“Perfect is the enemy of good.”
- Voltaire, “La Bégueule”
First of all, good on you for having such high standards for your work. However, sometimes it’s a rather imperfect decision to attempt achieving perfection. Before starting a project, decide how much time it’s worth, and don’t exceed that time limit. If you produce such wonderful work, then spreading yourself too thin either decreases your work’s quality or burns you out. You can’t be perfect all the time, and no one should expect you to be. Either focus on doing one thing perfectly (or 99.9% perfectly) while taking a relaxed approach to everything else, or see everything as an opportunity to do your best but don’t worry if there are a few small issues. Do not take 100% of what you do in a day and expect it all to be 100% perfect, because that’s not realistic and you’re going to drive yourself crazy.
A perfectionist attitude is motivated largely by self-criticism. Any artist will tell you you have to draw something a million times before you’re happy with how it looks. Any artist will also tell you that if you erase and redraw on the same page too many times, you tear the page and make the paper all grody. In other words, use your inner voice to motivate you to practice day in and day out, but don’t let it drive you crazy each and every project. It’s not the work you’re doing right now that counts. It’s the fact that you work on it every day and try a little harder each time.
If you have a perfectionist attitude, it may be partially motivated by your concerns of what others will think. In that case, remember that it is sometimes the flaws* that people end up preferring. Case in point: Han shot first. In the Special Edition of “Star Wars,” George Lucas had the opportunity to go back and change every detail to be perfectly as he wanted it to be. In Lucas’ world, Greedo shot first, and when he made that “correction”… well, you know how the fans responded.
It wasn’t simply a matter of what fans were used to either. Who shot first says a lot about Han’s character. If someone was standing over you, threatening you with a gun, and you had a gun as well, you’d certainly fire back in defense. Anyone would. However, to shoot first before anything else had escalated is immoral, unfeeling, and kinda sociopathic. Seeing Han kill in cold blood the first time we meet him is how we know he’s an emotionless badass. It’s a powerful statement, but, according to George Lucas, it’s a mistake. Can you imagine if Lucas was a complete perfectionist when making the originals? They’d still be good, but not quite as good.
Therefore, is it really worth busting your butt over something that may actually decrease the quality of your work? Of course not. The question then becomes, how do you know if you’re doing it right or if your mistakes really do need correction? While there is no clear answer, you need to measure a few factors against each other and make a decision.
-How much time should I be spending on this detail in relation to the rest of the project?
-How much time should I be spending on this in relation to the rest of my day?
-How much will it cost to alter this detail?
-How many other people are affected by me changing it?
-How many other people are affected by me NOT changing it?
Consider the big picture and make the best decision you can. The solution you come up with is a good one if it takes everything into account and strikes a balance.** It may not be the perfect idea, but neither is getting stuck or wasting resources on a relatively small detail.
*or what you perceive to be flaws
**or something close to it.