Bob’s Best Work Advice

Dr. Donna L. Roberts

Target 70%
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“You’re wasting thirty percent, Donna,” stated Bob, shocking me to the core. I was finally getting advice now that I should have sought out long ago.

Even as a small child, I’d always been an overachiever. It wasn’t enough for me to do things; I had to overdo everything. If something I was working on wasn’t one hundred percent faultless, it would gnaw at me until I’d go back, toiling on it until it was up to snuff. I always strove for perfection.

This would sometimes backfire. Trying to make something perfect, could end up ruining the whole thing. Tightening a bolt a bit more while assembling furniture, sometimes snapped it off completely. Baking a cake a little longer to maximize goodness, might actually char it. And so on . . .

As I grew older, I read many accounts of people just like me, most of whom considered being an overachiever kind of a curse. After all, it turns out nobody likes an overachiever. They even hate themselves some days. These competitive types would kick themselves for spending all of their time in college striving to always get an A plus, instead of enjoying university life a bit more and settling for an A, or heaven forbid, even a B once in a while.Instead of being happy about successes, they were always nervous and stressed, worried about getting top marks on the next essay. And then the next.
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My epiphany came when I began working with a new colleague, Bob. As we completed various assignments, Bob stayed calm and managed to get through large piles of work with relative ease. Meanwhile, I was increasingly anxious and working through my paperwork in a frenzy, always trying to be perfect. I constantly was overthinking things and striving to overachieve. And it seemed like I was always up against a deadline.

So I asked Bob for his advice. That’s when he said, “Go for seventy percent.A C is a passing grade, Donna. When you aspire for one hundred percent, you’re wasting thirty percent.” His theory was that seventy percent performance was good enough for most tasks, and that any more commitment would just waste a lot of time and effort, while not improving the results enough for most people to even notice. It was a way to plow through insignificant tasks with less fuss and more productivity.

What he said rang true. I knew a car collector who insisted that refurbishing a car to ninety percent of its original state was relatively easy and cheap. It was attaining the last ten percent of perfection that took most of the time and expense. An antiques dealer told me essentially the same thing. And both maintained that the general public probably wouldn’t see the difference.

I was stunned. I’d built my whole life around achievement.Overachievement, in fact. It had become my way of being. Now I had to attempt to dial it back to save my health and sanity, and paradoxically. to actually increase production. Not an easy task for me. How do you underachieve at overachievement? I had to do it in baby steps.

With less important tasks, I began to loosen up a little, resolving issues just enough to get by. Sometimes, I took a wait and see attitude with problems, and they’d work themselves out without any intervention from me. It wasn’t long before my anxiety eased and my production increased.

With time, I learned to pick just the right mix of achievement, working hard on things that mattered, and taking it easy on stuff that didn’t. It turned out that a lot didn’t really matter. And the things that did, didn’t matter as much as I used to think. I even created personas around my working styles.

So today, I’m rarely, overachieving ‘one hundred percent Donna’, anymore.Some days, I’m ‘eighty percent Amy’. Most days, I’m sassy ‘seventy percent Sally’. Fridays, I’m fickle ‘fifty percent Fiona’. I pick the best personality for the job and get it done, while having some fun, more easily and efficiently than ever.

Thanks Bob, for the life changing advice.
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Writer and university professor researching media psych, generational studies, addiction psychology, human and animal rights, and the intersection of art and psychology.

Canandaigua, NY

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