The principle of good enough suggests that you should identify the point past which working on something further will no longer benefit you on a meaningful level, so you should finish with it and move on. Essentially, this means that you should embrace the fact that good enough is good enough, rather than wasting resources, such as time, energy, and money, by putting extra work into something when it won’t make a meaningful difference in outcome.
For example, if you’re revising a paper that you wrote, there will be a point where it’s already good enough that going over it again won’t make a meaningful difference to its quality, so you’ll simply be wasting your time by doing so.
The principle of good enough can be useful in a variety of situations, particularly when it comes to boosting your personal productivity, so it’s worthwhile to understand it. As such, in the following article, you will learn more about this principle and related concepts, and see how you can implement it yourself as effectively as possible.
Examples of ‘good enough’
Examples of situations where the concept of good enough can guide people’s work appear in a wide range of domains. For example:
- For someone looking to start exercising, figuring out an initial exercise plan that’s good enough for their purposes, at least initially can help make sure that they’ll actually start exercising, rather than procrastinate by trying to develop the perfect workout program.
- For someone writing a book, figuring out when the work is good enough that they can start asking for feedback from others can help them avoid a situation where they keep revising it endlessly without ever putting the work out there.
- For someone coding a new software, figuring out when it’s good enough during the initial stages can help them avoid premature optimization, by spending a lot of time and effort working on code that is likely to be changed later.
- For someone looking to launch a new product, making sure that product is good enough initially, rather than as perfect as possible, can help avoid investing a lot of time and money into a product that ends up not having a good market fit. (Note: such a product is often referred to as a minimum viable product—MVP).
Note that, in all of these cases, it’s important to make sure that the level defined as ‘good enough’ is actually good enough.
For example, if your exercise plan isn’t actually good enough, it might be ineffective, or worse, cause you to get injured. Similarly, if you send a book out for feedback before you’ve actually revised it to a level where it’s good enough, people might not be willing to finish it, or won’t be able to give you helpful advice. Likewise, if you launch a product that’s not actually good enough, it might fail and cause you to lose resources or miss out on a good opportunity, simply because it was missing some features.
This all highlights the importance of making sure that when you implement the principle of good enough, you should do so with proper care, as explained in the following sections.
Implementing the principle of ‘good enough’
Implementing the principle of good enough does not mean that you should necessarily strive to do low-quality work. Rather, it means that you should clearly identify what good enough means in your particular circumstances, based on the outcomes of your work, and what you’re hoping to achieve. This will vary in different scenarios, and in some cases your standard for good enough might end up being quite high.
For example, when preparing an academic paper for publication, the end result will have to be of high quality in order for it to get accepted in a prestigious journal. Since your first draft usually won’t be good enough for this, you will likely have to revise the paper several times in order to get it to the necessary level.
This is where the concept of good enough comes into play. While revising the paper is certainly necessary, eventually you’re going to hit the point of diminishing returns, where going over the paper no longer leads to any significant improvements in quality. This might occur on your 3rd, 5th, or even 10th draft, but in the end, you will reach a point where additional revisions result in only minor, inconsequential changes, that do not increase the chance of publication.
In this situation, the key to using the principle of good enough is to identify at what point you will no longer benefit from additional work on the paper, and to then submit it to your target journal once you get to that point.
If you know that you generally struggle with letting go once you reach the ‘good enough’ point, you can decide to set hard deadlines in advance, before you start your work, based on your prior experiences. For example, in the case of writing a research paper, as described above, this can include things such as:
- Deciding how much time you’re willing to dedicate to writing the paper, in terms of total hours.
- Deciding on a deadline by which you have to submit the paper.
- Deciding how many drafts you’ll go over before you settle on a final version.
- Deciding that after the second draft is done, you’ll send it to a colleague for external feedback, and then reassess the situation based on that feedback.
Most importantly, you should remember that your time is precious, and that there is also always a cost to doing extra work. When this cost isn’t worth it, that’s the point where you should stop working, and move on to the next thing that you need to do.
Overall, the key to working efficiently by letting go of perfectionism lies is in learning to identify what your good enough point is, and getting yourself to stop once you get there. The standard for what good enough means for you can be as low or as high as necessary; the important thing is to set this standard using a rational thought process.
The 80/20 rule and your ‘good enough’ point
The 80/20 rule can be a helpful guideline when determining what good enough means for you in any particular situation. This rule states that roughly 20% of the work that you do will be responsible for 80% of the outcomes. This means that the more work you put into something past a certain point, the lower the return you will get on your investment of time and effort.
When implementing the good enough principle, you can take this rule into account, and decide at what point your efficiency, in terms of cost/benefit ratio, becomes low enough that additional work doesn’t lead to enough benefits in order to be worth it. This doesn’t have to be exactly based on an 80/20 distribution; for example, in your case it might be that 30% of the work will give you 90% of the benefits, and so you choose to set your good enough point there.
Note that this is a slightly different approach than looking only at the outcome that you hope to achieve when determining what your good enough point is, since this also actively takes into account the resources that you have to put in.
This can be advantageous, since it can help you assess the situation in a more rational manner when determining what your good enough point is. At the same time, however, it’s important to not allow such considerations to lower your good enough point to an unacceptable level, simply because this highlights the work that you will have to do in order to get there.
To avoid this pitfall, make sure to always ask yourself whether your good enough point is actually good enough given what you hope to achieve, and avoid allowing almost good enough to become good enough for you.
The ‘good enough’ principle and Parkinson’s law
Parkinson’s law is the adage that “work expands so as to fill the time which is available for its completion”, which signifies that the more time we dedicate in advance to a certain task, the longer it will take to complete it, even if it could have been completed in a shorter period of time.
Implementing the principle of good enough can help you avoid this issue in some cases. Specifically, by deciding on a clear good enough point from the start, you can decide how much time you truly need to dedicate to the task, which will help you set realistic time constraints, and avoid wasting time.
Furthermore, by identifying a clear good enough point, and stopping as soon as you get to it, you will be able to save time when you end up finishing a project earlier than expected. In such cases, instead of dragging on the process of submitting your work just because you have extra time available, you should stop once you realize that you’ve reached your target good enough point.
Dealing with perfectionism
The problems with perfectionism
“Perfect is the enemy of good.”
Perfectionism is a personality trait that is characterized primarily by striving for flawlessness, and that is often associated with the tendencies to set excessively high standards and be overly critical.
This trait can manifest in a relatively positive way, when it pushes people to set high standards for themself and work hard. However, it can also manifest in a negative way, when it causes people to pursue unattainable goals or to waste time focusing on unimportant details. This negative form of perfectionism is problematic because it causes people to be inefficient, and because it is associated with various mental health issues, such as stress, anxiety, and depression.
In addition, in many cases, a general problem with perfectionism is that it can serve as an excuse that we give ourselves in order to procrastinate and delay the moment when we have to take action and risk failure. For example, if we’re afraid to make our work public because we worry that it will be accepted badly, we might keep developing our work indefinitely, under the false guise of trying to perfect it.
Note: there are some criticisms of the concept of positive perfectionism, such as that “attempts to define and conceptualize positive perfectionism may have blurred the distinction between perfectionism and conscientiousness”. However, this distinction isn’t important from a practical perspective when it comes to implementing the principle of good enough.
Letting go of perfectionism and accepting ‘good enough’
When it comes to implementing the principle of good enough, perfectionism in general, and negative perfectionism in particular, can be both reasons why you would want to implement this principle, and obstacles that you have to overcome in order to do so successfully.
Specifically, if you’re prone to perfectionist tendencies, implementing the principle of good enough can help you avoid many of the common pitfalls associated with this trait, such as the tendency to wait too long before making your work public. At the same time, however, being a perfectionist can also make it harder for you to implement this principle, because it contradicts your desire to make sure that things are as perfect as possible.
When it comes to successfully implementing this principle despite your perfectionism, there are various techniques you can use, such as:
- Examining your practical goals and showing yourself that your work is currently at a level that allows you to achieve them.
- Asking yourself what you’re afraid of with regard to finishing your work at the good enough point, and then thinking through your fears to see that they’re unfounded.
- Considering what else you could spend resources, such as your time and effort, if you stop wasting them on the project that’s passed the good enough point.
Note: a related concept when it comes to decision-making is the concept of satisficing, which involves trying to make decisions that are good enough given the circumstances, which is contrasted with maximizing, which involves trying to make the best possible decision in every situation, no matter the cost.
Summary and conclusions
- The principle of good enough suggests that you should identify the point past which working on something further will no longer benefit you on a meaningful level, so you should finish with it and move on.
- For example, if you’re revising a paper that you wrote, there will be a point where it’s already good enough that going over it again won’t make a meaningful difference to its quality, so you’ll simply be wasting your time by doing so.
- If you know that you generally struggle with letting go once you reach the ‘good enough’ point, you can decide to set hard deadlines in advance, before you start your work, based on your prior experiences.
- Perfectionists can often benefit from implementing this principle, though they’re also likely to struggle with doing so; if perfectionism is an issue for you, you can use techniques such as considering what else you could spend resources, such as your time and effort, if you stop wasting them on the project that’s passed the good enough point.
- Implementing the principle of good enough does not mean that you should necessarily strive to do low-quality work; rather, it means that you should clearly identify what good enough means in your particular circumstances, based on the outcomes of your work, and what you’re hoping to achieve,