Is good enough the real enemy of good?

Pareto Principle: the 80-20 ruleWhen it comes to productivity, you’ll often see people quote the aphorism often attributed to Voltaire: “Perfect is the enemy of good.” If we worry about being perfect, we won’t get anything done because perfection is impossible to achieve and we will never move on to other projects.

Or alternatively, we fall victim to the Nirvana fallacy, not starting anything because we know it will never be perfect.

One of the supposed cures for perfectionism is to ascribe to a belief in good enough. For most of my life, I’ve been a huge fan of the Pareto Principle, that 80% of the result from 20% of the effort is good enough. For the most part, it has worked too. I’m productive, I clear away to-do lists quickly, and my house is livable.

Then I met my husband. He’s not at all a good enough person. But neither is he a perfectionist. He’s a “do the job well until it’s finished” person. Yes, he does have perfectionist tendencies and believes that everything can always be improved upon, but he doesn’t let his perfectionist ideas get in the way of getting things done.

When facing most household and work projects, I used to get to 80% and say to myself: “Wow, what a difference. It’s mostly functional and much better than before.” And I’d stop. My husband, on the other hand, keeps going until he gets to 95% and everyone who comes into the house says: “Wow! That’s impressive!”

If I’m going to be honest with myself, impressive is much better than mostly functional.

This got me thinking. Why am I really a good enough person? Is it because I want to be productive? That I don’t want to fall into the never finishing or never starting traps? Not in the slightest. It’s because I’m lazy. Saying that good enough is a decent place to stop, allowed me to quit working on something. I didn’t need to put in more effort because I wasn’t really interested in great, only in good enough. And, having made this confession to myself, I realized that perfect is not the enemy of good. The true enemy is good enough.

  • At work, when preparing emails to clients, I’ve had to send out the email a few times because of errors in the mail merge fields.
  • In the kitchen, the plastic containers were mostly accessible, but getting that one we use only rarely was a real pain to reach.
  • On the bookshelf, everything fit but it wasn’t as visually appealing as it could have been.

Since adopting a good (or great) approach to projects instead of the borderline good enough, my productivity is even higher at work, my kitchen is much more usable, and my house always generates a “wow” any time someone new visits.

How about you? Which for you is the bigger enemy of good? Perfect or good enough?

10 Comments for “Is good enough the real enemy of good?”

  1. posted by Dorothy on

    This is one of those ‘it depends’ issues. Yes, some people, some projects, some tasks deserve our best efforts. But some most emphatically do not.

    There are some things where good enough IS good enough. For instance some people pair up and fold their socks. I buy all the same socks and just dump the clean ones into my sock drawer. When I need a clean pair I grab two random socks from the drawer and I have a pair of clean socks. For me, tossing my socks in a jumble into the drawer is “good enough.”

    The trick is figuring out where we can deploy our limited time, effort and talent. Spend ample time and effort in places where it’s warranted. And don’t be afraid to designate some areas where “good enough” is just fine.

  2. posted by Happy Mum on

    I agree heartily with “it depends” — and I think Dorothy puts it very well:

    ‘The trick is figuring out where we can deploy our limited time, effort and talent. Spend ample time and effort in places where it’s warranted. And don’t be afraid to designate some areas where “good enough” is just fine.’

    Know what is important TO YOU, and put your energy there. For example, I couldn’t care less whether people think “wow” when they come to my house.

    Thought-provoking post — nice work.

  3. posted by Cindy Wilcox on

    I’m a ‘good enough’ girl, too. Unfortunately, what is good enough for me is not always what I want company to see. So I try to keep the public areas of the house ‘company’ good enough and the private areas (upstairs) ‘me’ good enough. Either way, I feel that life is too short to let such things cause me stress. That is what work is for.

  4. posted by Christine on

    This article describes my life with my husband perfectly! I laughed when reading it.

  5. posted by Pat on

    I am also on board with Dorothy. Although there are some things that I lavish attention on, either because I enjoy the activity or I want something to be special, there are other tasks that just have to “get done.” For those tasks, doing anything is great, because the alternative is to do them “later,” or not at all. So, if I get most of the crud off the oven racks (a job I detest!), when the next month rolls around, I might do a slightly better job than the month before. It certainly will be easier than if I had let it go for six months or a year.

  6. posted by Bette on

    I readily admit I am a perfectionist and that I always strive for the perfect. I, of course, am married to a “good enough” person who will wash 90% of the dishes and then declare the kitchen clean. I’ve learned to accept “good enough” in circumstances that truly don’t matter. However, there are times when, like your husband, I want 100% or nothing. This is what makes me the absolute best at my job, for example. And there are times when I would not accept a “good-enough” job from others — for example, from my surgeon or my dentist or my carpenter or my mechanic.

  7. posted by Gail on

    I really listened to what you and Dorothy wrote. Your husband’s thoughts will be mine on most projects now, but “good enough” on others, like sock storage. Thoughtful post

  8. posted by Maryann on

    I admit I’m a perfectionist. But I’m learning to accept “good enough” from my husband/kids/grankids – because the alternative is “Well, then, do it yourself!”
    But also “it depends”. It’s better to let them think they made the effort and accomplished something rather than make them feel discouraged and eventually give up trying.

  9. posted by tereza on

    to be lazy enough can be perfect

  10. posted by Heather Gerbyshak on

    For me, the phrase “the perfect is the enemy of the good” has remedied the paralysis in much of my life. I think whether “perfect” or “good enough” is the enemy depends on the person and situation. If I’m working on a piece of art for exhibit or sale, it must be perfect or nearly so. But, if I’m just trying to start an artwork, document, etc, I go with “good enough” to get me off the ground and later worry about the final product being perfect, or at least very good. Dinner can be good enough, cleaning can be good enough, etc.

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