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Productivity: Stop being such an egotist

So what’s the big idea?

There are times in our lives, I know, when absolute precision is needed. Let’s face it, when I ask my accountant how much VAT I owe this time, an approximate answer isn’t good enough.  I can’t pay the HMRC “about three thousand”.

But let’s face it, for most of us, most of the time (and even my accountant some of the time) life’s not that important. Absolute accuracy and perfection aren’t critical. As the old saw goes “Good enough, is”.

It might not be nice to admit it, but most of what we do isn’t so important to anyone that it has to be perfect – it has to be good enough and that’s all. Let’s take an example… if you’re an engineer asked to design a bridge that will only be used for cars you’d figure out how much a car weighed, add a safety margin and design for that. You’d not make the bridge utterly indestructible, able to hold the weight of the nine hundred, full, double-deckers busses at once.  Well, you could, but it would be a massively inefficient use of time, energy, effort and building resources!

So it is with most of what we do… because we don’t stop to think what “good enough” looks like we tend to over-engineer most of what we do. We rush in. We don’t stop to think.

If the boss asks for a report on X we give in a report on X that takes as long to write as we can give it, allowing for all the other demands on our time. But what if the boss just wanted a much more light-touch report to be reassured that nothing had gone (badly) wrong.

You give him 30 sides of A4, describing progress since the last report when what he wanted was a ‘good enough’ report that said basically:

  • we’re not over budget
  • we’re not behind timetable.

Each and every word you give your boss over and above those two bullet points is wasted effort.

Let’s go more brutal, even!

I’ll go further than that and say that it’s a type of incompetence based on the ego of thinking what you do matters so very, very much to your boss! You’re not only wasting your own time writing the report but you’re wasting your boss’s time making them read it!

Get over yourself!

Yes, yes, I know, there are lots of people reading this thinking to themselves that they’re the exception to that rule and that what they do has to be done to the absolute standards. Fine. You might be right. You might be.

Here’s a challenging thought… the difference between something that’s “good enough” and “how well you do it” is your ego. That’s it. Pure and simple. If you make something better than it needs to be, you’re doing it to look good or for your own pride, not because it needs to be that good.

So what should you do?

I’m sure there are lots of different options but here’s my take on it.

  1. Before you start figure out what “good enough” looks like
  2. Check how you’ll know you’ve got to that point
  3. Whatever you’ve just decided, put that system in place
  4. Start the work – and whenever the system you’ve just put in place in point three tells you you’re okay to stop, stop
  5. Add a tiny bit to give yourself a margin of error in case you’ve figured out wrongly what Good Enough looks like
  6. Stop
  7. Bask in the extra time you’ve created for yourself  🙂

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