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“The first draft of anything is shit.” — Ernest Hemingway Science has shown us that the number one cause of procrastination is what they call “analysis paralysis.” In layman’s terms, “analysis paralysis” means being a perfectionist. In fact, a study, “Perfectionism dimension and research productivity in Psychology Professors: Implications for understanding the (mal)adaptiveness of perfectionism, ” published in the October 2010 issue of the Canadian Journal of Behavioral Science, found that perfectionist psychology professors are significantly less productive than their not-so-perfectionist peers. Surprise, surprise, right? But wait, more shocking is the fact that these perfectionist professors produce fewer publications, garner less citation, and are far less likely to have their work published in high-impact journals. So not only are they less productive, their perfectionism is for naught. In other words, these perfectionist psychology professors—counterintuitively—end up hurting their career as a result of their perfectionism. Stephen King wrote in On Writing, “You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or even despair—the sense that you can never completely put on the page what’s in your mind and heart.” (Note that this can apply to whatever your field of work is, whether it be design, sales, etc.) You might hate to hear it, but nothing is perfect. Rather, everything is in the state of continuous evolution. We constantly learn, gain experience, and improve—but we’re never perfect. When it comes to productivity, something is always better than nothing. Or, as the big red posters plastered around the Facebook offices say, “Done is better than perfect.” Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa”—the most famous painting on earth—is unfinished. That’s right. You didn’t read that wrong. Leonardo’s contemporary, Giorgio Vasari, said that “after he had lingered over it for four years, he left it unfinished.” Moreover, Leonardo himself said later in life that he regretted “never having completed a single work.” Seems crazy doesn’t it? When it comes to perfectionists, Leonardo da Vinci is pretty hard to beat. Fortunately, Leonardo realized that something was better than nothing and did his work anyway, despite personally believing them to be imperfect and unfinished. Whether you are a writer, architect, 9-5er, or psychology professor, you must learn to quit being a perfectionist. That doesn’t mean doing crappy work. It just means learning when to stop. At a certain point, the law of diminishing returns kicks in and it becomes far more productive for you to move onto the next task. As Jodi Picoult said, “You can’t edit a blank page.” Likewise, David Ogilvy, arguably the best copywriter to have ever lived, said, “I am a lousy copywriter, but I am a good editor.” Xerox Killed by Perfectionism Now, let’s take a look at an example of failure due to perfectionism. In 1973, Xerox made a mistake that caused them to miss out on the personal computing revolution and instead be annihilated by less perfectionist companies like Apple and Microsoft. Why? Because other companies got stuff done and offered it to consumers. Their products might not have been perfect in every way (after all, nothing is), but they were good enough and, most importantly, available to consumers. Unfortunately for Xerox, this wasn’t the case. They had created a revolutionary new computer called the “Alto”. It had a mouse. A graphical screen (as opposed to green lines of code) like we are familiar with today. It could display images and had the most intuitive graphical user interface that anyone had ever seen. So why, then, did Xerox fail to become the leader in the personal computing industry? How did they let hundreds of billions of dollars slip through their fingers? Here’s why: Perfectionism. They wanted to make it absolutely perfect. They wanted to combine it with their other breakthrough technologies, such as the laser printer and the Ethernet. Because of their perfectionism, they needed everything to be “just right” the first time around. They wanted to completely reinvent the modern office. So rather than releasing the “Alto” in 1973, they ended up releasing it—combined with all their other technologies—in 1981, renaming it the “Star”. It was launched with much fanfare. Xerox’s perfect, completely reimagined modern office, the “Star”, came at a $50,000 installation price. Unfortunately for Xerox, that same year—1981—IBM introduced its PC (i.e. personal computer) for $1,565. Clearly more affordable. IBM’s PC was far from perfect and was significantly less impressive than Xerox’s “Star”, but it quickly became a hit product. It wasn’t perfect, but it was affordable and it worked—and that was the most important thing. A few years later, Microsoft came out with Windows and Apple came out with the Macintosh. Both of these, as we know, became runaway success. Xerox could have released products that were just as good an entire decade before, but they let their perfectionism get in the way. They learned the hard way that something is always better than nothing. Apparently learning from Xerox’s mistake, Google’s Gmail was in “beta” from its launch in 2005 until 2009—five years. By the time it left “beta”, it was already the most popular email service on earth. That’s pretty damn good for something that wasn’t even considered finished. Imagine if Google had succumbed to the perfectionist urge to not release it until 2009. Gmail would not be nearly as successful as it is today. Likewise, Ed Catmull, the founder of Pixar, says that “early on, all our movies suck.” Catmull sees his job not as getting things perfect but helping get things from “suck to not-suck.” Most of the time, the solution is to just hit the ground running. No analysis paralysis or desire to make things 100 percent perfect the first time around. In fact, you would often be surprised at how well the human brain can do things when you just jump right into a situation—whether or not you’re “prepared.” Force yourself to start a conversation with an attractive stranger on the street and your brain will very quickly come up with things to say. Accidentally fall into a lake with all your clothes on and, though you might not get an Olympic gold medal, you’ll quickly find yourself swimming just fine. Start writing some random stuff on a page and, soon enough, you’ll get into the flow of things and that article, blog post, or novel will start taking shape. So stop focusing on doing things perfectly and instead simply focus on doing things, period. Jump in headfirst, ready or not, and before you know it, you’ll be swimming. If your inner perfectionist is causing you to procrastinate, just keep this in mind: You can’t edit a blank page.

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