J.D. Meier's Blog

Software Engineering, Project Management, and Effectiveness

80/20 People vs. Perpetually Incomplete People

80/20 People vs. Perpetually Incomplete People

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Another suitable title might be, 80/20 People vs. Perfectionists, but I really wanted to focus on the "perpetually incomplete" aspect that I see over and over again.

Here’s the deal.   One of the most ironic productivity patterns I run into on a regular basis is this:

People who seek to be perfect or complete, are perpetually incomplete. 

They optimize the local minima before the global maxima.  In their pursuit of perfection or completeness, they leave a trail of "almost finished" or “not even started” or “half-done” everywhere.   There are variations to the pattern.  One pattern is that one room in the house is fantastic, while the rest of the house is falling apart.  Another variation of the pattern is that every room has at least one weird mess or strange flaw, because the perfectionist ran out of time.

But the bottom line is, it’s the unfinished, not started, or half-baked parts that overshadow the good that was done.  And that’s a shame.

On the flip side …

80/20 people tend to be more complete, than their perfectionist counterparts.  Why?  Because they've made time to go back and revisit, or make another pass, or work the parts that are the most relevant and useful.  They optimize the global maxima before the local minima.

80/20 people tend to work the high-risks or high-reward areas until they start getting diminishing returns.  The power with this approach is accelerated time to value, but also it helps free up more time to work on areas that truly need it.  And, more importantly, the 80/20 approach creates a more effective map because they know where to drill vs. scan, and what the key risks are (it's the bird's-eye view.)

It really is ironic because by their very nature, the 80/20 People should be leaving more half-finished work, but instead, they tend to leave less gaping voids than their Perpetually Incomplete counterparts.

On Perpetually Incomplete People ...

The sad part is that in so many cases that I see, is how much damage the perfectionism creates, with its ripple effect.  The perfectionist (or Maximizer or Perpetually Incomplete person) creates a significant problem by blowing something out of proportion, or making a mountain out of a molehill, or making a major production out of it.

You can usually trace the problem to three things

  1. Time is not part of the equation.
  2. Priorities are not a part of the equation.
  3. Balance is not a part of the equation.

Basically, their work ends up way out of whack.

How To Be a More Effective Perfectionist

This is a perfect example, where if you "do the opposite" you instantly change your game.  In this case:

  1. Pay attention to time.  It is a budget.  Spend it wisely.  Know your constraints.  If you know how much time you've got, or how much time you should spend, you can at least attempt to spend enough time on the things that count. 
  2. Pay attention to priorities.  Don't spend all your time interior decorating, while the plumbing is busted.  Don't spend $20 on a $5 problem.  Know what's at stake.
  3. Pay attention to balance.  Getting out of focus, or tunnel-focused is what causes you to lose sight of the bigger picture.  Know what you are balancing against, and be deliberate about your trade-offs.  Better yet, walk through and dog-food the end-results you are creating for others.  Consume what you produce, and step through the experience you create.

There are a few one-liner reminders that can help you keep your trade-offs in perspective:

  • Half a loaf is better than no bread.
  • Half a baby is worse than none.

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