There are times when perfection should be the goal, and other times when aiming for perfection can create problems. In Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean-In, she devotes a chapter to “The Myth of Doing It All”. There are two quotes regarding perfection that I appreciated.
- From Dr. Laurie Glimcher (page 123), “I learned to be a perfectionist in only the things that mattered.”
- From a Facebook Poster (page 125), “Done is better than perfect.”
When I was pregnant with my first child, I had a report due to a State oversight agency. Not only was my deadline looming, but so was my due date. It was mid-winter and my drive to work was consistently icy and dangerous; it was pre-email and internet, so working remotely wasn’t convenient. My choice was to meet the deadline with a patched together report, or to provide the State with a well-written report and miss the deadline. I picked up the phone and called the State. They wanted the report by the deadline. Period. The End. So they got their report. It wasn’t perfect, but it included all of the key components, and it was on-time.
This was a lesson learned the hard way. Several years earlier, fresh out of college and in a similar situation, I chose perfection. I was determined that my report would have every required component. I double-checked my write-ups, made sure my forms were perfect, and ran around training all of the staff . At 5:00 PM, I added finishing touches and then realized that the State Agency had closed for the day. On my way in to work the next day, I delivered my perfect report.
Several days later we received a invoice from the State Agency. It was a fine for submitting the report late. My boss accompanied me to the hearing and the State reduced the fine. But I remember at the end of the meeting, the man issuing the fine said, “sometimes being on time is more important than being perfect.”
When I have a deadline looming and the time allotted to finish the project is insufficient, I remember this story. It reminds me to find balance between timeliness and perfection.
For more on this subject, you might enjoy my imperfect post called Letting Go of Perfect.