Do you ever feel like you are not getting enough done?
Do you often feel that way?
Maybe, you’re trying too hard.
I understand. I’m the same way. I want things to be done right. All the way right all the time. But most of the time, that’s just not efficient. And sometimes, you need to prioritize efficiency over perfection.
Not all the time and not in all things. If you are a brain surgeon, for instance, I would much prefer perfection over efficiency. And sometimes perfection in the small things is what makes life better. The perfect cup of coffee is worth a little more time and effort.
My guitar is another case where perfection trumps. Playing more or playing faster is the wrong way to go. In that case, practice makes permanent. Only perfect practice makes perfect. One note on one string.
But in most things, the 80/20 rule, well, rules. If you are not familiar, this rule states that 80% of the results come from 20% of the effort. But, what most people don’t realize is that it is a sliding scale. A little more effort will get you 85 or 90% of the results. A little less — 70%.
So, how much is good enough?
Only you can determine that. But it’s worth determining. How good is good enough? Or, to put it another way, how good does it need to be so that most people won’t be able to determine the difference between the results and perfection? For that, you will need to understand your audience.
Let’s turn back to music for a minute. If you were Andres Segovia and you missed one 16th note in the middle of a piece, most of the audience would notice. If you were Greg Allman and you skipped an entire bar, most of the audience wouldn’t. You have to know your audience.
You also have to know your own tolerance for imperfection. If doing less than your best will cause angst and anguish enough to ruin your day, you either have to do everything correctly or, better, get over yourself. But if you can develop an acceptance of good enough, your productivity skyrocket.
Let’s do some math. Another area where perfection is required. You wouldn’t get far providing approximate answers to complex equations. Two plus two equals five is not good enough. But I digress.
Let’s ramp up the 80/20 rule a bit. Let’s say that 50% of the effort would get you 90% of the results. And that’s good enough. And let’s say that whatever the job is, that doing it perfectly required two hours. In an eight hour day, you could pump out four widgets or whatever. But if 90% was good enough, you could do eight.
Writing is a perfect, no pun intended, example of this in action. Perfect writing takes a long time, if it is even attainable. You can agonize over every word, sentence, and paragraph, and it will never be perfect, whatever that is. And writing gets worse with age. Don’t believe me? Read something you wrote last week. Pretty good, huh? Now read something you wrote ten years ago.
But at some point, depending on your goal and audience, you have to settle for good enough. You have to call it done. Let’s look at my own writing. I go through four versions, no more and no less. And 99% of the time, it’s good enough. This isn’t an 80/20 scenario; more like a 95/80.
The first version is the rough draft. Depending on the subject, it will go somewhere between fast and very fast. When I first started, I tried to get it right in the first draft but discovered that not only wasn’t efficient, it wasn’t really practical. You can’t be a reader and a writer at the same time. When I finish the first draft, I have put in about 30% of the effort and have achieved 50% of the results.
But in this case, that is not good enough. Not nearly good enough. There are still too many grammatical and spelling errors. There will also be some structural problems. The next day, I do my first revision. This will take care of 99% of the mistakes and about half of any structural or logic problems. I’ve spent 75% of the effort and am at 80% perfect.
There was a time when that was good enough. When I was churning out copy for people who only wanted SEO content for their websites, that was good enough.
Then I met you guys, dear readers, and it wasn’t good enough anymore. So now, it goes through two more revisions. On the third round, I may or may not catch any other errors; I am looking at the flow and structure and making sure I am happy with the way it reads. This is actually pretty quick and gets me to 90% with another 10% effort. The final read-through, the piece is actually in its final location and is what I call the final polish. I’ll catch one or two misspelled or incorrectly used words, cull anything that is repetitious, redundant, unnecessary, you get the idea.
When I hit publish or submit, I have probably hit the 95/80 mark. But again, it’s a sliding scale. Each rewrite beyond that would take much longer as I begin to dissect each sentence and examine each word. And in the end, the piece wouldn’t be that much better.
Because here’s the thing. What I have found out in my writing, especially over the last year, is that each reader comes away with a different thing. And it’s usually a small thing. One sentence. One paragraph. They don’t remember the article; they remember the one thing. And you have no way of knowing what that thing will be.
Did you read Lord of the Rings? 576,459 words. How many do you remember? A handful of scenes, probably no more than 1,000 words each.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not promoting sloppy work. But take a good look at your workflow in whatever job you are doing. At what point would it be good enough for most, if not all, of your audience, client, boss, or whoever. And at what percentage of the total time did you reach that point. Do the math.
Sometimes you need to settle for good enough.