Can you finish what you start?

Steve Jobs used a phrase that I really like. He said, “Real artists ship.” Everyone, he said, has ideas. But real artists finish them and deliver, or ship, as he put it.

What half-finished projects do you have laying around? A book, a piece of music, a vintage car sitting in your garage that is perpetually being worked on?

We are all masters at justifying why these projects haven’t yet “shipped.” After all, you’re busy. If only you had the time. But as the weeks, months, and years fly by, at what point will you take command of those precious 24 hours you’re given each and every day?

Another wonderful justification is that this project you’re working on is not yet good enough. Here’s another phrase worth writing on a post-it note stuck to your computer screen or bathroom mirror: perfect is the enemy of good

Ask yourself about that big band arrangement you’ve been working on forever. Is it good enough to finally hand out and play? What will happen when it gets played and you hear things in it that need improvement? Will that signal the end of the world for you?

Perfection, in the way most people think about it, is unattainable. That concept is rooted in some sort of mystical ideal that is truly divorced from reality. After all, what that is man-made, can’t be made better? On the other hand, if you view your finished work as the best of which you are capable, then it is perfect.

But using the excuse that aspects of your project can always be improved as the reason for not “shipping”, you will be doomed to the dead-end of a perpetual project.  

Try this as a remedy

Commit to finishing and give yourself a hard deadline, after which the book gets published, the music gets played, or the car gets driven.

The trick is to pick a deadline that is reasonable but still pushes you. The deadline should make you a little bit uncomfortable.

Tell people about the deadline. Post on Facebook that you will have your new big band chart written in 30 days. Post the working cover of your upcoming book on Instagram letting people know it will be in final draft by March 1. Promise your friends a ride in your 1964 reconditioned Corvette on this year’s first day of Spring.

Simply promising yourself that you’ll finish something may not be enough. After all, you’ve been telling yourself that for months (years?). Making your deadline public creates the pressure that you need for completion.

Getting back to your possible affliction with perfectionism, I’m not encouraging you to do a sloppy job on that car so that it is not road-worthy. Maybe the finish will show a few minor blemishes. But think of the pride you’ll feel driving your friends and family around in that 1964 Corvette. There may be a few voicing problems with your arrangement, but think of the joy you’ll feel finally playing that big band chart of your own.

The problem with websites

Websites are classic examples of perpetual projects, if you allow them. “The photos aren’t quite right.” “I want to add more music, but I just need to write these few charts first.” “I don’t like my bio.” “Should I add more to my About page?”

On and on it goes. I had a friend take a year to finish her very simple website. (Someone else created it for her!) Think about the opportunities she lost throughout a year of nit-picking with her developer about the bio and photos.

The very nature of a website is that it is constantly evolving and improving. It’s like is as human beings. Get version one out there and then chip away at it over time. There is no such thing as the perfect website! It can always be tweaked to load faster by milliseconds. It can always have a better image for certain sections. It can always say certain things in more better English!

Google expects your website to grow. A static website will quickly turn invisible to search. So, continue to change elements, rewrite phrases, and add to your blog. These activities are not shameful admissions that your website is not yet ready for prime time. Instead, they are the natural recognition that life is an evolution, not a fantasy of perfection.



2 thoughts on “Can you finish what you start?”

  1. “Perfect is the enemy of good,” was realized early on in my life. I could never meet the perfection requirements. I new the road was always under construction for my projects and activities.
    My short musical career has proven to be a work in progress with something new occurring daily when I rehearse.

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