Progress over perfection

Rosanna Machado | July 23, 2020


When I was a teenager, I used to cut out the song lyrics from Smash Hits and file them alphabetically (don’t judge me!). My biggest fear was when they printed lyrics on both sides as my system would not be perfect. I found a work around, but the frustration of imperfection was there.

Why do many of us strive for perfection? Sometimes it’s for our own personal satisfaction and with that comes a feeling of incompleteness if it’s not as perfect as we might have liked. Other times it could be a fear of what others might think – I’m sure I’m not the only one to do shame cleaning before someone visits. Or perhaps we feel obliged to over-deliver and exceed expectations, wrapped up in imposter syndrome. For others it might be the fact that we don’t want to show signs of weakness or vulnerability.

Perfection is hard to define – it’s different to each of us. There might be a healthier way to approach projects, in the knowledge that we’re better off doing the best we can and moving forward rather than striving for ‘perfection’ which may not be achievable through no fault of our own.

  • Take time to understand where your need from perfection is coming from? Is it your own personal need for completion versus beliefs around what others expect of you? How might you have a healthier relationship with these beliefs?
  • Be clear on your objectives and outcomes expected
  • Ensure that your stakeholders are clear on what you are delivering and if it is work in progress, make that explicit
  • Understand other parameters e.g timescales, Stakeholder views. Parameters may, in fact, lead to more creativity as you are forced to think differently. Even if there are no client parameters, it may be worth setting time limits to focus your thinking
  • Know what you have control over and try to let go of what’s not in your control (easier said than done she says still talking about a filing system from the 80s!!)
  • Think about the other demands on you and the best way to get the project done – this may involve delegating, setting time limits in the knowledge that it will be the best you can do when the project is considered holistically
  • Consider when another perspective might be beneficial, particularly if you are working on your own and you may not be able to see the wood for the trees
  • Be aware of the costs of over-delivering, not only financial but on your other work, time, mental health, work-life balance and make a conscious decision about how much time you would like to dedicate to it
  • Often something less than the finished article can spark further discussion or collaboration so don’t be afraid to use work as a springboard
  • Take feedback on board in a constructive fashion and don’t beat yourself up about it
  • Be upfront about areas where you may need support as people will value your honesty
  • If you are pleased with a piece of work and feel it has met your objectives, then don’t feel the need to pour more hours into it. The value of work is in the outcome not the hours spent
  • Remember that your imperfect might be your client’s perfect (and vice versa!)

Ask yourself, have I done the best I can in the current circumstances? As my old boss used to say, JFDI and you will have taken a step forward towards your goal.