Polishing Your Apples

Those rickety apple carts we see in any movie with a car chase through an outdoor market have taught me a lesson–a lesson in marketing, and a lesson in time management.  Let’s assume for a minute that, contrary to the popular idiom, the apple cart has not been upset.  Picture a pyramid of polished red apples piled perfectly in and atop a wooden push cart.  Common sense tells us that the best-looking apples should be front-and-center, on the outside of the pyramid.  If the vendor wanted to polish any of his apples, these would be the ones to polish.

The base and inside of the pyramid isn’t customer-facing, so the vendor needn’t worry as much about those apples, right?  They could be the old, dull apples from yesterday, or the misshapen rejects from today’s bushel.  Though they don’t face the customer, they make up the largest part of the pyramid and, in that regard, they are very important to the overall success of the business.

Now consider your work deliverables (email, reports, presentations, spreadsheets, voice mail) to be those apples.

Yes, many need to be polished — especially the customer or client-facing fruit.  But the majority do not need special treatment.  Presentations to cross-committed teams with directors and above need to be mirror-polished.  But at some point, time spent perfecting day-to-day tasks, like a small team meeting request, is better spent on other activities.

Not every deliverable needs to be your shiniest apple.

It’s very important to identify which pieces of work should be as close to perfect as possible.  But it’s just as important to let it go if perfection isn’t needed.  Sometimes good enough is just right.  Voltaire said “The Perfect is the enemy of the good.”  The amount of effort it takes to get from eighty percent to one hundred percent is often just as much as it took to get from zero percent to eighty percent.  Why extend your time by twice in pursuit off perfection?  Yes, some things are worth it.  Most aren’t.  You’re better off ensuring your eighty percent is better than everyone else’s eighty percent.

Managing your time is a very important skill, and a big part of that is not chasing perfection at the expense of other needs.


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