When Good is Good Enough: Five Situations When Perfection Is Counterproductive

Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.— Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Author of The Little Prince

Ever heard the term “Good enough for government work?” I heard that a lot growing up in a military family. Despite how it may sound, it’s neither a low-bidder type of comment, nor an excuse for poor work: It just means you’ve done the work to the required specifications and can move on. This is crucial when you’ve got a lot of non-critical tasks on your plate. There really are times when good enough is good enough—when perfection just gets in your way. You don’t always have to do a job perfectly!

In this blog, we’ll consider a few common cases where perfection is a waste of time and becomes the enemy of good. You don’t want to waste time fixing something you did wrong in the first place, of course; but if you stay mindful, you can do the job properly and well enough the first time—stat. Good enough is good enough when:

1. You have limited time to launch. When you care about your job, you want to do the best you possibly can. The urge to prove yourself never really ends, and even when you have proven yourself, you know the old story: those who do the best work get rewarded with more work. But you rarely have all the time we need to get all your ducks perfectly in a row, so sometimes the best you can do is to lay out the timeline, split the work up in chunks, launch the pieces when they’re good enough, and put it all back together when you’re done. You can then fix problems on the fly, or patch the product as you go. Microsoft, one of the biggest corporations in the world, works this way all the time.

2. You’re overwhelmed. Do you work for a manager who insists all projects share top billing and refuses to prioritize? If so, you have no choice but to pick one thing and work on it until you’ve completed as much and as best as you can. If he or she continues to push you to get everything out at once, adopt the “good enough is good enough” mantra so you can release pieces as you complete them, rather than trying to perfect them. That way you can move on to the next project and circle back again to the other later to make headway on another piece.

Side note: If you’re having frequent trouble with completing important tasks, it may be because you’re giving too much weight to less important tasks! In this video, I discuss one way many of us decide what to do, and why it’s not productive – Video: Prioritizing Your Lists.

3. You’re waiting on information. As leaders, we don’t always have the complete picture and total information. When you’re “waiting on input” from others, use the “presumptive close” technique: if I don’t hear from you by (x), I’m going to do (y), on (z). Think of high-priority items like hot potatoes that need to get off your plate, rather than waiting while several days go by. Even if a high-level decision hasn’t been completely resolved, you can do your piece of it and put it back in front of the responsible people for reaction. As you move up in leadership responsibility, decisive action doesn’t allow time for perfectionism, since you must advise others instead of waiting in a passive role. That way, your part is done, but others can hammer out the politics between them and get back to you should any changes be required.

4. You need a ballpark estimate. Sometimes you only need a guestimate, not a perfect cost analysis. It is $100K or $1M? I once worked with a VP who asked one of her employees for an off-the-cuff cost estimate to cite in an upcoming speech—but failed to tell the employee it wasn’t that important for the number to be exactly correct. Ten grueling hours later, her employee produced a tight, tidy cost estimate. Because neither bothered to clarify the task, that simple estimate cost an unreasonable amount and took more than a day’s opportunity and salary cost for the employee.

5. When it takes more and more energy to achieve smaller gains. You’ve heard of the law of diminishing returns. If you find it’s taking you just as long as before to achieve only 50% of your previous gains, or 10%, or 1%, you’ve hit diminishing returns. It’s not worth the investment anymore. Sometimes getting something from 90 to 100% takes just as long as getting it from 0 to 90%.

Noble, Not Stupid

It may be noble to have high ambitions, and sure, you want to strive for perfection. But generally, good enough really is good enough, MOST of the time. As a mere human, perfection is rarely attainable; and the fact is, your end users may think what you’ve got is perfect anyway, or at least highly admirable. Thus, when you have no choice but to move on due to time constraints, or you’ve done the very best you can without going to absurd lengths, call it project done and get it out the door. The harsh reality is that you may never feel completely happy with anything you complete—but you can feel satisfied, especially in the knowledge that the people you did it for are happy.

© 2017 Laura Stack.


About Laura Stack, your next keynote speaker:

Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on productivity and performance. Funny, engaging, and full of real life strategies that work, Laura will change mindsets and attitudes so your people can maximize productivity, strengthen performance, and get the job done right. Her presentations at corporate events, sales kick-off meetings, and association conferences help audiences improve output, increase speed in execution, and save time in the office. Stack has authored seven books, including her newest work, Doing the Right Things Right: How the Effective Executive Spends Time (Jan. 2016). To have Laura Stack speak at your next event, call 303-471-7401, email [email protected]com, or CONTACT US.

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