As we start the new year I’d like to invite you to embrace a concept that I consider the key to my success over the years. It’s something you’ve heard me talk about before, but I’m dedicating an entire page to it because I feel it’s that important.
COMMENT: Also, I’d like you to leave a comment if this affects you and more specifically, in what areas do you notice it?
The concept can be boiled down to one sentence that I did not invent but love to repeat…
Perfect is the enemy of Done
I’ve also heard alternatives like “Perfect is the enemy of Good” (meaning good enough is usually good enough). Another one I’ve heard and repeated is “Perfection leads to procrastination”. Again, they all basically mean the same thing.
What it’s saying is that if you wait to make everything perfect, you’ll rarely finish anything. I’m not sure where I first realized this and I’m sure it was a slow process over time.
Here’s an example of how I used this thought recently. I sat down to collect and post my favorite photos of 2022. Now, I have thousands of photos to go through. With landscapes, it’s a little simpler because you generally have less photos and it’s easier to find that one photo with the magic light, weather, etc… But it does get harder with wildlife, because we often shoot in burst mode, and I could have 50 photos of a bird catching a fish. But I just need one.
Some one who doesn’t subscribe to the “Perfect is the enemy of Done” thought, will sit there for 30 minutes going through a series of photos of say, a bird catching a fish. They’ll look through each photo, editing them, etc… hoping to find just the right pose. For me, if I had a series of photos of a similar thing, I stopped at a few photos that jumped out at me. I sat there for 10 seconds thinking “Well, they all look the same for the most part and they’re all good”. Then I just picked one, edited it, and saved it as a JPG and put it in my “Best Of” folder. Then I moved on to the next series.
Here’s where it’s hard. Are there other photos that I’m sure were great in that series? Yep! Are there other photos that MAY even be a little better in that series? Maybe… but I know I picked a photo that was great enough. And now I can move on. And that process continued until I had about 20 photos. Sure, I could have kept going, but I got to a point where I just thought it was time to stop. The photos weren’t edited perfectly (I never spent more than 60 seconds on any of them). I probably had more photos buried in those folders I could have posted, but if I took any more time I ran the risk of either not completing the project, or taking time away from other things in the business that need to be done.
The takeaway was that the project was now DONE. It wasn’t perfect, but it was good (if not approaching great) and it was complete.
I go through this all the time when I make a course. I finish the videos and I keep thinking “Oh… I should have added this”, or “I maybe could have said that better”. If I kept going back and adding and re-recording the course would never get done. At some point, I just have to release it. I know I’ll never stop thinking about “things I could have done”. But I have to feel confident that I know I did a great job on it and be DONE.
Software companies do this all the time too. There is no such thing in the world as bug-free-software. It does not exist. So they have to release the software knowing that maybe there are a few bugs that affect a very small amount of people, because that very small amount will NEVER reach zero. If they waited until it did, they’d never release the software.
And don’t get caught up on an online forum if you have an issue. The internet will always have you think that 90% of users are experiencing this bug – they’re not. At most you’ll find 100 people (which is small out of millions), but usually you’ll see the same 6-7 people in the online forum talking about the bug as if everyone is experiencing it.
There is One Catch!
The only catch to this and it’s the missing ingredient to adopting the “Perfect is the Enemy of Done” mentality. This concept is self awareness and it’s really important. You have to balance an attitude of “I did a really good job on this, and it’s now time to say it’s Done”, against an attitude of “I don’t want to work on this anymore. It’s marginally good, and I know it’s not even close to my best work and there‘s a lot of improvements to be made. Heck, I’m not even proud of it. But I’m over it, so I’m just going to call it quits”.
Just about every time I write a blog post or email, there’s a misspelling, incorrect grammar or broken link or something wrong. It’s great when I can have my wife proofread, but sometimes she’s not around. At that point, I look at it and weigh the consequences of waiting and not releasing it and not sending the email on time – and most of the time I just send it. 96% of people will just read past the mistakes and laugh knowing that they’re human and they make them too. 3.9% of people will send me an email correcting it, and they’ll brush it off probably forgetting it ever happened. And maybe 0.1% of the people will think less of me because of it. Maybe they unfollow me or won’t buy something. But I’m fine with that. I realize that my personality type would have ticked them off at some point anyway, and they should follow some one different. I’m okay with it and I’ve learned self awareness over time, to know when I’m being lazy, and when I’m honestly ready to release something.
And if you want a perfect example, I did that with this blog post. I published it before many of these paragraphs were written. And the chances are over the course of a few days I’ll go back and edit it more. But I pushed the Publish button at some point so I could cross it off the list.
Is “Good Enough”, Really Good Enough?
I recently got a very mean message from some one who purchased my Topaz mini course, and he obviously didn’t like it. In that course I suggest not to do things the way that Topaz engineers recommend – by starting your raw file in Topaz software. I wasn’t degrading toward the engineers other than to say they are not photographers (and that part is true), so a workflow they recommend (that doesn’t necessarily make sense for an Adobe user) is a fair point. Well, he was very upset by that because I kept saying my workflow choice was “good enough”. Was the perfect workflow recommended by them better? To my eyes, barely. And it wasn’t worth the hassle you had to go through because it made being “done” with a photo more complicated and longer.
My point is that most of the time, good enough is indeed good enough. He was very upset because he wanted perfection (he actually used that word). And to that I’d say you’re following the wrong person (well, I did say that to him). And honestly, I don’t know who the right person it. Nobody is perfect. He mentioned wanting to do it like the “pros” do it. Well, I can tell you the “pros” (whoever they are), don’t typically do things perfectly. They simply don’t have time if they’re successful at their jobs BECAUSE THEY’RE BUSY WORKING!!! I can tell you that just about every “pro” photographer I know has a MUCH worse organizing system than you do. They also edit WAY less than you and probably know way less than you about editing. Their organizational and editing systems are in shambles because they simply don’t have the time to make it perfect – they do what they have to – to produce a great job for their clients – and they move on.
Make It a Goal to Be Done
What I’d like you to consider trying to do is to start forcing yourself to be done with your photography projects – and maybe even let it flow in to other areas of life. When you’re editing a photo, I get it. Sometimes it’s hard to say you’re done editing and know when to finish. So force yourself to look at it, feel when it looks good, and be done. When you’re watching a tutorial on how to change the color of something, watch a tutorial, do it – and be done. Don’t keep looking for more tutorials on the topic. Let the technique develop over time, and maybe you’ll start to see flaws in the technique at which point you can then go look for another tutorial – but at least you have a purpose for it – rather than just aimlessly watching videos. When you’re shooting, try to gain the confidence to know that you photographed the subject well and stop. We’re always afraid we’re going to miss the shot, so I understand. But try to start developing a feel for when it’s time to stop shooting. I could give you a hundred analogies here, but you get the idea. Try to start forcing yourself to be done. Very few things we do are permanent and if you ever need to go back and fix it, you usually can.
I’ll leave you with some thoughts that I hear from people that I think hold them back or make them constantly feel they’re not perfect enough or doing things as perfectly as they should. Maybe some will resonate with you and maybe it’ll help to read that you’re not the only one that feels this way. Here goes…
• Stop looking for the perfect software. It doesn’t exist. Get good at what you have. Double down on learning it. And stop thinking there’s something better out there.
• You don’t need to be perfect at knowing every tool in Lightroom and Photoshop. Many are redundant or simply just old and no longer useful.
• Nobody… and I mean NOBODY… is perfect about going through all of their photos and diligently deleting, flagging, key-wording and organizing them.
• If you’ve got 100 photos of a bird in flight, pick a few, post them online if that’s what you do and be done. Even better, delete the other 95 photos that are redundant. Stop thinking the perfect photo is in there and maybe one day you’ll see it.
• EVERYONE’s Lightroom catalog IS NOT as tidy as they’d like it to be. Don’t beat yourself up if it’s not perfect.
• There is no perfect Color adjustment. Stop listening to people or looking for software that supposedly gives “Better Color”. Color is 100% subjective and is very rarely the issue with your photo unless you’ve simply added too much of it.
• Stop worrying about the Perfect order in which you do things. 20 years it mattered a little. Today it does not. If you want to sharpen first, sharpen first. If you want to sharpen last, then sharpen last. Try it both ways and see what looks better to you (you usually won’t see a difference). But stop thinking there is a perfectly order or right way, or that any of it matters.
• When you’re not sure about something and you want it to be perfect, stop going into online forums or social media and asking for random critiques and constructive criticism. Giving a critique is 100% a learned skill. And it’s a skill that I’ve found the vast majority of people on social media and online forums DO NOT have.
• Most people never perfectly finish a course or a book. That’s ok. Did you devote enough time to it to get the main points from it and did you learn something? Those are the questions to ask.
• Stop thinking there is a perfect photo editing environment (your lighting, color on walls, desk, etc…). There isn’t and your photos will not be better, or resonate more, because you spent time on this. There is not ONE pro photographer you follow that gives 1% of their brain power to this.
• Stop waiting until you feel perfectly good about using a camera, or tripod, or new filter (or whatever). Go out and use it and learn from it. Perfectionism leads to procrastination.
Thanks for stopping by!