How to prevent the pull of perfectionism with time pressure [#14]

Time never stops ticking – so stop trying to achieve perfection.

How to prevent the pull of perfectionism with time pressure [#14]

I’ve played 42 games of chess in the playing hall you see above.

I was ~11 at the time, and most of my games in that playing hall would last 1-2 hours each. When’s the last time you’ve done something straight for 1-2 hours?

Like my opponent, I had 90 minutes (on my clock) to make all of my moves. I could split up my 90 minutes however I wanted – but I had to make all of my moves within that period.

What do you think is the wisest way to split up my time?

  • Option A: Spend 30 min on my fifth move (so I could make a perfect move)
  • Option B: Spend 30 min to make my first 10 moves (that are reasonably good, but not perfect)

I hope you chose Option B. That's because...

  1. Even if my fifth move was absolutely perfect (100% good), it wouldn’t really affect the overall course of the game. And if my fifth move was only reasonably good (80-90% good), it wouldn’t really hurt my chances of winning.
  2. I only need to take 2-3 minutes per move to ensure my move is reasonably good (80-90% good). It takes me 20-30 minutes per move to ensure my move is perfect (100% good).
  3. If I took 30 minutes on my fifth move, I would have dramatically less time to make all of my other moves. This would negatively affect the quality of my other moves in the future.

Here's the whole argument I’m trying to make:

You should stop trying to make things “perfect”. Make them “good enough”, so that you don't waste ridiculous amounts of time striving for perfection.

This article you're reading right now is nowhere close to perfect – but it's good enough for my standards of "good". So I've published it, and despite its lack of perfection, you're still reading it.

Here's another great way to prevent the pull of perfectionism: set artificial deadlines that you force yourself to follow. Time pressure is the worst enemy of perfectionism, so use artificial deadlines (and Parkinson's Law) to your advantage.

And if the above story about chess didn't convince you, maybe Tim Urban's chart of a 90-year human life in months will.

Since 2023 has started, we've all already lost one of those circles to the void of time. One of those circles is now colored in forever – for all of us.

Time moves fast. If you take too long obsessing over every little detail, you'll miss out on all of the wonderful things life has to offer.

So if you only remember one thing from this article, remember this:

You cannot do everything in life perfectly. Try your best to do things well, and don't worry if things aren't perfect. Spend the rest of your time on things that truly make you happy.