When is good enough, enough?

Just about every trainer, writer, creative person I know has shared that one of the biggest challenges faced is knowing when something is good enough. How many of you write blog posts that you never publish because it’s not good enough? How many of you work on digital images or websites that are never quite perfect enough?

There is a lot of time wasted on striving for perfection, and I would guess that most of us lack the time to achieve the level of perfection we strive for. Look at some of the most successful people you know. Do they strive for perfection for months and months until the idea is no longer relevant? Or do they accept good enough, collaborate with others to achieve something close to perfection, then move on to the next big project? Where would we be today if Steve Jobs had not released the ipod because it was not good enough?

Source: Productivity 501

Lately I’ve controlled my perfectionistic tendencies with strict, and I mean STRICT, deadlines. I plan my schedule carefully. I start by allocating every minute of my working day in my calendar. I schedule time to check email, attend meetings, then allow a few hours of time to respond to customer needs. On any given day that schedule could change in an instant!  When I am working on large projects I use a spreadsheet for project management and estimate time to be spent on each phase. Then I schedule that time on my calendar given realistic time available. Often there is not enough available time and that’s when the tough decisions come in to play. Can I delegate, change deadlines, adjust priorities, or do I need to change my own self-expectations?

Don’t get caught up in the trap of trying to perfect of time management so that more time is spent on planning and managing tasks and spreadsheets than actually accomplishing anything. This is another common challenge for perfectionists.

Perfectionists have a lot to offer to an organization, but they/we need to learn how to balance our need for perfection and decide when is good enough, enough.

How do you do to combat perfectionism?

Here are some quotes to ponder:

“A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”
~ Antoine de Saint-Exupery

“Strive for progress, not perfection.”

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”
~Thomas Edison

“When you aim for perfection, you discover it is a moving target.”
~Geoffrey F. Fisher

Finding the Bathroom at 40

I’m about four and a half months into my new position, with a new organization, in a new city. It seems like a good time for some outward reflection. I started my first week nervous, excited, and open to new ideas. As it had been more than ten years since working for a new employer and many more since living in a new city, I told myself at least once an hour that every trainer/leader needs to experience this feeling more frequently. Granted we’ve all experienced what it is like to be new, but for some trainers/leaders it is so infrequent that that I think we forget what it is like to be overwhelmed on so many different levels. I spent years on the team for new employee orientation at my last job, yet I think that many times we forgot how overwhelming it is to be new. There is so much we take for granted after years or even months in an organization. Think about Maslov’s Hierarchy of Needs. What do your employees need above all else before they can learn your mission statement and your policy on social networking? I’ll tell you what they want to know. The same thing our patrons want to know. Where’s the bathroom??!??

My office has not only a security code to get in to the office from the hallway, but there is a code, a different code, to get into the bathroom. Here I am trying to remember new passwords to a million new accounts, how to get to and from work, the names and faces of 60 different people, and for the first two weeks I struggled to remember this code to the bathroom. I remember thinking that if I can’t remember the code how will I ever remember everything else! But like all new employees, the day soon came when I not only remembered the secret code but had to teach someone else the code.

My first week at work consisted of learning the ins, outs, and behind the scenes of each of our products as well as learning the tools for supporting our products. The first month was about building relationships with my new coworkers–going through the group development process of forming, storming, norming. It’s fascinating to go through group development and recognize different phases of the process. It’s also comforting during the stressful storming parts to remind everyone that “this too shall pass.” Most of my time has been spent being a sponge and absorbing as much as possible while also trying to create and maintain relationships and define my role within the organization. I’ve worked on some exciting projects that I’ll write about soon.

My days at work were a piece of cake compared to the rest of my life for the first two months. Accepting a new job with only a few weeks notice, meant that I’d be living apart from my family during the week. Fridays and Mondays meant two and a half hour commutes between cities and the rest of the week meant nights alone or with my temporary roommate (my sister in law).

A few weeks into my job I turned 40! Turning 40 is kind of like high school prom or graduation. You have these big expectations but really it is just another day. I was so homesick on my birthday. But the ladies I work with took me out to lunch at an amazing restaurant and we had a fantastic celebration. My birthday cake looked like a flower with tiny candles that opened up to a gigantic sparkler. I feared the table would catch on fire. It was definitely a birthday to remember.

40th Birthday! Yep we almost set the table on fire!

Life went on like this for two months, and just as I settled into this new routine it was time to move. The week before my family moved, I received a phone call at work that a very close family member had died unexpectedly. In the middle of preparing to move, I dropped everything to go be with my family in Florida. Needless to say the past few months have been overwhelming and exhilarating all at the same time. I’m very thankful to my Facebook and Twitter friends who cheered me on providing both encouragement and comfort.

It feels good to be challenged in new and different ways. My family is settled. The kids are out of school. My husband is enjoying being a stay at home dad. If I’ve learned anything this year it’s that we are resilient. Just when you think things are tough enough, life throws another curve ball or punch to the stomach. It’s hard. It hurts. But we recover, learn, and are stronger for what we have gone through, and above all I know the secret code to get into the bathroom!

The Power of Changing Your Thoughts

I’ve given a lot of thought about what I want to write as the first post of 2012. Hence the date on this post. I want to share something will you that has changed my life in many ways–personally, professionally, spiritually. Ironically this gift came to me on New Years Eve 2008, and I felt it apropos to share this with you at the new year.

This isn’t another post about resolutions. Been there. Done that. I can’t think of a resolution that I’ve stuck with for a whole year or that has been life changing. So please keep reading.

There is a reason why we celebrate the new year. It’s a time of reflecting on the past year, a time to think about the upcoming year, and a time to take stock of our lives in general. It’s also an arbitrary day. We could pick any day of the year to do these things.

On New Years Eve 2008 I thought about my life. I was not happy. I did not feel successful, and I knew something needed to change. I looked at the people around me who were most successful and asked myself what it is that they did differently. I determined it came down to one thing–attitude. OK it’s more than one thing. It’s attitude. It’s perspective. It’s finding the silver lining no matter how bad things get.

I had picked up a book on positive thinking earlier that year and began reading it on that New Years Eve. I applied the principles and my life changed almost immediately. Once I got the grasp of positive thinking I began using the technique of visualization. Many people balk at visualization but athletes, actors, musicians all visualize their performances before any event. I’ve used visualization for years before public speaking or training sessions. Envision yourself as you want to be. The book I read said to start small. I tried envisioning myself with a diet coke. No one came and gave me a diet coke.Dismissing the whole idea as ridiculous, I took out a dollar, went to the vending machine at work, and bought a diet coke. As I stared at the diet coke I questioned whether there was anything to this. But then it hit me. I did in fact have the diet coke, but I was envisioning the wrong thing. We have to envision the outcome not the solution as the solution can come in many and often unexpected ways.

After time small things began to happen. I wanted a fish-tank for my desk to help with relaxing. I envisioned the fish-tank on my desk. The next day I stopped by a coworker’s office and mentioned off-hand that I wanted a small fish-tank for my desk. Her office-mate overheard this and happened to have a small fish-tank, brand new, under her desk that she didn’t want. She gave it to me. You could say this is completely random and it is. But seriously, a fish tank? What are the chances?

When small things like this started to happen I tried envisioning bigger things. I know that visualization and positive thinking are not the solution to all of life’s challenges. But it doesn’t hurt.

When my library faced budget cuts two years ago my family was already struggling with a mound of medical bills and debt accrued from a pregnancy that had me out of work and on bed rest for more than nine months. When the library budget became so bad that my husband and I took a total of a temporary 15% pay cut we knew that we were in serious financial trouble. We tried to get by. We consolidated debt. Moved debt to zero interest credit cards. But it was too much. Eventually we lost our house and ultimately filed bankruptcy. In mid-life we basically started over with nothing. In no way am putting blame on the library. The recession affected millions of Americans. We happened to be part of that group.

If you’ve ever read about the top life stressors, you know that foreclosure and bankruptcy are right up there with the death of a spouse. What we discovered was that though the process is hard, it is also freeing. We’ve moved three times in the past two years, each time downsizing and simplifying our life. While it would have been easy to be in our situation and become depressed or overwhelmed, we chose to find the silver lining, even when it was only a small glimmer.

The icing on my cake of another stressful life event came when I was laid off in June of this year. I’m not saying it was easy but again there was a silver lining. Being laid off meant that I was eligible for unemployment and allowed me the buffer and time I needed to get my own business up and running–something I had wanted to do for years. I fully believe that had I not had a positive outlook and looked for that silver lining, I may have sunk into a pit of despair. Business has been good and I enjoy the work I do immensely.

The outlook and attitude we have in life and in facing life’s challenges are so important and affect everything we do from our interactions at work and home to our health and happiness. If I could suggest one goal for you in this new year it is to look for the silver lining and to always look for the positive in even the bleakest of situations.