Done is much, much better than perfect

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I’ve just finished reading the book Finish by Jon Acuff. It’s a light, friendly read devoted to the idea that perfectionism is the enemy. This isn’t exactly news — Voltaire expressed it as “…le mieux est l’ennemi du bien,” and the concept is much older than that — but in the book I just read, the idea is applied specific to completing projects.

This afternoon I rewrote my to-do list and added a few more items to the bottom of it. I allowed this to happen only because eight items on the old list had been systematically knocked off. Last September, as mentioned in my post Tiny steps, huge results, I had two fairly hefty projects that I worked on literally every day for an entire month. It wasn’t all work, work, work. Sometimes all I did was pull a couple of nails, or type a paragraph. No quantifying. No self-blaming. Just regular action, day after a day.

That’s essentially how I managed to slay eight items on a to-do list in this past month. I didn’t work on everything every single day, or stay up till Way Too Late O’Clock trying to wrap something up. I just worked as time and energy permitted, and made a little check mark on the list if anything had gotten even a little bit more done. (One of the items has eleven check marks beside it, and reached completion just last night.)

The idea that things didn’t have to be perfect was a big help. A few days ago I wrote about my struggles with drywall taping. I didn’t waste time trying to create the smoothest possible wall; I stopped at “smooth enough” and moved on.

It looks even better with two coats of paint, by the way.

Now it’s time for me to work on myself, because when I’m in the middle of a project I get a queasy, nervous feeling in my gut. It’s mostly overthinking, rehearsing the steps that I have to take next, and more often than not the rehearsal bears no resemblance to reality.

The painting, for example: I wanted to do one last touch-up (ah, there’s perfection rearing its ugly head!) to create a cleaner boundary between two different paint colours. The task was in my mind for hours, popping in and out at random times. How long did it take to actually do the work? Ten minutes. One minute to stir the paint, two minutes to get a roll of tape and mask off part of the wall, two or three minutes to do the actual painting, and a few minutes to clean the brush, remove the tape, and close up the paint can. I have no idea what all those other minutes of planning were for, but I ain’t getting them back.

Not surprisingly, when the job was done the anxiety and queasiness was gone, too.

So here’s the scoop: Are you worrying about something you have to do? Try working on it for a few minutes, even just taking notes on the back of an envelope. Breathe. Be glad that you did something.

And then do it again tomorrow. Your gut will thank you someday.

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