The Curse of Perfection. How to be Perfect Without Wasting Time.
If you’re like me, you think that the best things in life should be perfect. That perfection is the key to life. Not just being good, nor awesome, but perfect. Here’s what changed my mind and how you can productively apply perfection the smart way.

Perfection: "Perfection is the child of time.", Joseph Hall
Perfection takes time. That’s important, keep it in mind while reading.

Okay, maybe not perfect, but as close as humanly possible to perfect (perfect-ish?). But perfection always comes with a price. That’s something I’ve failed to realize for many years. If that thought never crossed your mind, this post is for you. I’ll teach you how to apply perfection as a tool and how to get the most out of it.

The Perfect Job

I’ve always liked entrepreneurs. Those brave souls who go against the grain and create something out of nothing, who transform their passion into action. Not surprisingly, I’ve tried being one.

It was the summer of 2012…

I was in a little room a friend lent me in his school. I was making an educational game. This game was to be the first of many, the first step towards becoming an educational games developer.

And there I was, on my second energy drink, when I came to a startling realization:

Games have sounds. They use sounds to highlight interactions or add realism and all that is backed up with a musical piece, setting the tone for the whole experience.

My game had zero of that, not a single beep, let alone music. It was an oversight of epic proportion and I instantly got to work.

This little thing has frustrated me immeasurably so I decided to outdo myself and to create an awesome audio system. A system so good, it’ll handle every little sound of my game and more, it’ll handle the sounds and music of all my future games, too. And for the next 3 months, I spent 60+ hours every week working on that.

Now, I didn’t need to spend 3 months, I was able to hack something up in a week, maybe even a day. I didn’t do that because it wasn’t going to be good enough, it wasn’t going to be perfect. Which lead to something startling that took me a while to realize:

For 3 months, I haven’t worked on my original goal; I haven’t even thought about it. And what do users, investors, and even myself (for motivation) really appreciate?

That’s right, completed games. Even semi-completed, kind of working games can be very good. Audio systems? Well, let’s say they aren’t as entertaining.

I failed to make the game and the startup and the main culprit was this nasty little habit of perfectionism I had. But, I’d do it all over again to gain all the valuable knowledge I learned by face-planting on the ground – knowledge that saved my ass many times over. The main bit of it is:

Every worthwhile goal deserves perfection. But you should only spend the amount of time that goal deserves, not more, not less.Click To Tweet

Not Every Goal Deserves Perfection

First, perfection is neither a blessing nor a curse. It’s a tool you can strategically use to achieve your goals and impress even yourself. If that’s the one thing you take from this post, I would’ve taught you something of value.

Perfection being a tool means a couple of things:

  • Not everything has to be perfect. Yes, you read that right, not everything has to be perfect. No point wasting your life perfecting the unimportant things.
  • Perfection is a pursuit, not something you actually ever achieve. Pursuits need to stop. I need to stop making this post better because if I don’t, you’ll never be able to read it and it’ll never be perfect.
  • You need an end goal in mind. How that much effort over there will change the end goal, will it change it at all?
  • You must have a time limit. You can pursue perfection forever, but then you’ll never do anything. Before working on perfecting something, decide how much time it deserves based on its’ value.
  • Finally, perfection isn’t the right tool for everything. You wouldn’t use a hammer to screw things (please don’t).

You’re on the Clock

Perfection: Time is the one thing that we all depend on. Use it wisely!
Time is the one thing that we all depend on. Use it wisely!

After all, time is the one resource that’s limited for each and all of us. Arguably, the most important one. You should be protective and maybe even a bit greedy in regards to spending it.

Be protective, greedy even, when spending your time. It's the most precious thing you have.Click To Tweet

You’re already seeing where I’m going with this, aren’t you?

You don’t have the time to pursue perfection everywhere. Pick your battles and fight the worthwhile ones. Pursue perfection in a few key areas in your life, a few places you know you’ll really shine and make it worthwhile.

You don’t have the time to pursue perfection everywhere. Make wherever you pursue it count!

Think Outside the Box

Perfection often leads to short-sightedness. You forget to look at the big picture.

You need that bike in perfect condition in order to ride it safely, so of course, you’ll spend all the time in the world to fix it perfectly. Maybe, just maybe, you can hire a mechanic to do it smarter, better, and faster. Maybe you need a new bike. Maybe your new job is quite close and you can walk instead.

You see, perfection is in the details and details often lead to losing sight of the whole picture. So how to get the best of both worlds?

One word – Planning.

To put it simply, you should never decide to perfect something on the spur of the moment. It’s easy to overcommit and forget about all your other important goals while you’re in the middle of something fulfilling, but it’s important not to. Make a note and revisit it while wearing your long-term thinking hat. Just that will leave you enough time to step back and consider all options.

Never decide to perfect anything on the spur of the moment. Make a note and revisit it with your long-term thinking cap on.Click To Tweet

Fin

If you handle perfection as a tool, this whole framework is simple:

  1. You see something that might benefit (or you might benefit/learn) from smashing it with the perfection hammer.
  2. You take a note, or a mental note, or an Evernote while pooping (I don’t judge).
  3. Finally, you consider it and the alternatives and pick the best one.

Most of the time perfecting anything it isn’t worth your time, but there are those rare cases in which it’ll change your life. So yes, you should be mindful when considering perfection, but no, you shouldn’t ever completely discard it. It’s a tool, yes, and when used correctly it can be the best tool in your toolbox.

Finally, don’t forget to practice using and not using your new tool. And yes, it’s okay to decide something needs to be perfect and change your mind later on. Just experiment and find the best way to apply it for yourself.

Thanks for reading and stay perfect (when appropriate)!

  • Have you had trouble admitting to yourself that all that effort was kind-a wasted?

    I sure have (many times). But all the trouble of admitting to myself and others my mistakes was worth it – I’m a better man for it.

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