“How do you know when it’s done?”
This was the question I asked Steven, an artist friend of mine about the process of creating (and finishing) a piece of art he’d been working on for months. It’s a question that no doubt we – as a creative team here at Proof – deal with all the time. Like you, we get lost in our work. We tweak and test and iterate and perfect and want things to be just right (of course, they never are because there’s always room for more testing, iterating, and perfecting).
‘Done’ is scary.
Steven’s response to my question? “When it feels right.”
This stuck with me for days following our conversation. It’s both simple and impossibly complicated. How do you know when “right” feels right? Is there a process to get to “right” or is it something that flows through to the very marrow of your bones?
The fact is: ‘Done’ is scary as hell. Yes, we crave organization and love to draw thick black lines through our to-do list in our constant pursuit of completion. But I’m not talking about finishing the laundry, I’m talking about wrapping up a project you’ve poured your heart into for weeks, months, or years. I’m talking about launching a business that was once nothing more than idea you shared with a friend over beers. I’m talking about painting the final brushstroke on your masterpiece.
We all have those things. Works in progress that leave you wondering, “When do I walk away?”
This is a question only you can answer and, unfortunately, there’s no exact scientific formula to that perfect moment to call it day and ship your work. It may have taken me nearly 30 years to learn, but I think Steven said it best: When it feels right.
Seth Godin once wrote about the humility of an artist, saying:
“Our best work can’t possibly appeal to the average masses, only our average work can. Finding the humility to happily walk away from those that don’t get it unlocks our ability to do great work.”
The point? Your work is finished when you believe at your very core that it is. When you know, without a doubt, you’ve put forth your best effort. When you can sell it to anyone who will listen and when the fear of rejection and disappointment becomes a non-factor.
This is something I instill in my team at Proof. I tell them it doesn’t need to be perfect (and it never will be), but it does need to be your best.
How to stop letting “perfect” hold you back.
In an interview with 99u, Facebook’s Ben Barry had this to say:
“Something that is often overlooked with creatives is time management and getting shit done. You can be the most talented designer in the world but if you don’t follow through and get stuff out there, it doesn’t matter…Following through and finishing things is one of the most important things you can learn. One of my favorite quotes is “Done is better than perfect.” That doesn’t mean making crap – I believe you should always strive for the highest quality you can – but you have to finish.”
“Perfect” has the uncanny ability to be that annoying-as-hell stopgap that prohibits progress. “Perfect” is a maddening pursuit because it simply does not exist. There is no absolute. What’s perfect to you will be terrible to someone else. That’s life and work and everything in between.
Barry’s right, done is better than perfect. Done is the only path to progress. Without completion, well, you wouldn’t be reading this on your snazzy Macbook Air. You wouldn’t be driving the car that got you to work. You wouldn’t be selling that incredible work of art. Everything around us is a product of “done” and all of it, every bit, is far from perfect.
Get it done.
I promised to myself when I started writing this that I’d refrain from using any “Get ‘er done!” references – but there you go. Whew. It feels good to get that out of the way 700 words deep.
In the businesses you’re building, the projects your working on, and the ideas your developing, done is better than perfect.
Whatever you may be working on, your grand finale and last brushstroke may not feel all that grand, but it must feel right. Keep painting, keep building, keep creating, keep growing – until it does.