When good is good enough
Published 6/17/2018 in The Maryland Daily Record
In the course of all of our daily lives, written communication is most likely the primary way we are communicating. Between email, text messages and social media, we are tasked with scrutinizing our grammar, spelling, content, context and most of all tone of how and what we write. Think about the heated feeling that has washed over you when you realized that you sent something with a spelling mistake.
As recently as this week, President Donald Trump tweeted a post with a spelling mistake that solicited comment after comment about the presumed typo confusing the words “to” and “too.” We can be ruthless in our lack of tolerance for these errors, and I am one of those people who sits in scrutiny when this happens.
I know there are times when I judge these errors. I form opinions when people misspell or misuse words. When people misspell my name, which happens all the time, a thought crosses my mind about the author lacking attention to detail or having been rushed when writing to me. As much as we are all in this position, and every single one of us has made these kinds of mistakes at some point, we seem to uphold this expectation of a standard of perfection with how and what people write. Despite our own experience in how awful we feel when it happens to us, we can be quick to pass judgment when someone else does it.
It’s a bit of a “Catch-22” – we are faced with a compounding workload with greater demands on our ability to deliver value to our organizations. It’s not enough only to be technically competent, we are all more strategic and relational with our clients than ever before. Yet we are also tasked with a standard of perfection in all communications. The amount of time we spend getting from good to perfect has a diminishing return that is exponential.
Put in the context of the 80-20 principle, we spend 80 percent of our time on the last 20 percent to make our work product perfect when in reality, when we achieved the 80 percent, most likely we were at good enough. Even after spending the extra 20 percent, there are times when my finger hovers over the send button debating if everything is in order. This causes me to pause when I think about the amount of time I am spending on these tasks rather than on things that would really drive my business forward. Any time that can be recovered is worth a premium.
Even if we are spending an extra 30 minutes per day, which, if we are honest with ourselves is likely to be more, that extra time that we can gain by letting go of some of these expectations is real time. In a typical five-day workweek this would free up 10 hours per month. Not only does this 10 hours create more time to enhance productivity, this is extra time that we can gain back to create more quality time doing things that we really care about. We can focus on things that have a far greater impact than the false sense of the destination that is perfection.
Knowing how valuable time is, I have become very aware of how much time I was spending to ensure that everything we produced in our firm was perfect. This is not to say that our standards have been lowered and that we don’t continue to strive to produce the best possible work product – because we absolutely do. This shift within me has more to do with the acceptance of when enough editing, reviewing and formatting has been achieved in order to present a professional and thoughtful analysis to convey the key messages critical to assisting our clients to make informed decisions.
This pursuit of perfection in our communication stands in direct conflict with the efficiency of the billable rate model. For attorneys, where a mistake can lead to a costly consequence, clearly documents and agreements need to be perfect in content. However, the extent of what can be passed through to bill to a client can’t possibly include every minute spent in that last 20 percent around style and format. I know in my practice it almost never is. My desire to have the perfect bullet-point shape or the just right way of editing what my analysts have already so thoroughly completed is a force that works against the highest and best use of my own strategic and creative input.
I don’t think I am alone in this pursuit and I believe that simply having this awareness is a solid start toward letting some of this go.
—Dorie Fain, founder and CEO of &Wealth