There’s nothing more useless than unfinished projects. But it’s easy to watch them stack up, isn’t it? So what can we do to wrap them up and ship them out?
I’ve been thinking a lot about unfinished projects since watching this video by my friend, Jeff Walker. Don Miller has also talked recently about completing things. It’s tougher than it looks, right?
I can tell you where my difficulty comes from.
I’ve been in the publishing industry practically my whole professional life. And if there’s one thing that defines the business, it’s the slow, methodical process of taking an idea to market.
Not only does an author’s writing process consume a lot of time, but the editorial, design, and production processes also slog along.
The Perfection Trap
The reason makes more sense than frustrated authors and readers might think at first.
The truth is it takes considerable coordination to get it all right. Everyone’s in the kitchen: editors, proofers, designers, printers, marketers, publicists, and salespeople.
Once you print something, it’s as good as in stone. Any error or mistake could live for more than a century. And until recently the practice was to print a massive quantity of a new title. So our biggest fear was producing a book that was both wrong and plentiful.
All that to say, I was trained in an industry that was slow on purpose.
But that doesn’t work for me now—any more than it works well for traditional publishers in the new digital world. When you sit on something until it’s “perfect,” you miss a lot of opportunities.
Maybe you’re not from the publishing world, but there’s a good chance you still suffer from some version of the Perfection Trap. Thankfully, I finally found my way out.
A Whole New Freedom
What helped me was to think of my work like software. When I started doing that, it was like the shackles came off and the iron door inside opened up. Here’s how it works.
All software contains bugs, but, as those imperfections are reported, developers correct them and issue updates. Users expect this cycle as a normal part of the process.
In fact, the more successful and useful the software is, the more likely it is to go through numerous iterations. The best programs are practically in a state of permanent beta.
When I started thinking along those lines I was finally freed to finish. My projects didn’t have to be perfect. They just had to be good and useful today. I could always update it tomorrow.
What’s useless, however, is an idea that never gets off my hard drive.
Last fall, I was brainstorming a goal-setting program: 5 Days to Your Best Year Ever. And I knew it had to launch at New Years. The trouble was that New Years was literally just weeks away.
I’d already given up starting when my daughter Megan and friend Stu challenged me. “If you can create the content,” they said, “we can get it filmed and launched on time.”
We worked like crazy from the second we decided to move, but we got it launched on time, and it has helped a lot of people. I hear from them all the time.
Was it perfect? No, but here’s what's liberating: I have the opportunity to improve it!
In fact, I just did.
We recently finished filming a new version for next year, and it’s full of new and helpful ideas for getting what you really want out of your goals.
Three Ways to Escape the Perfection Trap
This new approach keeps me out of the Perfection Trap. And it lets me be more productive as a result.
Earlier this month, for instance, I spoke at the World Domination Summit. I put everything I had into my presentation when I gave it. Though I received a standing ovation, I knew it could have been better. And it will be. I have another opportunity to give the same speech this fall, and I’m totally energized now to revise and improve it.
Here are three ways you can adopt this new paradigm and break free from the Perfection Trap:
- Change your perspective. We need to reframe the way we approach our projects. Almost nothing is permanent; why would we think our projects are? In a world where things change as often as they do, it’s a strategic advantage to adapt and update a project as needed.
This is especially true in information products. But it’s true for other projects too, even art. Finishing means you’re free to add value with a new project sooner.
- Narrow your focus. Perfect is the enemy of the good, but so is distraction. If you have too many irons in the fire, you’ll get burned out. It’s better to focus on what matters now and see it through. Then you can turn to the next thing.
A lot of time when something’s not perfect, we put it aside and work on something else. But we lose focus, and when we try to do too much our quality suffers along with our output.
It may not be grammatically correct, but good is better than best, especially if we’re trying to do too much.
- Don’t confuse perfection with excellence. Anyone who knows me knows that excellence is a high value for me. But it’s not the same thing as perfection.
Perfection doesn’t take into consideration of the cost, time, or significance of something. It’s just an illusive, unreal, unattainable goal.
It’s better to do good work really well. That way you’re contributing to people’s lives, instead of locked in your own head about whether your work measures up an impossible standard.
We need to stop asking ourselves, “Is it perfect?” and start asking ourselves, “Will it move the needle in people’s lives?” If yes, then let’s wrap it up and ship it out.
The sooner we do that, the sooner we can get onto the next project.
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