Being happy with less than perfect

30 September 2011

A week ago, I attended a time-management seminar offered by Harold Taylor. It was terrific. I’ve been inspired by Harold Taylor’s words of wisdom for going on 20 years now and he didn’t disappoint.

Much of the material was familiar to me, but he still offered some great stuff to chew on. One was a new take (for me) on perfectionism. I’ve long known how paralyzing perfectionism can be. I’ve seen the detrimental effects on my clients of feeling like everything has to be done perfectly.

But Harold had me thinking about it in a slightly different way. For example, he defined a perfectionist this way:

A perfectionist is someone who spends a greater amount of time on a task than it merits.

What a wonderfully simple definition and one that is really useful in my life.

Harold said that the amount of time you spend on something should be in proportion to its value. So no need to get nitpicky on a single email to a single person. However, if you’re writing an article to be read by thousands, that deserves a little more of your time.

He also mentioned the law of diminishing returns: The nearer you come to perfection on a task, the more time it takes. In other words, you don’t get a fair return for the extra time trying to make something that’s already good even better.

What I took away from this is that doing something well, but not perfectly well, is very smart. If I’m tempted to not send something I’ve written because I haven’t gone over it yet again with a fine-toothed comb, I can ask myself, as Harold suggests, “What’s the impact if this is the best I do with this?”

Harold suggests that if your value is tied up in what you do, rather than who you are, you’re more likely to get caught up in this perfectionist trap. That’s excellent food for thought.

I think this “good enough” mentality can really free up some time. I’m planning to experiment by embracing it whole heartedly in my work in the coming month and try to note whether (a) I actually do save time and (b) whether there are any negative consequences to it.

This is going to be my mantra in October, courtesy of Harold Taylor:

Just because we can do better doesn’t mean we have to.

That reminds me! My friend, Maryann Devine of Smarts and Culture has a brand-new program that can help you take a project from idea to reality in just two weeks. It’s called Why Not Now? and I think it fits right in with this idea of not letting perfectionism hold you back. Check it out!

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I always considered myself a perfectionist, and took pride in being called one too.

That is until I realized how much time I can save if I simply are not so perfect.

haha I love the “Just because we can do better doesn’t mean we have to” quote too, kind of goes with “If its clean already, you don’t need to clean it again”

Mark Anthony Morales 10/06/2011 06:46 PM

What great perspective to share, and I loved the definition you shared. I can see that being really useful in my life, too. Thanks, Janine!

Robin Bastian 02/12/2014 02:09 PM

Thanks so much for your comment, Robin. I’m glad you found this post helpful!

Janine Adams 02/13/2014 07:19 AM

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About Janine

Hello! I’m Janine Adams — a certified professional organizer based in St. Louis, and the creator of Peace of Mind Organizing®.

I love order, harmony + beauty, but I believe that the way that you feel about yourself and your home is what truly matters.

If you’re ready to de­clutter with a purpose and add more ease to your life, you’ve found the right blog — and you’ve found the right gal.

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