One of the greatest enemies of productivity is perfectionism, not procrastination. (Procrastination can be a good thing if you do it right.)
Perfectionism hits us in two ways:
- We’re afraid to get started.
- We’re afraid to finish.
Great one-two punch, no? Perfectionism gets you both ways. We’re afraid to start because we don’t want to make mistakes. We’re afraid to finish because it’s not perfect yet.
The point of being productive isn’t to be perfect. There is no right time to start; there is only now. There is no perfect outcome; once it’s good enough you’re wasting your time. Waiting for everything to be perfect before we move (or move on) is a guaranteed way to set yourself up to fail. If you want to start a change, you do just that: you start.
Why is getting started so important?
- You can’t build momentum until you’re moving. You have to take that all-important first step. Don’t worry about how small it is. Identify the smallest, simplest next action you can think of and do it. Then do it again. By taking a series of small steps (which can be within your Comfort Zone) you will start to build momentum. Each step will start to be easier.
- Our brains are drawn to open loops. Once we start something, our brains are drawn to it. It’s like an unsolved puzzle. Our subconscious will gnaw at it while we think we’re thinking about something else. We’ll start knocking out little tasks and leaning into the problem. Pretty soon, we start building up some serious momentum without realizing it.
- You’ll learn faster by doing. You know that practice of “See One, Do One, Teach One”? It works. You can learn by reading, but you’ll learn a lot more and a lot more quickly if you’ll actually do it. Stop listening to podcasts and go.
- It’s easier to change your mind. The other thing experience will teach you much more quickly is that you actually hate it. I used to want to learn archery. To this day, I’d love to see Hawkeye, Green Arrow, and Legolas go head-to-head. Fortunately, I learned that I love the idea of mastering a bow and arrow more than the sport itself long before running up a bill at Cabella’s.
- Get feedback earlier. The sooner you can start the change, the sooner you can start getting feedback on it. You’ll see what your natural strengths and weaknesses are and how they factor in. You can learn the mechanics of a golf swing from watching YouTube videos, but you won’t know whether you need to correct a hook or a slice until you get out there and start hitting balls.
- You’ll build confidence. There’s that voice inside you telling you can’t do it. While you’re still thinking about change, you have nothing. It’s your word against Fear’s, and Fear is persuasive. Fear will talk us out of ever trying if we let it. While Fear is talking, be doing.
Stay focused on what you’re trying to accomplish. Take a step towards that end. If it’s good enough for now, set it aside and do something else. During your next review (probably daily or weekly), reassess what you’ve accomplished and what you’re trying to achieve. Do you still want that outcome? Do you need to update the end you have in mind? Have you found an easier way to get there? Take another step in that direction. Repeat.
One of two things will happen:
- You’ll do the thing you set out to do. Mission accomplished! Time to celebrate! Or,
- You’ll decide you’ve gone far enough down that path, it’s not worth your time to go any further, and your time will be better spent doing something else. You just identified something good you can give up to get something better. That’s a huge decision! Time to celebrate!
You know what won’t happen? You won’t get stuck at the beginning, wishing instead of working. You’re going to get out there and make things happen. You’re going to look back and see how far you’ve come. You’re going to live your dream while others are still dreaming.
Whenever you feel yourself starting to wait for perfection, stop waiting. Do something that moves you in the right direction. It can be a small step. That’s perfectly fine. You’re looking for progress, not perfection.