Aiming for perfect? Try good enough

I don’t usually suffer from perfectionism. Indeed, one of the reasons I love writing for newspapers or online is that the turn-around time is so fast that perfectionism doesn’t come into it. When you’ve got 2 months to write a magazine feature, I find, the editing process takes 2 months. When you have 20 minutes to crank out a blog post, you’ll take 20 minutes. The quality is different, but not by that order of magnitude.

Yet, recently, when it comes to running, I’d been bumping up against a form of perfectionism. Life is particularly busy at the moment, between cranking out chapters of the new book (possible working titles: For What It’s Worth: How to Buy Happiness, or maybe Plenty: How to Buy Happiness), starting my BNET column, supporting 168 Hours, etc. Winter always adds in the joys of snow and sick kids and, in a not unanticipated result, sick me. My choir has three concerts in the next two months. I know better than to say “I don’t have time to run,” so instead, I’ll just say that running outside in the cold for 5 miles every day isn’t a priority for me right now. So I thought about just writing off the next month or two.

Then I realized that I was framing this the wrong way. I run because I need the exercise — for health and for my sanity. But running outside for 5 miles isn’t the only way to get some of the benefits of exercise. I work at home and my apartment building has a gym. I hate treadmill running, but if I can’t run outside for 5 miles, it’s the rare day that I can’t throw on my gym clothes, hop on the elevator, and get down to the gym for 20 minutes. Because the treadmill is so boring, I run as fast as possible for those 20 minutes. Then I race back up and get back to whatever I was doing.

Net result? I’m not accumulating the miles. But I am getting faster. And while running for 20 minutes is not as good as running for 50, it’s certainly better than running for 0. Sometimes the perfect can be the enemy of the good enough. Better to settle for good enough than to never get started.

In other news:

  • Liz Danforth does an interesting write-up of what she discovered by logging her time. She works part-time in a library, and mentioned that she heard about the book when another library patron started gushing about it. So thank you, anonymous library patron!
  • I spoke at the New York Chapter of the National Association of Professional Organizers on Monday of last week. The feedback from the 41 people who turned in forms? 38 found me interesting, 2 somewhat, and 1 “no.” Let me know if your organization needs a speaker that 90% of the attendees will find interesting…


10 thoughts on “Aiming for perfect? Try good enough

  1. “The perfect is the enemy of the good” is one of my favorite quotes, even though it gets thrown around waaay too much in my industry right now. It is so true.

    One of the things I’ve been doing with my extra hours since getting laid off is getting a little more exercise. It is nice, so I need to think really hard about how to make room for some of that to continue once I get a new job. I’m thinking we could have a leftover night every week, and I can use the time I’m not making dinner to exercise. I just have to figure out the logistics of how to make that happen- maybe pick the kids up 30 minutes later from day care?

    1. @Cloud – that could work if you have very regular hours. The one issue with afternoon work-outs is that things come up and sometimes we’re tired and so less motivated. On the other hand, given that you’d be picking up small children from daycare (not known for being relaxing) maybe you wouldn’t have this problem because the gym or a work-out would be more of a wind-down than picking them up! How about two leftover nights? Or do something ready-made (frozen pizza).

  2. I recently sat at my son’s karate class (crocheting all the while) and watched another mom put together elaborate birthday party invitations, props etc. I was in awe, yet at the same time realized that it wasn’t something I would want to spend the time on. All that work, literally in the garbage after the party is over. My son’s party themes are dictated by the banner I buy, and the cake I enjoy decorating. My parties aren’t perfect, but everyone still has fun.
    Regarding exercise, I have often done the same thing. The workouts I do are supposed to be 45 minutes, but sometimes I just do half, because it makes me feel good, and it’s better than not doing it at all.
    @Cloud, if working out after work is hard, try going on a Saturday morning, or see if they have free babysitting (I know some day-cares charge extra after a certain hour–you don’t want your workouts to cost more)

    1. @Denise – yes, I think the “good enough” philosophy is very important in party preparations. I’m writing something about weddings right now and have been thinking that more people should ask “what will people remember?” With a kid’s birthday party, very few people will remember if the invites were more than functional. They will remember if the kids had fun, the food was hearty and tasty, and if the grown-ups could be relatively relaxed. Also with a wedding, no one remembers if you had color coordinated Jordan Almonds. Or what the table cards looked like. Seriously. They remember if there was good food and music, a pleasant loving ceremony, a comfortable environment for ceremony and reception. Be great on those things. Be good enough on everything else.

  3. @Laura- the sorts of jobs I have usually have very flexible hours. So, as long as I get my work done and am present for any meetings, no one really cares when I work. (Within reason, of course- I couldn’t get away with a completely upside down schedule.) That means that if I pick the kids up 30 minutes late, I could exercise at lunch, or in the morning. I’ll have to wait and see what the culture is like at the company I end up working for to see what would cause the least disruption. At my old company, I used to go to a yoga class at 2 p.m. on Wednesdays. I just called it a late lunch and no one cared. Back before I had kids, though, I used to love the after work exercise session. It was a good way to put a “hard stop” in between work and home.

    And Friday night is already frozen pizza night! Or at least it is when I’m working. Right now, I sometimes cook something on Fridays since I’m home all day anyway.

  4. I liked this. This morning I did 20 minutes of Yoga. I wanted to do one hour but felt pretty good at 20 minutes and the bells started going off, child getting up, I work from home but tonight have to be at a networking event which means I needed to shower and dress…. but I feel really good about those 20 minutes… b/c I think they will make a difference in my day. I always try to have a cup of coffee in piece in the a.m. (one of my biggest irritations as a parent is not being able to finish a cup of coffee in the a.m. ideally in silence or at least leisurely before it gets cold… it really irritates me to leave the coffee cold and half finished or to have to drop it b/c say my kid got up and interrupted it) but sometimes I get the coffee then surf the web or start a book in the name of say, finishing the coffee and then exercise gets pushed back. I honestly think it might be better to do 20 minutes every day than nothing b/c on the “more perfect” days you can up the amount but if you start cutting it out it will just totally never happen… it is so hard to prioritize… when several things are all important to you… but it seems to be very important to say what is the most important thing here… I find working out in the a.m. before a shower to be good b ut woudl be curious how you find say a workout in the middle of the day b/c if you do that don’t you have to shower after or maybe if you work from home you can just say whatever and not shower.. I shower every other day now anyway for time and energy efficiency and b/c it is 20 degrees outside so had to see how dirty we can get in that weather.. but since I am 37 weeks pregnant my workouts aren’t that sweaty.. frozen or canned food has too much salt but a few nights a week is fine for kids I think and better than fast food… .i buy organic canned ravioli and frozen chicken nuggets at whole foods and it is worth the money to not to have to cook.. and take that time… any other tips?

    1. @Cara- My 3-year-old is picky enough that we have a very short list of kid dinner foods. I’d love to expand it, but basically most things the kids eat need to be able to be prepared in roughly 5 minutes flat, with them screaming and clutching someone’s legs. So chicken nuggets, quick cooking pasta, PB sandwiches, mac n cheese, pizza (frozen or delivery), chopped up hot dogs, fruit, yogurt, cereal, scrambled eggs sometimes.

  5. I realized at some point in my life that as long as I focused on being perfect, I would always fail. How depressing is that? But when I shifted to being really damn good, I succeeded much more of the time. As you point out, too, the drive for perfection (and desire to not fail) can keep us from even starting.

    Thanks for this!

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