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Strive for Excellence, not Perfection

Democrat and Chronicle, 6/28/11
Dorothy Madden

"They say that nobody is perfect. Then they tell you practice makes perfect. I wish they'd make up their minds."

Winston Churchill's light-hearted quote describes a dilemma in the workplace. Should we strive to be perfect? If we practice, practice, practice, can we make things perfect?

The answer to both is no. Perfection does not exist in our offices, homes or lives. Striving for perfection is unrealistic, unattainable, self-defeating and slows us down.

In trying to be perfect or make things perfect, we waste time poring over every last tiny detail, lose sleep due to the stress, perhaps even cause ourselves serious health issues. An excessive amount of time can be devoted to making something perfect while another, more pressing project gets neglected.

If perfectionism is an issue for you, what are some ways to overcome it?

Replace "perfect" with "excellent." Accept that perfection is undesirable and strive for excellence. Excellence is doing your best possible work. In almost everything in life, excellence will be good enough.

Accept mistakes. We learn from our mistakes, even though they may be unpleasant. We learn how not to make them again and how to do things differently next time.

Set a time limit. If you estimate a project takes one hour to complete, double it to two hours. Doubling is a good rule of thumb because, most times, it is more realistic. We often underestimate how long a project will take. However, take a hard look after two hours and decide if your project's status is excellent. Is it good enough? What is gained if you spend another hour? Trying to be perfect is time-consuming.

If one of your goals in the past was to be perfect, reconsider and have your new goal to be efficient, effective and excellent.