Tuesday, November 8, 2011

NaBloPoMo Day 8: Lemons and Perfection

The lemons, they are a-coming. Our Meyer lemon tree had lots of green fruit on it when I went to the backyard this past weekend. Hopefully this cold spell will make them really sweet. The photo is of a Honey Lemon Poundcake I made and took to work. It's a Japanese recipe - I think I keep doing something wrong with the measurements. I know now that the volume in 1 US cup is different (240mL) from 1 Japanese cup (200mL). The teaspoon and tablespoon measurements might be off, too. I'll just have to be more careful, or I'll end up with strangely dense but holey cakes like this (although I got no complaints).

Today's reading
Actually I read this yesterday but it stuck in my mind.

"How to Give Feedback to a Perfectionist"

I'm a self-admitted perfectionist, though as a manager I try to be very conscious about not hoisting that expectation onto my staff. But I think I've mellowed out a bit over the years, and I definitely never thought of not meeting a deadline as an option just to perfect a task.

How can you be a true perfectionist if you miss deadlines?

In my mind, a perfectionist never misses deadlines and produces flawless work with seeming ease. To me, if you miss a deadline, no matter how fabulous a report you turn in, you failed. And ultimately, that's how I identify with being a perfectionist - I hate to fail.

But in my head I do know that failure can be healthy. And, it's natural, bound to happen sometimes. So I don't get too bent out of shape about it. I almost feel like the so-called perfectionists that this author refers to have some kind of psychological problem - why do they obsess with not wanting to make mistakes, to the point deadlines are missed? What's that old saying - cutting off your nose to spite your face?

I've seen this in some people, which I find puzzling. Why do people worry obessively about not making mistakes, even though they've taken no steps to learn from previous mistakes nor put in safeguards, as much as reasonable, to avoid making mistakes? It's like reviewing a draft letter over and over because a typo was found last time, but not using spellcheck.

Sometimes it seems like we are beginning to lack in common sense. We spend years learning technical skills or complex management theories and lose sight of basic, common sense. Like, does it need to be taught in school or first-day work orientations that deadlines shouldn't be missed? If so, we're in a pretty sad state of the world.

Though I am the first to admit, I've missed deadlines. But I always give a day or more notice, as soon as I realize I can't meet a deadline - usually it's because something unforeseen has come up, it's an unreasonable request, etc. - and I give a revised deadline to get agreement on, or sometimes when something just can't wait, that's when the all-nighter comes in.

Managing expectations is the name of the game.

I also had a slight issue with one of this author's recommendations - the one about sharing a work-in-progress. I've tried it and I have to say, sometimes it's effective, sometimes it's not. It's effective when the requestor believes that something is truly a rough draft or a work in progress and that the final product may contain slightly or possibly wildly different results, or you're able to present just a framework of analysis and fill in the rest with talk. For example, if some people are looking for some sort of budget summary from me, I try not to provide a work-in-progress because when some people see numbers, even if I say "I haven't pulled in all the data sources so numbers might change", they latch on to that number and bring it up later - "you said in your draft that the target was $x. Why is it $y now?" and I just want to scream, "that was a draft and had no basis in reality!". So I think if I were to give advice on something like this, I'd make this point. It's all about context, really.

I do have to hand it to this author about the last point - sometimes, the perfectionist gets stuck on using the same strategies over and over. I guess I've always associated perfectionism with tangile tasks and outcomes, not with strategy. I think this is one thing I'll pay particular attention to as I go through my work days. This author frames it in a sense that the going to the same strategies is bad if they don't work. But I think the takeaway is, even if they work to some extent, I should be open to other strategies because they might produce better outcomes.

Final note
Mississippi: No on 26. Please.


  1. omg, that bread looks fantastic. i can almost taste the lemon in my mind.

  2. I will attempt a gluten-free vegan (maybe low-sugar) version for you with this next crop!