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Have you ever stumbled upon something randomly that just felt like the Universe was slapping you in the face with insight? That happened to me recently with a vlog I watched by Hank Green about what he does to increase his productivity to unimaginable levels.
For those who don’t know who Hank Green is, he is ½ of the VlogBrothers duo with his author brother John Green (The Fault in Our Stars plus so many others). Together they run a twice-weekly YouTube channel, as well as several other educational based YouTube, shows separately.
They are some of the most productive people in online “edutainment” today and I am constantly in awe of the things they are able to accomplish with their Nerdfighter community.
This specific video Hank created was about how exactly he’s able to do SO MUCH AWESOME STUFF in such a relatively short amount of time. You can watch the full video here. Basically, his secret is that you shouldn’t aim for perfect (because perfect doesn’t exist) but instead aim for about 80% of what you think your best is.
I encourage you to watch the video because he does a wonderful job explaining. I was so enamored with the idea though that I decided to write some of my own thoughts on the matter.
The Problem of Perfection Mindset
The problem with perfection is two-fold.
First, there is no set definition of perfect. It is purely based on opinion and perception. What looks like perfection to you is wildly different from the perfection of someone else. Neither of you is wrong, your definition is just different.
Second, even when considering only your own opinion, perfect is dependent on the factors being measured. To get closer to perfect in one category will likely pull you farther from perfect in another.
Perfect isn’t the Goal
The message of Aim for 80% isn’t specifically about perfection though. It’s about effort and doing the very best you are capable of. Even if you gave your 100% and did everything you could for a project, it would likely still fall short of your perception of perfect.
Not only that, giving your all for every project is draining in time, resources, and motivation. All of these things come in limited supply and should be used wisely.
You might be asking yourself though, don’t the consumers of my projects deserve my very best? This is a very sticky subject and I’ll do my best to summarize what Hank has to say about this in his video.
What it comes down to is that the people who are watching your videos, reading your writings, or admiring your art will have their own concept of perfection that is likely different from yours. Your 100% might only meet their expectations halfway. Just as likely though, your 50% could meet or even exceed their expectations.
Instead, try conserving a little bit of your effort and aim for 80% instead.
When you complete a project to the very best of your ability, getting to 80% of your best takes work but is manageable. To go from 80% to 100% takes significantly more time.
According to the 80/20 rule (a concept that pops up all over from personal finance to productivity to business) if you were to analyze the time required for the tasks of a project compared to the results of the tasks, you would find that 80% of the total results come from only 20% of the work. To go from 80% to 100% takes 4 times as long.
In theory, you would be able to finish 5 projects at 80% in the time it would take you to finish 1 project at 100%. But even if this was scaled down to being able to finish only 2 projects in the space it would take you to complete 1 to the best you can, that’s still a significant increase in efficiency and productivity.
How to Get Started
How do you know you’ve reached your 80%? That’s a tough one. My rule of thumb is once I get to a point where most of my tasks are tweaks or small adjustments to things I have already done, I stop.
A big problem I have is wanting to expand the scope of my project while I’m in the middle of it. I get hit with what I think is a great idea and want to start building it right away. These are some of the hardest moments to reign myself in because I always want to give the best value in anything I do.
What is important to remember is that if you are constantly adding to your projects, you’ll never finish them. It doesn’t matter if you increase productivity if your goal is constantly shifting forward.
Ask yourself if this value-add is actually worth adding to your project. How long will this add to your timeline? Is it actually increasing the value by a commiserate amount? Is it possible to do the extra at a later date or as part of a different project?
Most of the time you’ll find that, as cool as the idea is, it doesn’t need to be included. Keep the idea around for future implementation/consideration though!
You Will Get Better with Time
When you increase the number of projects you can get done, a natural by-product is increasing the amount you can learn. Each new endeavor is a learning opportunity that increases your skills over time.
As you do more you learn more and your 80% gets better and better. Things that you previously thought impossible will be accomplishable with just 80% effort. That’s the power of getting more done and learning as you go. Over time not only will your best get better, you’ll also be able to to do it faster. Increased productivity and quality!
Aiming for 80% of Your Best = Increased Productivity
Creators, in general, are the type of people who want to give their all for their art and work. This is a wonderful sentiment and it works quite well for some people. I would encourage you to try another way though.
Sometimes the pursuit of perfection is an all-consuming task that needs to be discarded. You are not perfect and that is okay. You don’t have to give your all in everything you do. Instead, be happy with the idea that most of the time, your 80% is all that is needed to not only be “good enough” but to exceed the expectations of those whose opinion matter to you.
Not only will you get more done, but you’ll also have more time and energy to complete and learn the things and you would never have been able to otherwise.
Go out there adventurers and live life to the fullest… by only giving 80% of your best.