Try – Observe – Tweak Cycles

TL;DR

 

Problem:

 

You are afraid to start anything because you don’t want to try unless you get it perfect. This leads to massive procrastination on many fronts of your life.

 

Solution:

 

Embrace a philosophy of Try-Observe-Tweak.

 

Full story:

 

This is a great philosophy, and of course one I can’t claim credit for.  Unfortunately I’ve heard it from so many places, I can’t tell you all of the sources, nor who is the original to give credit to.  And there are lots of different variations, acronyms, etc.  Pick one you like and go with it. If you think you deserve citation, you are probably right…email me, and I’ll fix it.

 

Before I embraced this philosophy, I was constantly “stuck.”  I was completely frozen with “not knowing” the full process I’d need to take or how to do anything the most efficiently.  As I’ve previously said elsewhere, I had a bizarre disdain for “backtracking” anywhere in my life.  This could manifest in running Saturday errands.  I’d need to plan out my trip perfectly to minimize the time and distance driving.  However, I’d spend so much time thinking about all the variations and alternatives, I’d actually not get out of the driveway.  Then once on the road, in my distraction, I’d miss the turn I needed, and my perfect plan was out the window anyway.  I’d get very, very angry at myself.

 

At work this looked like any task becoming a ‘big amorphous blog,’ and my not being able to find the starting point.  I’ve talked about this before, too, as well as other things that helped me out of that rut. 

 

Being stuck, or frozen, like this is perfectionism, plain and simple.  I rejected this label for a LONG time.  “How can I be a perfectionist when I do everything half-assed???” File that under “Things a perfectionist would say.”

 

One way out of perfectionism is to view everything in terms of data gathering.  Your first attempt, pass, etc., is just to get info.  First time taking that SAT? It’s to find out where you need to focus your study time (your weak areas).  First time interviewing? It’s not to get the job (if you do, though, awesome!), but to practice interviewing.  This is the try portion of the Try-Observe-Tweak Cycle.

 

After you try, you analyze the data you get.  What worked well? What didn’t.  What could have gone better? What don’t you know now that will help you in the future?  This is the observe phase.

 

Then, you tweak your approach with your knowledge gained, and you start the cycle over. You try again.  And observe again. And tweak again.  Rinse and repeat as needed.

 

Having the little Try-Observe-Tweak idea has been enormously helpful to me.  When I hear my perfectionism creeping into my thoughts, I remind myself I’m in a try phase.  I’m just data gathering, and I’ll get this eventually.  This is how my routines came about…slowly, over months.  I finally came to realize my routines and checklists are always changing, and being rigid about them is useless.  It seems contradictory, but it actually makes sense.  Everything is adapting and changing as we go.  Perfectionism is just a form of rigidity in an every-changing world.  

 

That said, I think that “quality work” is not the same as perfectionism, and I’m not excusing you to do a poor job on things or “phone it in.”  In that case, realize you might need two or three attempts to get the quality where you want it, but perfection will always be impossible.

 

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