Possibility and Probability

A Python programmer with a personality thinking about space exploration

29 July 2020

The tyranny of good enough

by Nick

Perfection is a bitch.

It tells us that we aren’t doing a good job, that our efforts aren’t worth it. That what we are doing isn’t ready to be seen.

On the other hand we have people telling us “Perfection is the enemy, just make it good enough!” yet when we ask “What does good enough look like?” we are met with silence.

Good enough, it could work for us or against us.

But more often than not, we don’t do what’s “good enough” instead we either go all out and try to achieve perfection, or… we do nothing.

How do we avoid these extremes? In a word, plan.

In more words, “make a plan, then find the balance between too much and not enough based on how much time you have and what is expected of you.” Let’s look at that in more detail…

Meeting a minimum

One problem that people run into is not doing enough. For people who aren’t perfectionists this results in work that falls far short of what is needed. For perfectionists, they will tend to not even start the work because “Hey, where is the bar?”

The minimum is a delicate balance of doing enough work that proves the work is worth doing. For some people, myself included, finding that minimum is a challenge.

Everybody has worked on some assignment that they know is going to be thrown away. Situations where a boss (or a teacher) has handed out busywork to keep people looking like they are being productive.

In this situation you have to produce something or else you will get in trouble. But you don’t want to spend hour and hours working on it to make it perfect. Where’s the middle ground?

Obviously this is going to really depend on the situation you are in. Some people have no sense of humor, so turning in a cartoon drawing of yourself sleeping might not be the best choice.

I will propose that you spend a few minutes making a plan. This plan involves looking at what needs to be accomplished, and what steps would lead to that. Then doing just a minimum amount of that work. Believe it or not, this is the same approach you should take to make sure you don’t go overboard…

Not going too far

Sometimes we need to learn to stop our work and just go with what we have. This is where having a plan becomes a huge win.

In the beginning of your efforts you should dedicate some time, at least half an hour, to creating a plan. Take your objective and try to break it into 2 or 3 phases/milestones.

Look at those phases or milestones and ask your self: “what’s needed to achieve this?” Then try to come up with a list of tasks you could do. If any of those tasks are too vague or too large, break them down further.

In 10 or 20 minutes of doing this exercise you should have a pretty good list of things that need to be done. For each milestone, I would take the tasks and apply the 80/20 principle. 20% of your tasks will probably accomplish 80% of your objective. (Those numbers aren’t meant to be precise, but rather to get the point across that some tasks are going to be more important than others. FIND THOSE TASKS.)

For example, if you had 10 tasks written down, 2 of them are going to be really important and accomplishing them will get you really close to your objective without going overboard.

If you complete those 2 tasks, someone looking at your work (for that milestone) will have a pretty good idea of what you are doing. If you are moving in the right direction, they can give you the go ahead to move ahead.

BUT… let’s examine the other side of that coin. Let’s say you completed 2 tasks, and showed them to your boss. The boss looks at the work and says “This isn’t what I wanted, I wanted you to do XYZ instead…”


Imagine if you hadn’t done the planning and picked the 2 items to work on. Instead you just went for it and put in a ton of time and effort on the “wrong things”. You would have wasted a tremendous amount of time!

Instead, you did a “good enough” job to show what you are trying to accomplish and when you boss looks at it they are able to pull the emergency break and get you back on track.

Also, once you have gotten this feedback you will also get some clarity on how much more work is needed. If the boss makes suggestions or asks questions, this could be a chance to narrow or widen the scope of what you are going to accomplish. Either way, it will give you a better idea of what to do next, and how much or little of it you need to do.

Conclusions: know where you are going

To wrap it up a little bit:

tags: organization