A hand interrupting a row of tumbling dominoes.

Still fiddling with that project? Time to stop.

If you’ve got a side project, don’t let it become a never ending project!

you want to achieve a goal or finish any task, you need to know when you’ve done enough to “claim” it has been completed, when to figuratively plant the flag and say “it’s done”.

About ten years ago, I started writing a novel. I picked it up and put it down over the years and fiddled about with it. Eventually I finished the last page. Immediately I turned it over and started editing from the beginning as I knew there was plenty that needed revision. It look some time, but eventually I finished the basic grammar and typography editing. Then (you guessed it) I turned it over and started editing it again. I edited it several times and fiddled with chapters I didn’t like, and then, eventually got it to a point where I’m happy with it. I could easily carry on editing it, but I know that this could be a never-ending task and I do want to try and get it published at some stage. I know that it’s not perfect, but I do believe that it’s “good enough” now.

This is a common problem. So many people have a projects that they consider “unfinished business” because they have not had time to polish it sufficiently. If this sounds like you, you need to take a moment to step back and ask yourself the question I did; Is this piece of work “good enough” for the purpose I am doing it?

The definition of “good enough” will vary. Let’s say that you’re building a fence out of wood. The definition of “good enough” will vary depending on what the fence is for; if you are using it to keep livestock out of a garden, a robust but roughly made fence is probably good enough for your purposes, however, if you are using it to fence off a children’s play area, you probably want to spend the time getting the splinters out of the wood!

The same approach will apply to practically every task, I’ve spent hours fiddling around with a process diagram in Visio at work when, in all likelihood, I just needed to draw the process on a whiteboard and take a photo of it. If I’d taken a moment to consider the level of quality I needed to achieve, I may well have saved myself a bundle of time.

There’s a whole industry involved in “Quality Management” that loves to define quality criteria and standards and generally mystify people by coming up with fancy words for “good enough” that I’ve outlined above. What do you think the International Standards Organisation, the British Standards authority and the Kitemark insignia are? They are simply where people have written down what “good enough” means for a particular activity; there’s even a British Standard for making a cup of tea (apparently it runs to 20 pages).

When you’re looking at what “good enough” means, you should factor the immediate use of the thing you are doing and any wider implications for the future. Let’s go back to the process diagram I mentioned drawing. If it’s just for my use, a back of a fag packet picture may be good enough, however, if it could be useful for others later on, it may be worth spending a little bit longer to may the diagram look clean and legible. Say, for example, you know that getting some future work or reward may depend on doing a good job; it may well be worth spending the time to make a good impression. Equally, if you know that you are making something that will be in use for a long time, it may be worth spending the time to make something that will stand the test of time; it’s no use building a fence that will restrain the livestock but deciding not to treat the wood as, in a few years, it will start to rot.

What I’m trying to say here is that, when you are asking the “good enough” question, you need to factor in a number of different viewpoints to help you make the right assessment of “good enough”.

So, let’s distil that to a four step plan
1) Think — what does “good enough” mean for the task in hand? Will I gain anything in the future from doing a better than “good enough” job? Who is the end customer and what to they expect?
2) Define your criteria. No need to do this formally if it’s just for you, well worth writing it down if it’s for someone else.
3) Do the job until you think the criteria are met and then check that they are met.
4) Claim the job as complete!

That’s it for now. Next time you are polishing something for the fifth time, take a moment to think about Isaac Asimov’s words;

“I’m a non-perfectionist, I don’t look back in regret or worry at what I have written.”

Asimov wrote 475 books during his lifetime so was obviously doing something right!

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Chris Stevenson

I’m interested in lots of things and write about them. History, nature, environment, business topics, experimental stories and anything else I fancy.