness to pay the beauty tax and wear makeup is so far from perfectionism. But maybe I’ve evolved to give less f*cks in these areas?

And now I need to evaluate life more. And make sure I am making the right decisions and hitting the right balance for me.

Over to you

  • What are your thoughts?
  • Do you have a perfectionist streak?
  • Do you like getting things done?
  • Should I ease up on the perfect?
  • Do you feel you have the right balance?

Thank you for reading – please leave a comment below and join in the conversation. You can also connect on Twitter or contact me privately.

13 comments on “Perfect is the enemy of getting things done

  1. For similar reasons to what I think you’re outlining, I left perfection behind quite some time ago. I don’t know if you’ve come across the 80/20 rule, but it was responsible for something of an epiphany in me. It’s particularly relevant in my current work which requires a lot of discovery, experimentation and optimisation. Tirelessly making something perfect only to realise it’s wrong – is just plain wrong.

    Good enough can be perfect when it comes to impact and innovation. It isn’t necessarily correlated with drive either.

    I have mixed feelings about getting things done. Some things should just not be done and I hate busyness as it suggests someone lacks self awareness of where they can make the most difference/improve things. Sometimes shifting yourself into a diffuse mindset can result in novel and massively time saving solutions to problems. It’s difficult to do that if you’re busy getting through a list of stuff.

    1. Hi Greencat – thanks for commenting.

      Yes, I do believe most things in life follow the pareto principle – I generally avoid busywork and low value tasks -they just aren’t worth it.

  2. I think there is “how good is ‘good enough’?” scale that needs to be applied.

    At one end of the spectrum is the quick & dirty, gets the job done but leaves us with a sinking feeling when we stand back and admire the work. All those duct tape repairs you see on budget airlines would be a good example.

    At the other end of the spectrum is the true artisan quality perfection. Takes way too long, costs far too much, but leaves us with a feeling of “wow!”. The Sagrada Família is a great example here, stunningly beautiful but after 130+ years as a work-in-progress it still remains unfinished.

    The key is balancing quality against productivity, or to misquote Paula Pant “you can do anything, but you can’t do everything”. For each task determine how much time investment it is worth, and get it done within that. I’m a believer in always doing our best work… within the realistic timescales determined by a quick cost/benefit analysis.

    Mo Selim did a great short video that illustrated this trade off well.

    1. Hi indeedably – that is indeed an absolutely amazing video – a cool demonstration!

      Duct tape on airplanes? Now that is scary – I thought even Mr Ryanair paid out for safety?

      And yes, the beauty of the Sagrada Família is a bit lost of me…..feels like overkill!

  3. My wife is like that. She wants things done right and spends too much time on them. I’m the opposite. I’m more of a “good enough” guy. Let’s just get it done and move on to the next task. Our standards are different.
    I wonder if it’s a guy/girl thing.

  4. Wow! This all speaks to me in so many ways. I have a type A perfectionist streak like crazy. Though it can be one of my biggest strengths, it has equally been a problem.

    So much yes to the “cultural” issues in a work place. In my last workplace, the one that effectively fired me for saying that since things are not improving, I’ll have to look into other options, they were a small company flying by the seat of their pants. They had little to no policies and procedures and did not appreciate my efforts to solidify P&P’s, even just in the particular location I was managing. Frankly, I think they like not having anything written down so that if something is done wrong, they can just blame an individual vs. lack of company direction. They also thought I expected too much of employees… (call me crazy, but eating your lunch on work time and smoking on your whole lunch break and not sitting in front of your computer typing prescriptions with a bowl of soup or surfing local obituaries when you have a line of customers waiting doesn’t seem to be unreasonable expectations… but… mess with the status quo). My high performing perfectionist style didn’t jive with the mom and pop, low expectation, lackadaisical company culture.

    In my personal life, or, independent business person life, I find that I rarely, ever, pursue ideas because they won’t be perfect to start. How can I offer ideas for services to people when they won’t be great from the beginning? I’m afraid to offer something that isn’t fully up to my standards, even if I don’t even know exactly what that finished product would look like. It often holds me back.

    Even cleaning the house I often get distracted: I meant to “mop” the floors with a rag the other day but ended up having to hand scrub the floorboards and then use a pot scraper to clean up the collected dog saliva where my insane dog licks the floor and then it dries (the most disgusting home cleaning area I have identified to date, btw).

    It also gives me anxiety in areas such as selecting financial direction. Decision overwhelm and making the right decision make me put off a lot of things a lot longer than I should.

    Looking for a new job right now, my perfectionism also intensifies my imposter syndrome as I don’t feel qualified for much of anything outside of my particular area of job expertise, even though in reality I know I could pick most things up with a little bit of training.

    Anyways, I wish I wasn’t such a perfectionist. There is a lot of good in it, but, it definitely causes me stress and anxiety. I’m working on it, learning to let go some, like at work, though honestly I’m not sure I’m not just getting beat down finally.

    I just tell myself outloud sometimes, “that’s good enough.”

    1. Hi ThatFrugalPharmacist – great to see a fellow perfectionist here.

      You’d hate to see my office at lunchtime them – everyone eating at desks and surfing. But I don’t think we have any obituary readers, but you never know!

      And yuck on the dog saliva. Just yuck.

      I’m with you in trying to be good enough in future 🙂

      1. I don’t mind eating at your desk for a DESK job. But it shouldn’t be done at the pharmacy counter by people who get a lunch (unlike the pharmacists who often don’t), while you’re counting peoples pills, and there is a line of people waiting. Ugh! the obituary reader tried to justify it as “needing to know if any of our customers have died so no one tries to pick up their meds”. Way to go above and beyond for the first time ever there… yeah sure.

  5. I get where you’re coming from, Ms ZiYou.

    Moving from a highly regulated industry to one not so regulated, I’ve had to ‘dial down’ some of the ‘perfection’ characteristics I developed at my previous company. The culture here is very different, corners still get cut (when they can be without being illegal), the staff are less experienced and less ‘invested’ in the business and I noticed fairly quickly that if I didn’t change, I would be seen as a ‘problem’ and none of my colleagues would like working with me! It’s not ideal, I have to bite my tongue sometimes and hold back – the main thing is that I don’t want to let my own standards and integrity drop so it’s a case of managing people and my responses to them!

    In comparison, at home, I’m very much a ‘good enough’ type of person, which drives my family mad and which may be why I’m generally content with my lot!

    1. Thanks for sharing your experiences weenie – that sounds hard having to adjust your automatic standards down to meet everyone else’s. And yes – some workplaces are just more invested in doing things perfectly than others are.

      I’m very much a good enough person in some respects too – and I’m sure it doesn’t really drive your family mad.

What do you think?