When Your Devotion to Quality Makes Time (and You) its Bitch

By Koko Wadeson

Is your work style get-it-right or git-r-done? That is, are you more process oriented or results oriented? If you’re habitually the former, chances are you pay for your obsessive tendencies with time. Remember that task you were totally sure you could bang out in one hour? The one you labored over for six? How did that happen? Sure, the final product was a marvel of perfection (or so it seemed at the time), but was it worth it?

They don’t say time is money for nothing, and tumbling down the rabbit hole without regard for the relative importance of a task is not a profitable business model. But is it really just a matter of poor time management? To avoid a time warp, some experts advise that you start by identifying the components of a task and budgeting time for each. This advice might be sound in theory, but it can be difficult to follow. To wit: I tend to set time limits and then blow them successively. One hour mushrooms to six because the finish line keeps moving. This tendency is not, however, entirely due to a pathological inability to accept that good is good enough.

It’s also partly the result of a tenacious devotion to quality. Great ideas do not form on command, after all. And occasionally I need to take the time to address a knowledge or skills gap. Sometimes good might be good enough for the job, but not for me personally. In such cases, the additional time spent is by choice. If I think getting something just right is important and I have the time to sacrifice, I will ignore the insistent tick-tocking of the clock. True, the extra effort might not be readily apparent to others or immediately rewarded, but the value of developing my abilities and doing my best is intrinsic.

The tricky part is keeping perspective about what’s really important and what’s not in a given situation. In the end, I’m responsible for determining how I spend my time, but I’m also accountable for delivering to others. Not knowing when to let go can be just as dangerous as indifference. You do need to be diligent about managing your time, but if speed is always your primary goal you are missing out on valuable opportunities for professional and personal growth. Good enough is one thing but mediocrity is truly not a viable option. So go ahead and get your perfectionist freak on—within reason.

And remember, you’re not anybody’s bitch but your own.