Conventional business wisdom is big on perfection. We are constantly exhorted to give 100 per cent – or even a mathematically impossible 110 per cent. But is this really the absolute virtue it is held up to be? Or is there a case to be made for doing a “good enough” job most of the time?
There are two well-known rules that suggest the latter is valid. The first is the Pareto Principle (or the 80-20 rule), which states that 80 per cent of consequences stem from 20 per cent of causes. The second is the law of diminishing returns, which suggests that, as you near 100 per cent, you expend proportionally more effort on the remaining work.
Graham Allcott, author of How to be a Productivity Ninja, says that people often look at tasks the wrong way – they focus on the detail of what they are doing, rather than the impact it has. “It is actually far more practical to think in terms of the 80-20 rule and focus ruthlessly on doing things that have the greatest impact.”
He also recommends that you delegate the mundane parts of tasks that anyone can do.
However, many people find this difficult because they are wedded to the idea of delivering their very best. As business psychologist Karen Moloney says: “Perfection is how they define themselves and to let anything out of their hands that isn’t 100 per cent goes against their sense of professional pride.” She says the trick is to remember it is about delivering what the business needs, not what you want to give.
People who are natural perfectionists tend to see not giving 100 per cent as a failing. But you can reframe this by telling yourself that knowing which tasks do not need 100 per cent demonstrates good judgment.
Holding on to a task or project by forever adding that extra 1 per cent can sometimes be driven by a fear of being judged on the end result. It is therefore worth reminding yourself of the Steve Jobs quote: “Real artists ship.”
One way to avoid running up against the law of diminishing returns is to set yourself deadlines. But rather than set fake deadlines that you know can be moved, Mr Allcott recommends making yourself accountable to someone else. That way, you will shift from “I could deliver any time next week” to “I’ll look bad in front of my boss if I don’t deliver by Tuesday”.
Perhaps the most difficult thing to deal with, however, is not your own desire to give 100 per cent but your boss’s desire to see you give 100 per cent . Again, says Ms Moloney, you need to make it about what you deliver: “Explain to your boss you can accomplish far more if you don’t dot every I and cross every T.”
However, some managers’ perfectionism is such that this appeal to reason will not wash. In this case, Mr Allcott advises a more tactical approach: “Separate tasks into the more visual, obvious things and those that are under the radar that your boss will miss.”
《如何成为高效人士》(How to be a Productivity Ninja)一书作者格雷厄姆•奥尔科特(Graham Allcott)说，人们看待工作的方式往往是错误的，他们更关注于自己做的事情，而不是这些事情会产生什么影响。“事实上，更实用的方法是，用二八法则来思考问题、集中精力去做那些能产生最大影响的事情。”