Progress not Perfection
Every day one of the first things I do is to try to create a list of the things I’m going to get done in the day. Every day I get to scratch some completed tasks off my list and that gives me great satisfaction.
Some days I don’t get anything done. Sometimes it’s because something more urgent comes along and jumps the queue and that’s what I put my energy into. Sometimes it’s because I’m tired, lazy or distracted. I can deal with both of those situations.
The situation that really frustrates me is when I get into a project, spend a bunch of time working on it and produce no usable results. This happened to me last week. I worked on a new website for 2 or 3 days and ended up having to delete it and start over.
When this happens I have to remind myself that what is important is that I am making progress, even though I have nothing tangible to show for it. At least now I know what NOT to do when creating the initial install of WordPress for a new site on my hosting service. As I go through trying to set it up again it won’t take as long because I’ll have the benefit of having taking all the wrong turns and run into all the walls the first time through.
I’ll also have learned what questions to ask. I’ll be able to ask smarter questions because I have garnered the experience of the setback. Maybe I’ll be less likely to forge ahead without asking for help – but knowing me – that’s unlikely!
I have to remind myself that I did accomplish something. I learned something. The real reason it frustrates me is that it runs counter to my expectations! I’m mad because I thought it would be easy, especially for a pseudo-technical smart guy like me! Once again the root of my frustration is self created. As it always is.
I tend to react to these frustrations by trying harder. If the wall doesn’t fall run into it harder! In some cases this is a healthy success trait. In others it’s not. Sometimes I find that the only way out of these frustrating situations is to force myself to take a break to recharge emotionally before tackling it again.
In these situations where you are pretty sure you have ‘failed’ you need to remember that you are still alive and still breathing. You can pick yourself up, dust yourself off, learn from your experience and carry on. In the long game, the grand scheme it really doesn’t matter. It’s all just part of the adventure.
One of the podcasts I listen to, Internet Business Mastery refers to this as ‘Progress not Perfection’. Their point is that your goal is to continue to make progress and as long as this happens you will eventually figure it out and get somewhere better. This is good because it forces you to focus on the motion, the activity and not so much on the results.
Projects are like mosaics and you don’t see the full picture until you get all the pebbles in place. Many times the picture isn’t what you started out intending to build. But it is something. It is progress. It is experience. It is motion.
This concept meshes well with my continuing effort to take the long view in general. I know that making a little progress every day piles up over time. That’s how I can run a qualifying marathon – I workout every day. That’s how I’ve written 2-Plus books, by writing one or two posts per week. That’s how I lost 15 pounds in the last 4 months.
Some days you win a little, some days you lose a little and it’s those small movements that add up. In due time.
The lesson for you is to not get frustrated when you have those days or weeks or months where you don’t accomplish what you thought you’d accomplish or what you ‘expected’ to accomplish. Focus instead on the progress you made and make sure you are taking lots of small steps in the right direction.
Don’t let the bad voices in your skull start making up rules and punishing you for not making more progress. I can hear them telling you that because you didn’t get X done you’re a big loser. Then they pile on with all the reasons you’re a big loser. That’s not true. You won. You made progress. At the very least you discovered one more way it doesn’t work!
Another great, related concept that I heard this week is ‘it’s only failure if you give up!’ I take breaks when I run out of energy but I try not to give up on the long game. I’m going to go back and recreate that website and keep banging on it until it’s done. I didn’t fail, I just made progress and it’s going to take longer than I wanted it too.
This strategy is actually a great tool in the business world. I’ve seen so many people win in the long run because they stuck to their positions and everyone else got tired, moved on an gave up.
That doesn’t mean you or I should blindly flail against unmovable objects until we give up the ghost. There’s a difference between giving up and altering your approach or your course. It’s perfectly OK to take what you learned from your first (or second or third or fourth…), frustrating try and use that feedback to alter your approach or try something different.
If I was really smart I’d get a WordPress expert to set these sites up for me, because I’m obviously not that good at it! But I won’t because I’m stubborn and there is probably some intrinsic value in knowing how it works.
So my friends, let’s review…
- Make sure you have a list of the things you want to get done.
- Focus on making progress, don’t worry about being perfect.
- Focus on the long view; progress is many, small, continuous works over time.
- Understand that most of your frustration will come from expectations you set for yourself – and you can control those.
- You can’t fail if you keep trying.
- Choosing an alternate approach or a different path based on your experience is different than giving up.
We have been graced with the ability to learn and to apply those learnings to our future selves. Use that skill and enjoy your adventure.