I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do. – Leonardo da Vinci

Ever felt stuck starting or doing something because you’re afraid it won’t be perfect?

Taking off rose coloured lenses ask, “What is perfect?“.  Do we have an unrealistic view and expectation of ourselves?

I recall countless times where progress in work has been stifled with the ‘need’ for perfection.

  • Exhibit A → 50+ names and 3+ attempts of blog set up, design and distribution. Value: zero.
  • Exhibit B → In a not so distant past, spending 1.5 days on a banker journey map. It didn’t hit the job to be done mark and was left to rot in corner of the team’s project room.

To avoid the same conundrum, let’s explore why action is always better than striving for perfection.

1. #GSD

Getting sh!t done is tangible progress now.

I recently encountered three “if/when” occurrences:

  • We’ll publish our travel blog when our design is perfect
  • I’ll start my budget hacks side hustle when there’s a backlog of content
  • I’ll build my health business’ user base and distribution when timing is perfect

The result? No physical value has yet been delivered.

Economist John Maynard Keynes said, “In the long run, we’ll all be dead”. There is no silver bullet or perfect timing. Progress happens with a sense of urgency.

Here are some tips to GSD:

  • Understand what you’re trying to achieve
  • Prioritise the important stuff and keep track of ‘to do’, ‘doing’ and ‘done tasks’
  • Break tasks into smaller units – time box, eliminate and automate where possible!
  • Set boundaries to avoid distractions (eg. social media, interruptions)
  • Seek mentorship or alliances to boost learning and hold accountability
  • Review and repeat

2. Build-Measure-Learn

Credit: Kissmetrics

Popularised in Eric Ries’ The Lean Startup, the build-measure-learn feedback loop is about validating learnings from experiments and measuring success through a set of metrics.

If the results yield well tick, if not, it’s time to tweak.

The key to running the loop is to build an MVP; the smallest set of features that provides customer value according to your hypothesis. It is not about perfection but learning as quickly as possible by doing.

Why? Because spending eons of time perfecting the design of Reintention would be useless if it was something no one cared about. Don’t chase rabbits down rabbit holes.

3. Multiple Sprints 

Many iterations are possible by moving through the BML feedback loop quickly. Remove yourself from traditional waterfall to optimise learning and value creation with each sprint.

For example when deciding on optimal blog themes, I could run concurrent split testing on numerous titles and see which one has the greatest click rate. Choosing to run one ad or one post in comparison to another: A. The conditions may have changed making comparison difficult and B. The time to have those learnings is much longer.

Why learn slowly when you can do much more in the same time if not faster?


4. Time to Market

Faster learnings = quicker competency = faster time to market. Speed to market isn’t important to just finding product market fit from a strong value proposition. It could be the difference between a leading advantage or being on the waste side from your competitors. Rich20Something Daniel DiPiazza attributed his success through timing as “identifying future waves and working within those waves to create growth.”

Time to market could is also immediacy of value to you.  I recently decided to do an intensive 1 week version of a 10 week course because I wanted to implement the acquired skills straight away.

5. Empowerment 

“All our dreams could come true if we have the courage to pursue them” – Walt Disney

Activity generates momentum and is the building blocks for motivation and confidence. According to ‘Stand Out’ author Dorie Clark keeping our why in mind means we “solve real problems and make a difference in a way that creates value”. Furthermore, “it’s a willingness to be brave, open up and share yourself. It’s a willingness to risk having your work shot down, because you genuinely believe in it.”

Getting stuff done moves you along what I call the ‘Dreamer – Achiever spectrum’ measured through action and time illustrated below:

6. Anti-fragility

Sometimes taking action feels a little like this:

(Yep that’s me doing a 270° spin and 180° knee drop…)

We unconsciously use perfectionism as an excuse to stop progress because of fear and judgement. Doing boosts intuition, experience and makes us less susceptible to fear. Positive reinforcement assists in the formation of new habits and neural connections within our brains.

Anti-fragility results in a mindset shift when confronting shocks and setbacks because we see challenge as a sign of growth, not failure.  

7. Perfection is an Addiction You’ll Always Be Chasing

Like the dog that’s constantly chasing its tail around in a circle but never catches it. FOMO regarding perfection is due to the potential of unrealised gains. 

There is a balance between potential unrealised gains (if I stop now feature X or Y may be missed), with the law of diminishing returns (more input yields less output).

Two considerations when battling perfection addiction are:

  • Perfection comes from a place of lackingKyle Cease said “…ideals for perfection are due to something you need in order to be/achieve/do “_____”. This comes from a place of incompleteness, meaning you are looking fill a void by acquiring ‘perfection’.
  • Perfection doesn’t exist. You can always do better, incrementally or disrupt and start from scratch. Progress is a process, not the end game. Opting for small wins along the way creates far greater value than the flag in the end when everything is ‘perfect’. By then the line in the sand has already moved.

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