There is a dangerous mantra for doing good work:
Ready, Ready, Aim…
Keep aiming until every detail is in place and then — aim again.
It’s agonizing to grind through your work, making sure every detail is perfect. But it’s not only agonizing; it’s actually an inefficient way to work.
The problem with working to perfection is that it causes stress that limits your productivity. You need to get the work done, it needs to be done well — but your focus on getting it perfect causes your anxiety to increase. How can you get the work done quickly…and do it well?
I wondered about this as I watched friends finish 80,000 word manuscripts in weeks, while I kept slamming my head against a desk hoping to get a few paragraphs out for my thesis.
It’s a frustrating feeling, but the solution is simple:
Stop Striving for Perfection on the First Round
It’s much easier — and less stressful — to get the work done once and go back to refine it later.
There is a feeling of freedom when you let go of making your work perfect and strive instead to simply finish it. And the work gets easier every time you commit to just finishing.
When I stopped agonizing over making my work perfect, I began to write my thesis paragraphs at a time instead of one word at a time. I was happy as hell because the work was actually getting done! This ethic also carried over into other parts of my life and I found myself finishing a tremendous amount of items on my to-do list.
My fiancée recently started a new position where she took over for a co-worker who was constantly stressed and did a tremendous amount of overtime. Two days into the job, she learned that this co-worker double-checked every detail as she did it. No wonder she always left the office stressed: she was doing double the work on every task.
These revelations helped me to commit to a new mantra:
Ready, Fire, Aim.
Now, my work schedule looks something like this:
- Establish Objective or Goal of the Project
- Work Until Objective is Met
- Make Necessary Adjustments
Let your work sit, and then come back to it after your brain has had time to refresh. You’ll see mistakes (probably plenty) but don’t take it as a personal blow to your ego. In fact, tell your ego to keep its mouth shut so you can finish the job. This will lead to an increase in creative flow because your brain is focused solely on finishing the task… and nothing else.
It may take a few attempts to let go of that need for perfection; but it’s worth it. Next time you sit down to get something done, just keep telling yourself to finish the job and you’ll perfect it later.
Your brain will thank you.
(Photo credit: Closeup of Handsome Archer via Shutterstock)