When 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?