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Practically Perfect in Every Way

Years ago, Polly was filling out a self-assessment questionnaire that asked, "How would you describe yourself?" She answered, trying to be humorous, "Me and Mary Poppins; practically perfect in every way."

In reality, none of us is perfect and can never be. Yet, many of us continually strive for perfection. In business, we tout zero defects and 100 percent customer satisfaction. We spend hours crafting flawless personal and professional brands and more hours managing these images. We want the perfect job, the perfect relationship and we definitely want perfect children.

Should perfection be the goal? As small business people, do we need to do perfect work for our customers to be completely satisfied? While we can all agree that doing a good job and being considered competent is important to small business success, we would argue that pushing for perfection might actually hinder achieving this objective.

Law of Diminishing Returns - Imagine you have written a lengthy email. You pause to proofread your work. Perhaps you restructure a paragraph and put a comma in the final sentence. You reread the work again. This time you change the word "big" to "large." The third time through reading the email you change nothing. On the fourth reread, you remove the comma previously inserted into the final sentence. The first and maybe even the second read were a good use of time. However, as you continue to reread and wordsmith the email you will soon discover that these efforts bear less fruit. Spending more time reworking the same email, proposal, PowerPoint presentation, article or any other task will yield less. This is the law of diminishing returns. The trick is to figure out what is "good work" and stop when you reach that level. Better yet, get someone else to proofread or review important work. Often others will spot something that you would not have seen in a dozen rereads.

Opportunity Costs - Most small business people wear many hats and struggle to find time to accomplish all of their work. If you are spending a lot of time on one activity, trying to make it perfect, you can't be spending time on other tasks that may also be important to your business success. If you continuously find yourself working very long hours, you may want to examine how you are spending your day. First write a to-do list and estimate how long each task should take. As you complete the tasks, note how long you actually spent on the activity. If you are underestimating how long your tasks take, ask yourself if it is because you are pushing for unrealistic quality levels?

Perfection is Selfish - A student in one of our workshops was explaining why being a perfectionist was really a good thing when this thought hit us, "Great work is what we do for our customers; perfection is what we do for ourselves." Your customers do deserve a great product and/or service and you should strive to meet that service level. However, if you are spending exorbitant amounts of time reaching for perfection, you may need to examine your motives. Is it really for the customer, or is it because you can't image anything less than perfect being associated with your name. Is the extra work for your customer, or for you? If you focused on your customer's expectations instead of your own, would you have more time to serve additional customers, spend time with your friends and family or just relax a bit? We are not saying that you should deliver a poor product or service. Instead, we would ask you to examine how you spend your time, on what, and why. If you look at your habits honestly, you will know what to do. By the way, this article isn't perfect, but we hope you will find it pretty darn good!

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