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Perfection is the enemy of progress

Sara Lobkovich
Sara Lobkovich
5 min read
Perfection is the enemy of progress
Source: Sugar & Sloth on Instagram 

We're on the road, presently in Miles City, Montana (at the time of chicken scratching the notes for this post we were. Now as I edit we're 48 miles outside of Fargo, North Dakota). This trip we're bound for Minnesota.

My perfectionism tendencies have kept me from writing lately. That gremlin is a lifelong companion. Sometimes she's more distant, others she's a constant, and since the business launch, which I worked so hard to make perfect, those perfection muscles are STRONG.

Part of my continuing education right now is – no joke – about helping clients live and work with less perfectionism. I'm winding my way through a self-paced curriculum on the topic designed for therapists and helpful for coaches (and it's helpful for me as a group facilitator as well). I'm careful not to diagnose or treat – to stay within my professional boundaries -- but the learning is just fascinating.

The irony is not lost on me that my tendencies toward perfectionism flared into an uncontrolled burn while I planned and executed a business launch partly based on a practice that depends on challenging our tendencies toward perfectionism.

A big part of my work these days revolves around a collaborative goal-setting methodology called OKRs, or Objectives and Key Results. And a big part of OKRs is agility. We set aspirational, inspirational Objectives and measurable Key Results, but unlike traditional planning practices, OKRs are set quickly. And perfectionism is the antithesis to quick.

We know when we set OKRs that they are an experiment. We're going to set OKRs for the quarter and whether they're "good" or "bad" they let us work with more clarity and alignment together. At the end of the quarter we check in on our attainment – our progress – and ask:

What did we learn? What do we need to change for next quarter?

So in setting OKRs, perfection is the enemy of "good enough."

If we aim for perfection, the perfection­ists on the team will exhaust their colleagues. The work, the perfectionists know, could be better, so they want to continue work past our scheduled window, often scheduling multiple follow-ups and rounds to continue collaboration and slow, often diminishing returns, progress forward. And the rest of the team will impatiently develop methodology fatigue after the first 2-3 hours, and eventually give up and lean out.

It's been a practice for me to manage my own perfectionism to help teams do this work, and I've got a great toolkit for it. I use time management, a variety of group facilitation tactics to help teams make decisions quickly, and frequent gentle reminders that our work is about progress, not perfection, and that they'll learn more about how to improve their OKRs living with them with curiosity for the quarter than spending more time in meetings trying to get them "right."

When I work with leaders and groups we agree going in: we're going to do the best we can, with the time we have, to develop aspirational, inspirational, measurable goals quickly, and then we're going to shift gears to implement them and start out learning about how we can do better next time.

It's interesting to observe as leaders and teams wrestle with all of this, because most teams are blended in terms of the perfectionism spectrum. Sitting outside of it as a facilitator, I can see it, I can spot it, and I can call the participants' attention to the places where they may be overworking the work – where they may need to accept their working draft as "good enough" and then move into experimentation.

And then I help make "good enough" psychologically safe, by modeling curiosity instead of judgment.

When we're off the mark on a goal, instead of furrowing my brow and blaming, or instead of anyone getting "in trouble," I model curiosity.

What's getting in our way here? What needs aren't met? What would we need to get back on track? Can we get those needs met, or are we doing the best we can, with what we have, where we are?

So I professionally practice imperfection, literally daily. And yet, my perfectionism muscles are so strong I struggle to even put pen to paper lately.

I'm working on just writing – sitting down and moving my fingers (that's what I'm doing right now despite the pavement racing by underneath my feet in the van). I'm also working on outsourcing my editing. I think, if I can get some outside help with editing, it will help me make two shifts:

  1. I'll have outside accountability around just writing – if someone is expecting my latest pages then it's a hard deadline and I'll feel the pressure to sit down and write; and
  2. outsourcing editing means I can just write. If I don't feel all the pressure of writing the words and figuring out how to make it "good enough" to hit publish on, then maybe I can dial down my inner criticism just enough to move my fingers across the keyboard or journal.

I'll leave it at that, for now. I've got noticings, and a brain full of bees right now, not answers on this one. So if you're also someone who tangos with perfectionism, just know, we are not alone. And I'm all ears for your perfection detox practices: I need all the help I can get right now.

Work-wise I've been focused on getting a couple of big deals signed for Q4 and then I'll know what my schedule looks like more realistically for the rest of this calendar year.

When that clarity comes, I'm going to have a few slots available for individual coaching focused on (1) work / life well-being, (2) career transition and (3) leadership & management development so if you'd like a pre-launch head's up.

I'm also working on some lower cost and high-value ways to work with me that you all will be the first to hear about (and get early opportunities to test – including folks who've hand-raised to test in the past who haven't yet gotten that chance to).

Stay tuned for more information as the calendar becomes more clear, and thank you to those of you who have reached out with gentle nudges to make it more possible for folks to work with me individually and not just through large corporate engagements.  

Want to text with me directly?

Along those lines, an opportunity: I've started a SMS-text based Community that allows you to opt-in to specific topics (OKRs, well-being topics, motorcycles 😊) and receive helpful reminders each week (on OKRs and well-being topics)(or infrequently when we have race round reports and news on the motorcycle side of things). This is not a marketing / selling channel for me – it's a service channel focused on learning, development and support. It's a way I can reach my closest followers directly without the organic social media algorithms deciding what you see and what you don't.

IF you'd like to be able to text with me directly in a more professional capacity (at no charge!) please join my Community by following this link or texting me at +1 (206) 565-1507. You do have to double opt in – there's a link you must click to fill out a short form that gives me permission to text you. If you send a message and don't opt in, I'll never see it (I only get to see messages after people complete the sign-up form).

Thanks, as always, for reading – and take care. If you've got perfectionism wisdom to share I am all ears.

P.S. A truth from sugarandsloth on Instagram:


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