Three-Percenting

Generally 3percent when you work on something that matters, you find yourself making a little extra effort to get everything just right. I may only be addressing the perfectionists in the crowd, but there are enough of us out there that it’s worth saying. Now, I don’t know if there’s an 80/20 rule for this, but there seems to be an 80/20 rule for everything else. So let’s suppose it takes 80% of your effort to get the last 20% “just so.” And it’s worth it, that striving for perfection. It’s what puts you above the competition, makes you stand out. It’s what keeps you from being singled out for having errors in your copy, for example. Shoot for perfect, right?

But.

The secret nobody seems able to tell you is that “perfect” doesn’t exist. Make peace with the idea that nothing is ever truly and completely, fully perfect. You could always have reworded that copy a little better, or moved the logo a little to the left, or got that green just a shade or two darker. Maybe the other font really did look better. Whatever it is, as likely as not, you won’t get ever there. The problem is that while you’re spending 80% of your effort chasing down that last 20% of perfect, the closer it gets, the more effort the improvement requires. And eventually you can get to the stage where you’re spending an expansive amount of effort chasing down an elusive bit of improvement that’s never going to come at a reasonable or justifiable cost — and only one person in a thousand (or fewer) will actually notice it. We call that three-percenting.

You can chase down that last three percent from now until next Christmas, and still never get it. It’s more important to get it done than to get it so close to perfect that you’re actually worried about the last three percent. Forget the three percent and move onto the next thing. It’s still 17% better than what your competitors may feel is adequate, and it’ll help you stand out. On the other hand, failing to call it complete and instead chasing an unreasonable goal is 100% worse.

The amount of effort it takes to nail that last 3% could be spent executing 95% of your next big idea. If you can’t tell when you’re three-percenting, find someone you trust and give them the task of telling you, “Okay, now you’re three-percenting. Time to move on.”