How Good Is Good Enough (and Why Does It Matter)?

June 12, 2017
Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ, Fear Free Certified

Dr. Zeltzman is a board-certified veterinary surgeon and serial entrepreneur. His traveling surgery practice takes him all over eastern Pennsylvania and western New Jersey. You can visit his websites at DrPhilZeltzman.com and VeterinariansInParadise.com.

Are you efficient, a perfectionist, or anal retentive? When it comes to productivity, how much effort you should put into a project depends on what you’re trying to get out of it.

How good is good enough? Does everything you do have to be flawless? How perfectly executed does a task have to be?

The answer to these questions probably depends on what you are working on. Obviously, doing dishes, parallel parking and performing surgery each require different levels of perfection.

Bob Bly, copywriter and marketing specialist, shares a simple graph that can help us decide how perfect a given task has to be. This “curve of excellence” holds the secret to our productivity.

The curve of excellence (© Bob Bly).

Let's agree that point A describes someone who is efficient, point B represents a perfectionist and point C is someone with anal-retentive tendencies.

The Efficient Person

Most of the work we do, whatever it is, is accomplished between zero and point A. This is represented by the majority of the exponential curve, and the work we accomplish here is considered “good enough.”

Depending on the project, a huge amount of progress is made in a variable amount of time. So your return on investment (ROI) is huge as well. Examples of jobs for which it’s OK to be “good enough” include mopping the floor, doing online research and folding laundry. Those can be done 90 percent perfectly.

The Perfectionist

If you decide that you need to dedicate more time to your task — in other words, you have to go from point A to point B — then your productivity or ROI will drop significantly. Why? Because you’ve already accomplished 90 percent of your task. A few extra hours will only improve the quality of your work up to 95 percent or 97 percent. In addition, because the curve remains a curve, the more you work beyond point B, the more your productivity decreases.

If you feel that the task in question deserves more time, then that makes you a perfectionist. Tasks that fall in this category might include improving your website, preparing for a conference or rehearsing for a concert. Being a perfectionist will differentiate you from your friendly competitors.

The Anal-Retentive Person

Working from point B to point C is a similar dilemma. Is it worth it? How can you justify spending even more time after you’ve already invested so much in the task? This amount of time will only generate a minor improvement (maybe 3 percent or 5 percent) in the quality of your work. It also will keep you from moving on to (sometimes more) valuable work.

Spending more time re-re-rewording the content of a brochure, a memo or an email is most often a sure way to waste endless hours. That’s how deadlines get missed. We are moving into anal-retentive territory here.

Of course, there are times when true perfection is required, such as when writing your daughter's wedding speech, delivering a baby or landing a plane. For most other tasks, good enough really is good enough.

The Bottom Line

Successful people work up to point A; perfectionists go the extra mile until they reach point B; anal-retentive (and some inefficient) people work late into the night until they reach point C and beyond.

Which personality type are you?

Kelly Serfas, a certified veterinary technician in Bethlehem, PA, contributed to this article.

Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a board-certified veterinary surgeon and serial entrepreneur. His traveling surgery practice takes him all over eastern Pennsylvania and western New Jersey. You can visit his websites at www.DrPhilZeltzman.com and www.VeterinariansInParadise.com.