You’ve probably heard the productivity adage that “done is better than perfect,” which certainly sounds more appealing than “the devil is in the details.” However, as an editor, it’s my job to check (and double check) the work that comes across my desk. Moreover, almost every job description I’ve ever seen asks for people with strong attention to detail; as opposed to a candidate who is “sometimes detail-oriented and sometimes slightly less so for the sake of efficiency.”
So, at first glance, the idea of just plowing through work and ignoring the finer points feels impossible. In fact, just the thought of it used to make me uncomfortable. I love details, fully polished finished products, and giving off the impression that I’m someone who puts a lot of effort into my work.
However, after realizing my obsession with details was holding me up time and time again, I decided there are situations in which you have to let it go. Because, as I’ve learned through my experiences, allowing yourself to get things done without pausing to think (and overthink) as you go will help you work smarter. Read on for three times when you can let the specifics slide—and still be seen as someone who cares about your work.
1. When You’re Brainstorming
I love words, but nothing interrupts a train of thought like an internal spelling bee. When creativity is called for, give yourself permission to think without critique.
If you want to take something in a new direction or if you’re trying to come up with different ideas or creative wording, jot your ideas down. If autocorrect or a squiggly red line is going to tempt you to waste brainpower proofreading, get old school and grab a pen and paper.
Trying to find the best way to respond to a challenging email or one that calls for fresh and inspired ideas? Take the pressure off by deleting the address in the “to” field so that you know you can’t accidentally send it before you’re ready. Spend all of your energy and time brainstorming. Think now, edit later.
2. When Time Is of the Essence
Obviously, you always want to put forth your best work. But sometimes, best has to be relative to the impossible timeframe you were handed.
Let’s say you have a client who asks you to change the entire direction of your pitch—and send back a new draft in 30 minutes. You could spend your brief allotted time perfecting one aspect, or you could think in broad strokes about the overall project. Sending along approximations of new slogans with potential shifts in timeline and indications of how this may affect budget will often be seen as more impressive than sharing one (albeit perfect) new title.
This could also apply to major events. For example, you arrive to your venue and discover it is not at all set up how it should be. (And you specified it so clearly in your emails!) You could think through how you had imagined everything, from how many pens would be at the sign-in desk to the origami swans the napkins were to be folded into; or you could triage. Focus on the big picture: Take care of ensuring an adequate layout, seating, food and drink situation, and go from there.
3. When Staying Calm Is Better for Your Career
Just to be clear: The purpose of the paragraph above was not to give you license to tear through a venue trying to fix everything at warp speed. I’ll admit that on more than one occasion I’ve sprinted around venues to physically demonstrate how I’d like tables reorganized at the last minute before an event, sworn at the printer as I pushed up against an impossible deadline, and looked like an absolute Tasmanian devil. (Before any guests arrived, obviously.)
But, here’s what I learned: Tasmanian devils do not inspire a lot of confidence. Moreover, someone who is freaking out is not pleasant to be around. You could get everything done—perfectly—and still not look promotion-worthy because you seem a little too frenetic to manage others.
What can you do? Look—and try to be—calm under pressure. Take a deep breath and remember that when things go awry, done is better than perfect. Staying positive and moving at a slower pace is preferable to running someone over to cross the final details off of your list.
No one wants to be known for cutting corners. However, by being strategic, you can give yourself a break here and there—and have more time to double-check your work when it counts.