It’s not all or nothing.

A couple weeks ago, I mentioned how much I liked the brilliant advice of “do the half right thing.”

As I practice making every click count and finishing stuff, I’m further embracing the notion that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

This is one of those tired old ideas from my now useless rulebook:

> If you’re going to do it, do it right. [aka: Don’t do a half-assed job.]

What’s “right”? What’s half-way?
How much is enough?
Isn’t something better than nothing?

  • Isn’t a half-emptied inbox better than an overflowing one?
  • Isn’t a note saying “I got your message, I’ll reply with a complete answer Wednesday” better than ignoring it until Wednesday?
  • Isn’t a draft outline better than a blank page?
  • Isn’t making do with the tools you have better than waiting until you have better tools in place?

How often do we let “doing it right” keep us from doing things at all?
How often does that keep us stuck in one place?

How often does “doing it right” keep us from doing the right thing? (or at least the half-right thing).

Because it’s not just about business. It’s about relationships and lifestyle and the environment – all the elements of our lives.

I first began thinking about this after a conversation with a family member about using cloth diapers. She had scored an ample supply cheaply from Craig’s List from parents who had … given up. Apparently (I don’t have kids, so I’m taking her word for it), the tricky part of cloth diapers is night-time use. So she just uses them during the day. It still helps. It helps the planet. It helps her wallet. It helps her children. She really felt those other parents were missing out – just because they felt it had to be all or nothing to be useful, that it didn’t count if they didn’t conform to an ideal.

I don’t always remember to bring my own bags when I go to the grocery store. But the times I do make a real difference.

Yes, I had intended to give that special someone a present for her birthday, but I didn’t let running out of time to buy or make one stop me from at least sending a card.

And right now, because I have to work in small chunks of time with short breaks in-between, I’m making peace with the fact that a swept-but-not-mopped kitchen floor is better than a so-dirty-stuff-sticks-to-your-bare-feet one.

And that offers me two useful opportunities: it’s a way to practice finishing something in more than one go – and – it’s a way to redefine how much is enough and call it finished (for now anyway) without also redefining myself as a horrible slacker of a human being who has no standards at all.

Both finishing and doing it right are a heap easier when we question and release some of the ideals we carry about in our heads and measure ourselves by.

So let’s all get out there and, ahem, do some half-assed work today.

9 Responses to “It’s not all or nothing.”

  1. 1 JoVE May 19, 2009 at 10:06 am

    Hear. Hear.

    Great post. We should also think about this more.


  2. 2 Michelle Russell May 19, 2009 at 12:00 pm

    Yes, yes, YES!!! This is *so* important. And a very hard lesson to learn. (I’m still in the midst of it myself.)

    This reminds me of the classic Voltaire quote–and no, I didn’t know right off the top of my head that it was Voltaire; I Googled it just now–“The best is the enemy of the good.”

    Perfectionistic thinking is all-or-nothing. It doesn’t allow room for half measures. We so often hold ourselves to such high standards, and then beat ourselves up for not being able to do what is unreasonable if not downright impossible.

    Here’s to being gentler on ourselves and to doing half-assed work more often. It’s good practice. ;o)

    • 3 Cairene May 19, 2009 at 9:43 pm

      @Michelle –
      I wonder if the lesson is ever completely learned? Sort of like exercising or playing a musical instrument. You have to keep practicing or you lose your strength and skill for it…? And love that quote. :)

  3. 4 Melanie May 19, 2009 at 7:41 pm

    This pulls together a lot of ideas that have been knocking around in my head. The thing a wise person told me is… “anything worth doing, is worth doing lousy”. In other words, a less than “perfect” job is better than not doing it.

    I get stuck, sometimes nearly paralyzed, in “doing it right”. Haivng the right tool, the right amount of time, and trying to determine the best or right way. All that angst results in times when I just give up! Rather than choosing to do something that is less than “right”, I end doing nothing.

    As you say, something, almost anything in most cases, even something lousy, is BETTER than nothing. And in truth, what you can do is rarely lousy, its usually good and occasionally it actually turns out to be the perfect (enough and satisfactory) thing.

    How do we end up trapped in these wasteful perfectionistic circles? I give adults I teach permission to be beginners; to do their best until they learn to do it better. We should all give ourselves persmission to do our best, whatever that is on the day. We are enough!

    • 5 Cairene May 19, 2009 at 9:46 pm

      @Melanie –
      Yes! We are enough. And “lousy” is usually much more than okay. It’s a wonder we worry about it so much.

  4. 6 Liz May 19, 2009 at 10:28 pm

    There must be something in the air- I just wrote about a very similar idea. I found lots of juicy quotes- that are completely contradictory on the notion of ‘doing it right’ vs. ‘getting it done.’ No wonder we’re a little confused!

  5. 7 Justin May 20, 2009 at 7:16 pm

    I try to tell people “just leave things better than you found them”. It’s closely related to “First, do no harm”.

    That way, rather than worrying about perfection, they worry about improvement.

    • 8 Cairene May 21, 2009 at 9:21 am

      @Justin –
      Just leave things better than you found them.” – perfect. Wait, no. Not perfect. Really great way to put it ;)

  1. 1 Dinge erledigen oder voranbringen? « Eigentlich… Trackback on May 20, 2009 at 4:27 am

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Third Hand Works

from overwhelmed to ready for anything | organization and time management for people in their "right" minds | administrative guidance for independent creative professionals [more info]



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