Last week, I had midterms in all of my classes. More than a week of sleeping about four and a half hours a night left me feeling a little disenchanted with my work and the life of the grind. Now that I’m getting my grades back, they aren’t substantially better than the ones I’ve gotten with a lot more sleep and less time working. So where is the line?
Recently, Hank Green (from Vlogbrothers and Vidcon infamy) released a video that said the key to his productivity is to do everything to 80% completion because the bulk of the learning happens in the first 80% and the bulk of the time is in the last 20% to bring it to the (likely unattainable) finished mark we have in our heads for projects.
This makes sense. In the process of working on any project, eventually the amount of time and energy devoted to it has a smaller payoff than it did before. In economics, this is called the law of diminishing returns.
After a week of trading sleep and social time for those few points to be gained from that last 20%, Hank was speaking my language. Do perfectionism and my preconception of what finished work would look like keep me from maximizing productivity?
Harvard Business Review recently published an article arguing that focusing on reaching 75% or even 50% of the potential of a piece allows for greater learning to occur. When you focus on perfection, you never release a product.
In my case, this begs the question if the extra couple hours on a paper or reviewing practice problems really make a meaningful different come test day. In many ways, deadlines force productivity in the midst of perfectionism. If it were not for my deadlines, I might never turn in drafts of essays.
A study from Moscow State University found that students that scored high on a test for perfectionism had “inequality of academic progress, imbalance of educational motivation, and drops of productivity” compared to students who scored lower.
With classes that are mostly problem based (like math and economics), it’s easier to follow the deadlines and keep churning out work because you simply don’t have another choice. Something has to go on the page before time runs out on a test or a problem set is due. Sometimes this means making assumptions that you can’t verify just to have an answer.
Right now, I’m taking a creative writing class that gives me weeks to come up with something to turn in. In choosing a topic and imagining what the essay will look like, checking those expectations and continuing to push out drafts for feedback on them is more important than making the draft I share the best it could possibly be.
When I started the blog, I spent a month writing a bunch of posts so I could find my voice. Perfection was less important than what I learned about what I enjoyed writing and the input I got from my friends and family.
Sticking to deadlines and being willing to accept criticism can help you overcome the endless spiral of perfectionism keeping you from maximizing your productivity.
How do you deal with perfectionism? Has it ever affected your productivity?
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