Don't Do Perfect Adrian Webster Bullet Blog

Don’t Do Perfect

After last week’s diversion into imposter syndrome, this week I’m going to return to a theme of goal setting, and I am going to look at one of the main enemies of success – procrastination.

I’m sure you know the feeling. The goals are set and committed to, they are fully understood and there is no shortage of enthusiasm – yet nothing is happening.

Why? There are of course several reasons.

You or others around you may simply be too busy, distracted or overwhelmed to focus right now on a future goal, even though you have undertaken to make a start and are all too aware of its vital importance.

This issue of prioritisation calls for ruthless thinking. Ask yourself whether some of your day-to-day tasks are simply a comfortable excuse for not addressing something that will stretch your capabilities and take you outside your comfort zone? Can other jobs be deferred, delegated, or even discontinued? Could you set aside protected time in your day to work on important goal-related tasks which otherwise won’t get completed? Or, do you need to wait until the harsh reality of what is inevitably going to happen if you don’t hit those goals is staring you in the face – before you even contemplate re-setting your priorities?

If goals are not completed because they are not even started, then you have an even bigger problem on your hands. The reason most people defer starting something is because they don’t yet have all the answers they need. Instead, they believe the outcome will be better if they wait for ‘just one more’ piece of information. It’s understandable since it is an uncomfortable feeling trying to start something when you don’t have all the facts, but this is exactly what successful innovators do.

The key to innovation is a willingness to embark on a course of action when inputs as well as outcomes are still uncertain. Innovators don’t see this as a risky course of action, instead they trust that answers to any unanswered questions will emerge through the process by which they pursue a goal. They recognise that the biggest risk is in not starting, because that way the answers won’t come to them but to their competitors.

Despite prioritising and innovating, some people become blocked by their own thinking. They put off starting or completing a project because they feel a need to reach some perfect outcome which is temptingly almost within reach. And they believe that everything they do must not only be perfect, but perfect first time.

This is perfectionism and it is not the same as aiming high and striving for excellence. It is actually the opposite, because this unrealistic and harmful thought process will stop you achieving anything.

For example, if your goal was to write a 300 page book, you wouldn’t wait until you felt you could write all 300 pages perfectly. You would break the task down, starting with an outline and perhaps authoring a page or sentence at a time, making amendments and corrections along the way. With over 30 books to her credit, Pulitzer prize-winning author Jane Smiley must know the tyranny of a blank page and the intimidation of deadlines. That’s why I particularly value her words: “Every first draft is perfect, because all a first draft has to do is exist”.

In other words, perfect is about finding a process not an outcome. So, unless you are a neurosurgeon, an air traffic controller, or a concert pianist, you really don’t need to do perfect. You simply need to do.

  • Procrastination is normal – we all do it to a degree
  • Excessive procrastination blocks success, but can be overcome
  • Prioritisation is, unsurprisingly, always the best place to start
  • Welcome discomfort – start before you know all the answers
  • Perfectionists are unnecessarily hard on themselves – give yourself a break!

And, on the subject of ‘doing’, if you should ever feel the need to go in search of inspiration before you can get started on something – don’t waste your time, you’ll never find it!  As someone who, as well as delivering motivational speeches, writes books for a living – allow me to share with you the same advice that I often find myself giving to people who tell me that one day they too are going to write a book:

“Don’t go looking for inspiration, start doing, inspiration will come and find you.”