And That’s Enough

On weekends, my sister and I do jigsaw puzzles together. She’s at one end of the country, I’m at the other. We don’t schedule it much in advance just, do you want to puzzle today? Tomorrow afternoon? Ok. We put on Facetime and put the devices to one side so we can look at each other from time to time if we want to, but we don’t stare at each other’s faces. And then we work on our puzzles. For the first few minutes of puzzling, we might ask each other how our weeks were (“pretty much the same as last week”) or what’s new (“nothing how I wish I could leave the apartment”) but we don’t feel like we need to have deep important calls. Sometimes we talk to ourselves (“What is this piece? Oh!”). Sometimes her kids or husband walk into the frame and I ask them how they are (teenage shrug).

And that’s enough.

It’s strangely satisfying, this quiet activity together. My sister seems calmer. I feel calmer.

Sometimes you don’t have to do so much.

Earlier this week, I led a team-building exercise for a group of people, where they gave each other feedback. At the end, I asked them to journal for 5 minutes about what they had received, what had surprised them. And to select one thing to work on in response to that feedback, one thing they would work on for the next month. I know you’ll want to work on a whole list, I said, it’s easy to do that, but just pick one.

Later we went around the “room” and they shared the thing they had chosen. It was a powerful exercise. Made even more powerful when someone said, “I’ve got three” – “One” I corrected. “Just pick one.”

One was enough.

I used to keep on my whiteboard at work a reminder to our busy selves:

Is this necessary?

If so, is it strategically important enough to require our best effort, our perfectionism?

Can I use it as an opportunity to train someone else to do it so I can delegate it?

If not, how little can I get away with?

If it’s something I’ll have to do more than once, can I automate it?

In a four-square, it looks like this.

 Strategically ImportantNot Strategically Important
One TimeDeserves our best effort.  
Use as a learning opportunity
Do the least necessary to satisfy and that’s enough
RepeatedAutomate, delegate, or develop a system to manage itFind a way to make it unnecessary

As an example, the communications team would put their best effort the VP’s blog, which introduced and reinforced strategic changes designed to increase sales or profitability, or improve culture. The operations team worked with IT to automate information collection. And the checklist that the audit department sent out every quarter – the one no one ever looked at and that we had advised them repeatedly to print on the submission envelopes, thereby making it unnecessary – well, we stopped fighting that battle, gave it almost no attention at all, and just sent it out in a way that ensured that it received the least attention necessary (and caused the least distraction).

We’re going through a particularly busy time at work right now – a confluence of wrapping up 2020 projects and planning 2021 projects – and this approach is important to remember, especially when working alongside perfectionists.

As a recovering perfectionist, I appreciate how hard it is to do just enough. But the world is imperfect. The natural world is imperfect. The human world is imperfect. It’s the thing I like about Blade Runner and Alien over 2001 – the future isn’t some sanitized, super-designed world of perfection. It can’t be because we’re not.

So trying to make all your work perfect is a useless endeavor.

Pick your spots where you need to make your best effort. And in the other areas, just get the job done to move on.

And that’s enough.

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