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Avoid the trap of perfectionism

Written July 09, 2009 at 15:00 MDT Tagged inspiration and productivity

I am just in the process of thinking about a VAN presentation that I am going to be delivering. The topic is that of developer productivity. One of the things I read this morning was an excerpt from the book Pragmatic Thinking and Learning (an amazing book). The actual fragment that caught my attention was written by an author named Anne Lamott:
"Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won't have to de. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren't even looking at their feet are gong to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they're doing it."
This fragment sums up perfectly a phrase I say "a lot" to people that I have an opportunity to work with: "Perfect is the enemy of the good", I can't remember where I first heard that phrase many years ago, but it has been something that I tell myself all the time. I am not at all trying to say that we should not strive for excellence in the tasks that we undertake, I am just saying that the very act of wanting to come up with the "perfect" answer/solution right off the bat is the very thing that can often stop you from even starting the effort in a timely fashion. Instead of writing a crappy piece of code and taking the time to refactor to a cleaner solution, you can spend countless amounts of time staring at a screen, reading a book on good design, looking at other good designs. None of these activities are fruitless, but if they are the very things that stop you from making your own progress then they actually become a detriment to your individual progress. Worse, if those activities further cause you to think about how "imperfect" your own initial solution might be, you can very well paralyze yourself and put yourself in a situation where you will waste precious time.
Today you may well be facing down a tough problem, one that you have not yet faced before. My recommendation for you is tackle the problem in context, draw from your past skills, learn from your mistakes, and just take the first step. As a diligent coder you are not going to allow code smells to remain in the product that you build, but allow yourself to let the code take its initial shape and then "refactor without mercy". Rinse and repeat this process until you have your solution in hand. Enjoy yourself, remember why you became a coder in the first place.
Develop With Passion!!