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Managing your brain, part 7


Avoiding perfectionism.

Perfectionism is said to be the desire and the self-imposed expectation to achieve the highest level of performance. So for some people, nothing less than perfect is acceptable. But perfect cannot really be defined; because most things can always be made better, whether it is an article you are writing, a training program you are designing or a meeting you are attending. I wager everyone has had an experience where they spent countless hours “perfecting” something only to have someone criticize it or offer suggestions for improving it.

The answer is not to try to keep improving the item endlessly; but rather to learn how to accept criticism without it damaging your ego or giving you bad feelings.

Your brain wants to achieve your goal; but you must supply it with a set of criteria so it knows exactly what you want. A deadline is only one of three essential criteria. You have to create balance among three criteria – quality, time and cost.

Quality refers to how good your project or task has to be in order to fulfil its purpose. Time refers to when it has to be completed. Cost refers to expenses such as labor, personal energy, materials and so on.

Perfection is out of the question. No company or individual could afford the time and cost to attain such a degree of quality even if it were possible. The time alone that would be required might approach infinity.

The balance you’re aiming at can be represented by the following equation:

Quality + Time + Cost = Value of outcome.

The equation, Q + T + C = V is true at the “breakeven point,” where the degree of quality, time consumed and cost of resources equals the value of the outcome to either you or the company. You certainly don’t want to spend more than the results warrant, just as a company wouldn’t want to spend $100,000 a year to sell a product that brings in $50,000 a year.

If either you or someone else puts an unrealistic deadline on a project, either the quality must decrease or the cost must increase. You can’t have everything. Emotionally you may want everything; but logically or intellectually you know that you can’t have it.

To maintain balance, consideration must be given not only to the time allowed to complete the project, but also the quality expected, the cost you are willing and able to invest, and the value of the results that you’re aiming to achieve.

Perfectionists are quality-oriented, and in many cases are blind to the other criteria involved. To avoid perfectionism, you must use the power of your brain’s prefrontal cortex – the executive of your brain – to focus on the realities of the situation and the value of the outcome expected. This is the actual goal when working on any task, project, meeting or activity. And as Dr. Theo Tsaosides states in his book, Brainblocks, “our brain is hardwired to set and achieve goals.”

Always pay attention to what you’re doing, but keep your main focus on the outcome you want to achieve. This is the outcome that you will have thought through in advance – your goal – which always takes into consideration the time, quality and cost aspects of the project, task or activity. These criteria would have been determined at the outset when you set your goal, making it unnecessary to obsess over quality or any of the individual criteria.

If people complain about the quality, be assured that they are not criticizing you; they are simply complaining about the fact that they can’t have it all. The most they can have is any two of the criteria mentioned.

If they want a project or task done faster and cheaper, it will be of poorer quality. If they want it done faster but with better quality, it will be more expensive. And if they want it done with better quality but cheaper, it may be possible, but it will take longer.

You can always improve on any task, project or activity you perform. But question whether by doing so you would put the equation out of balance with greater quality, time and cost than the outcome would warrant.

In most cases you will find that good enough is good enough.


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