Progress not Perfection

8 little-known factors that could affect your ability to actually get stuff done

I heard this really useful phrase in a movie again last week: “Progress, not perfection”.

You might also have heard it before as “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good” or, as Confucius put it:

Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without

I’m somebody who really likes to polish and tinker with stuff until it is just right. Interestingly, my grandfather was a lapidary – someone who cuts and polishes precious stones and gems, so maybe it’s an inherited trait! Anyway, I often need to be reminded of how important it is to not let my desire for something to be ‘just right’ to actually get in the way of producing anything at all.

But it’s quite easy for people to say this kind of thing to you, without helping you implement it. I find it especially frustrating when people who aren’t that bothered about getting things right tell me that “done is better than perfect”. That’s easy to say if everything you do is a bit rubbish!

If you’re someone who likes to get things right, but also believes that it’s better to produce a flawed something than a perfect nothing, here are the major steps and questions I usually work on with my coaching clients who also share those values:

  1. What’s your definition of ‘progress’?  – get really clear about just what progress means to you, in this specific context
  2. The evidence you use to measure progress – how will you know when progress is being achieved; what will you see, hear, feel or read?
  3. The prior step – what has to happen first, or what is necessary in order for there to be any progress?
  4. Your motivation – if you were to make progress, what would that make possible? What’s in it for you?
  5. Your strategy – what are the steps, especially the first and second things you might do, that will lead to making at least some progress?
  6. Your fallback – what will you do if those first few steps don’t work?
  7. Your emotions – what kind of emotion helps you move from perfection to progress; how do you need to feel for that to happen? And what usually helps you feel that way?
  8. Your allies – who is on your side already in this? And who could be co-opted to your cause?