Some Thoughts on Time Management (pt. 3)

If you’re a procrastinator, you’re probably a closet perfectionist. It may not seem so because you often fail to do your work in a very perfect way, but it’s the truth. It’s probably the feeling that your work needs to be flawless – that any flaw in your work means you’ve failed in some way – that leads you to procrastinate. Writing a report or a letter, doesn’t sound like a very tough task, but writing a perfect paper or a perfect letter sounds terrible, even impossible. And the good news for you is that it probably is. You can’t write a perfect paper, at least not given the time you have. And this goes for every other task too. You can’t make a presentation, write a speech or report, do your taxes, clean your garage, or bathe your dog without leaving something, however small, undone.

It’s a myth that there are many people who do things perfectly, and in the rare instances where people do get the job done flawlessly it’s either because the job was trivial (tying your shoes), or because they devoted an ungodly amount of time to it. Trivial jobs aren’t worth worrying about. And there are few tasks in your life worth obsessing over to the degree that you actually do it perfectly. Michelangelo’s David is perfect. But he used to work so obsessively on it that, after his assistant realized he hadn’t taken his shoes off in weeks, he took them off in Michelangelo’s sleep, and the skin of his feet came off with them.That is the price of perfection. For Michelangelo, it was worth it. But you can’t sculpt a David every day, and you’re probably not willing to pay the price of perfection for any of the tasks on your to-do list.

So what do you do? Forget perfection. Don’t make it your goal. Ever. Your new goal should be “good enough”. But good enough for what? Not the perfectionist that lives in the wrinkles of your brain. Good enough for you, given your desires, ambitions, and goals for life. If your goal is to pass the class, then passing is good enough. If your goal is to keep your scholarship, then the goal is a B+.

But your goal might not be these. Your goal, given that you’re really a terrible perfectionist, deep down, is greatness, excellence, the best possible. This is simply not a legitimate goal. Because, as you can see, the cost of perfection is rarely worth paying. You might be able to pull off a perfect paper or presentation or garage cleaning, but it will take exponentially longer than a good, or even really good job on the same task. And one of the most important skills for success in life is being able to tell which tasks are worthy of a really good performance, which demand nothing more than a fair performance, which can be done sloppily, and which are those extraordinarily rare tasks that ought to be done with pristine excellence. Chances are the tasks that you agonize about the most aren’t worth the sort of devotion that you’re imagining. Some of them may just need to get done in whatever sloppy, half-assed way you can do them. But most require at least good work. And remember, just because great is better than good, it doesn’t make good bad. Good work is just that: good work. And for most everything in life, good is quite good enough.

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