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Getting to Good Enough

Getting to Good Enough
Good Enough

Do you strive for perfection? Do you spend hours obsessing over the tiniest details of your life until they’re exactly right? Do you feel uncomfortable when everything in your life isn’t “just so”? Are you prepared for every eventuality, even the most unlikely?

In short, are you a perfectionist?

There are times when perfection is called for, of course, but allow me to suggest to you that most of the time, “good enough” will do. There’s a point where it takes more and more energy to achieve smaller and smaller gains — where you’re putting in as much effort as you’ve spent on a project so far to get a tiny 1% or 2% improvement.

It can be hard to accept imperfections, though. We all want to shine, and often feel that we won’t be recognized unless our work is absolutely flawless. Yet there are plenty of examples where this isn’t the case. Walt Whitman felt that his book Leaves of Grass, the book that established his place in the American literature canon, was never quite right, and re-issued revised editions throughout his life. Countless authors have complained about their early work — some claim they can’t even bear to read the works that launched them to national attention! The sciences are based on the premise that you publish as soon as your work is “good enough” — and let the rest of the science world try to perfect it.

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And yet we struggle. We concede a lot when we aim for less than perfection. Here are a few ways to get over these blocks and get your work, whatever it is, out into the world.

Planning

As with everything else, getting to “good enough” starts with planning. Start with your objective: You may have an image in your head of what a perfect outcome would look like, but what does a an outcome you can live with look like? Begin your planning with an outcome in mind that’s good enough to get the job done.

It might be helpful to compare your perfect outcome and your good enough outcome. What’s different in how you achieve each? Consider, for example, the desire to write a book. Of course, we all want to write a best-seller, to sell millions of copies and go on Oprah and with the Nobel Prize for Literature. That’s perfect! But maybe selling a few thousand copies, winning a couple of honorable mentions, and building a strong platform for the next book is good enough to be worth your time and effort. Some of the steps you need to reach either outcome are the same: getting a publisher, choosing a topic, marketing your book, making appearances, getting your book reviewed, and so on. But that perfect outcome is going to require you to take a lot of other steps, many of which are somewhat unrealistic (like getting nominated for a Nobel Prize). Planning can help you identify steps that are unrealistic given the nature of your product, your other obligations, your financial status, and the way the world works.

Second, set benchmarks for your project that are good enough to move on. If you’re launching a business, maybe you’d like to have a thousand clients, but for now, getting the first 10 is good enough — it gives you something to work with. Again, by making clear benchmarks, and determining what you have to do to achieve them, you’ll be able to identify some that are entirely unreasonable — tone those down to a doable level.

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At any step, of course, you can always go beyond “good enough” towards “perfect” — but focus first and foremost on building the necessary foundation.

Confidence

Often, our push towards perfection is not driven by a desire to do our best but by a fear that our work — and our self — isn’t good enough. Since we lack basic confidence in our ability to make something worthwhile, we invest more and more energy into our projects trying to push them just a little bit further.

Confidence can be a tricky thing; just saying “be more confident” probably won’t solve all your problems. Building self-confidence is really a life journey, not a quick fix.

That said, there are steps you can take to build up your confidence level.

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  • Catalog your successes, no matter how small.
  • Set yourself up for successes by planning achievable benchmarks and goals (as above).
  • Make a list of your strengths. Be honest — there are probably more than you think!
  • Make a list of your weaknesses, and focus on improving them. Again, be honest — there are probably less than you think.
  • Discuss your weaknesses with your loved ones. They probably have a different perspective!
  • Give yourself explicit permission to fail at something. Don’t make your self-worth contingent on constant success.

Make perfect mistakes

One reason people become perfectionists is that they’re afraid of making even the smallest mistakes — which is, ultimately, self-defeating. Mistakes are the stuff of personal growth, and making the right mistakes can help you build a firmer foundation for any project. Embrace mistakes as part of the process of getting to good enough.

Embracing mistakes means more than just accepting them, though. The point isn’t to make the same mistake over and over but to analyze and learn from each mistake. Sometimes they’ll come as a result of your personal weaknesses, but not usually. More often mistakes are the result of unknown external factors and planning with insufficient information. Perfectionism doesn’t correct for those things — it avoids them by keeping your project locked inside your head and away from the messy real world.

Putting your best foot forward

The problem with perfectionism is that, ironically, it keeps you from putting your best work into the world. Even worse, it keeps your work from being as good as it can possibly be. Why? Because in the effort to make your work better-than-human, it becomes less-than-human. All the human imperfections that make it yours are squeezed out of it.

To err is human, they say. Those human imperfections add character, your character. I think of The Replacements, a band that Rolling Stone once featured on its cover with the caption “The Greatest Rock and Roll Band of All Time”. If you’ve ever heard them, you know that at their best, they were sloppy (often sloppy drunk), ragged, unpolished — their early songs always sound just on the verge of falling apart completely. Instead, they fell together, bringing an energy and vitality to music that had been stripped clean, over the course of the early MTV years, of all its appeal.

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There’s a difference between good enough and half-assed. There was nothing half-assed about The Replacements — they embraced their calling and made great music. A lot of the advice out there for perfectionists says to “settle for 80%, 60%, or less” — their hearts are in the right place, but getting to good enough isn’t about settling, it’s about achieving greatness. Perfectionism isn’t a problem because it does too much, it’s a problem because in trying to do too much it causes us to do nothing at all.

You can’t “settle” for a half-assed job when your reputation, income, and possibly the well-being of your customers, audience, or clients are on the line. But the fact is you can avoid perfectionism and still create work that is good enough — that does what it’s supposed to do reliably. Good planning, confidence in yourself, learning from your mistakes — these are the elements of a job done well enough; unrealistic planning, a lack of confidence, and avoiding mistakes are the hallmarks of both perfectionism and half-assed work.

Go figure!

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The Gentle Art of Saying No

The Gentle Art of Saying No

No!

It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

  1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
  2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
  3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
  4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
  5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
  6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
  7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
  8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
  9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
  10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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