Perfection is Just Procrastination

We all want to do great work. 

To pore over every detail, tweaking and tuning until everything is “just right.” And with good reason — it’s those little details that help a project stand out, stick in people’s minds, and provide value to users. By caring about everything, we can be proud of our work.

But, taken to the extreme, sweating the details turns quickly into perfectionism. And there’s one big problem with perfectionism; you’ll never achieve it. Perfection exists solely in the mind’s eye. What’s beautiful to you might be complete garbage to someone else.

Don’t even get me started on evaluating your own work. Take a look at a project you “perfected” 10 years ago. Go ahead; I’ll wait.

Are you cringing yet?

The timeframe doesn’t even really matter. I’m willing to bet you’d have the same reaction if you went back five years. Or 2 years. Or — if you’re anything like me — just a few months.

So, the question you need to ask yourself is this: Why the heck are you spending so much time and energy “perfecting” your work, when you know it eventually won’t matter?

There’s a well-known quote from Ira Glass I love:

“And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions.”

That’s the secret.

While you’re fiddling around, trying to make everything perfect, others are getting on with publishing their work, gathering feedback, learning, and improving.

I’m not suggesting you stop caring about the quality of your work. Far from it. But you need to realize that, while your career may be long, your time today — at this very moment — is limited. Don’t waste it.

At a certain point, perfection is just procrastination.