How good is good enough?
Does everything have to be perfect?
How perfectly executed does a task have to be?
The answer probably depends on what we are talking about: folding laundry vs. parallel parking vs. brain surgery.
Bob Bly*, copywriter and marketing specialist, shares a simple graph that helps us decide how perfect a given task has to be.
This "curve of excellence" holds the secret to your productivity.
Let's agree that point A describes someone who is efficient, point B is a perfectionist, and point C is somebody with anal retentive tendencies.
The Efficient Person
Most of the work, whatever it is, is accomplished between zero and point A. This is represented by the majority of the exponential curve. Depending on the actual project, a huge amount of progress is made in a variable amount of time. So your return on investment (ROI) is huge as well.
Examples of jobs that are "good enough" include mopping the floor, online research and folding laundry.
If you decide that you need to dedicate more time to your task — i.e., that you have to go from point A to point B — then your productivity or ROI will drop significantly. Why? Because you've already accomplished something like 90 percent of your task. A few extra hours will only improve the quality of your work by a few percentage points.
In addition, because the curve remains a curve, the more you work beyond point B, the more your productivity decreases. Going the extra mile may be warranted in some cases.
If you feel that the task in question deserves more time, then that makes you a perfectionist.
Tasks that fall in this category might include improving your website or surgical skills, preparing a PowerPoint presentation, etc.
Being a perfectionist will differentiate you from your friendly competitors.
The Anal Retentive Person
Working from point B to point C is a similar dilemma. Is it worth is? How can you justify spending any more time after you've already invested so much time in it? This amount of time will only generate a minor improvement (a few percentage points) in the quality of your work. It also will keep you away from moving on to other (more) valuable work.
Spending more time re-re-rewording the content of a brochure, a memo or an email is most often a sure way to waste endless hours. This is how deadlines get missed. We are moving into anal retentive territory. Rare exceptions might include writing the text of the State of the Union or your daughter's wedding speech. For most other tasks, good enough is good enough.
Bottom line: successful people work up to point A; perfectionists go the extra mile until they reach point B; anal retentive but inefficient people work late into the night until they reach point C, and beyond.
Which personality type are you?
* This post was freely inspired by Bob Bly’s video blog on YouTube, which you can watch below:
Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a board-certified veterinary surgeon and author. His traveling practice takes him all over Eastern Pennsylvania and Western New Jersey. You can visit his website at www.DrPhilZeltzman.com, and follow him at www.facebook.com/DrZeltzman.
Kelly Serfas, a certified veterinary technician in Bethlehem, Pa., contributed to this article.