Sometimes Doing a Perfect Job Means Stopping at 60%

Perfectionism produces wonderful results, but you can often produce even better results by setting your sights lower. Sound impossible? Click to learn how.

Stever Robbins
5-minute read
Episode #318

The Efficient

By shooting lower than 97%, I could reclaim vast amounts of time and effort once I got to the point of diminishing returns.

Learning to set your sights lower is just the first step towards reclaiming your life. By shooting lower than 97%, I could reclaim vast amounts of time and effort once I got to the point of diminishing returns. But if no one in the known universe but me could tell the difference between 83% and 97%, it only makes sense to shoot at most for 83% quality level. The extra effort and stress just isn’t worth it.

Now, if you’ve watched Breaking Bad, you may disagree. Walter White’s success as a drug lord was because his product was 97% pure. The market could tell the difference. That was fiction. You’re living in the real world. And besides, except maybe for the warehouse full of cash, Walter White’s 97%-pure empire wasn’t exactly inspirational.

When setting your sights, forget the absurd 97% altogether. At the very most,even if you have the time to do more, only work up to the point where you start getting diminishing returns.

The Useful

Which brings us to confront the least pleasant part of perfectionism: The market only wants a 60% quality level.

Even though I could produce 83% quality with relatively little effort, the market wouldn’t value it. Maybe I would get a return for my effort in terms of how I felt about my job, but I wasn’t likely to get any other kind of return. If the market wants Wal•Mart quality, they’re not going to pay more for Saks Fifth Avenue, even if you offer Saks quality.

Start your project shooting for the quality level the market wants. You may have your own reasons for doing a better job. Maybe you’re setting the foundation for a later product, or using the project as a chance to learn, or you’re desperately trying to impress your parents in a vain attempt to get them to stop treating you like a 12-year-old. But whatever your reason, remember that delivering quality above what the market wants is something you’re doing for you, not for them.

Your Numbers May Vary

These exact numbers change depending on who you’re working for, and what you’re doing.

Next time you begin a project, identify your personal perfection point. That’s the over-the-top, you’re-only-doing-it-for-yourself quality level. Add in a time constraint, so you don’t spend the rest of your life on the project. Next, find the point of diminishing returns. And finally, the quality level needed by the market. Shoot for market-level quality.

Then for your own satisfaction, you might put in effort up to the point of diminishing returns. But finally, it’s time to stop. Instead of spending the next 90% of the project trying to attain those last steps towards perfect, spend that time going off and doing something else awesome. Your product can be good enough, leaving you the time to make your life…perfect.

Perfection, progress over perfection, and 60% images courtesy of Shutterstock.


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.