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  • Writer's pictureJulie Love

Do Most of Your Best

From the Archive: January 2021


Specifically, do 80% of your best. It’s not as catchy as “do your best,” but it’s a wonderful approach to accomplishing things. The idea was put out by Hank Green, as “The Secret to my Productivity.” (And the man is, objectively, ridiculously productive – he and his brother John produce the YouTube channels Crash Course and SciShow, created VidCon and NerdCon, developed several video blogs, founded the Internet Creators Guild, and founded companies in crowdfunding, video/audio production, and game design. Oh, and they both write novels.)

As he explains it in this video, the first 80% of any endeavor is where the vast majority of learning and innovation happens. During that last 20%, which takes a hugely disproportionate amount of the time and effort, you’re usually not learning or creating anything. As he says, “mostly, you’re just scared,” and chasing an impossible goal of “perfection.”

Of course, it’s scary to put your work out there when you know it’s not perfect, not as good as it could be, not the best you could do. People are going to notice, and they’ll probably have something to say about it, about what you should do to improve your work.

Well, they were going to do that anyway. Feedback is part of the process, part of learning growing, and developing. Listening to comments and using that information as you revise can make that last 20% a learning opportunity after all! Now, one might be tempted to think you should still do your best, so that the feedback can make it even better – shoot for 110%! But we know that’s not how it works, and not just mathematically. If I think I just did the best I possibly can, I’m not going to welcome feedback. I just handed you perfection – or the closest I could manage – and you’re telling me it needs to be better? Best case scenario, I decide you’re wrong and ignore you; worst, I take this as evidence that failure is inevitable, that even my very best will always be inadequate. I’ll believe that perfection exists, but never for me. But if I share my work knowing it needs to get better, but perhaps frustrated as to how to do that, I’ll expect feedback. I might even welcome it.

So, as we go into 2021 and face the reality that it will take a lot of work to get back to anything resembling “normal life,” let’s model for our students (and friends, and family, and ourselves) the habit of letting go of the urge to endlessly tweak things. Work to view “good enough” as, well, good enough. It’s not that you’re lowering your standards for your work, it’s that you’re raising your standards for growth and learning being an ongoing, collaborative process.

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