salvaging your sanity (part 2): letting go

It’s really easy to complain about everything that’s wrong in life and even post about it on your blog, but in the end, I’m really bad at saying no. Perhaps this stems from my deep-seeded desire to please people. Or maybe it’s because I’m a middle child–things like that can profoundly screw with your psychological make-up.

In the Part 1, The author of the article wasn’t advocating you tell clients or internal stakeholders a flat-out “NO” whenever dubious work requests are submitted–that kind of hard-nosed stance will only earn you a pink slip and a packing box. Instead, she advised using no for certain requests in order for you to get your priorities straight and thereby educating (or eliminating) the client.

The (dis)order of pixel perfection

But I feel this is only a partial answer regarding the work request conundrum. The “no” argument assumes the client is wrong and we as web professionals know best. This may be the case. But what if our work request headaches are really a result of well, us? What if we are our own worst enemies?

We oftentimes create needless stress not because we can’t say no–but because we just can’t let go. We blame our perfectionism or we hide behind our obsessive attention to detail, and get woefully mired in the details. But underneath each stubborn appeal runs a thread of inflated elitism and an unwillingness to compromise. The pixelated perfection we constantly justify only translates to wasted time and an unecessary fixation on inconsequential details that prohibits us from moving onto the next task. Ultimately,  our disorder handicaps the entire project. We may try to fix problems by throwing sheer hours at them but this usually results in inelegant solutions.

symptoms of a tweaker

So when does pragmatic design cross the line into dysfunctional perfection? There is certainly a delicate balance when considering the types of design iterations and how you approach the process. Iteration refiners take into account usability, accessibility and audience needs when looking at change.  All of the resulting elements and functionality may not suit your personal taste, but they ultimately serve the end-user and the client best. Furthermore, Refiners respect restraints such as deadlines, scope, and budget and welcome criticism from others. These types of designers maintain a degree of separation between what their  design are and what they could be–they are open and willing to change.

On the other hand, iteration tweakers answer to no one. They lack objectivity and routinely thumb their nose at time and money. They are the anti-thesis of progress and bottleneck the delivery of the finished product. They chafe at criticism and choose to operate in an insular environment

Furthermore, tweakers often find themselves trapped in a vicious cycle of the dreaded sunk-cost design trap:

For example, let’s say a tweaker estimates a particular  task can be done in two hours. But two hours into it, he discovers he’s still only a quarter of the way done. His natural instinct is to think “But I can’t give up now, I’ve already spent four hours on this!”

So typical tweaker go into hero mode. He’s determined to make it work (and slightly embarrassed it isn’t already). The tweaker grabs his cape and shuts himself off from the world.

And sometimes the sheer effort overload works. But is it worth it? Probably not. At two hours, the task was worth it–at sixteen, not so much. In those sixteen hours, he could have gotten a lot of other stuff done, plus he cut yourself off from feedback which can lead him further down the path of destruction. And his hero mentality ultimately affects the entire team because by delivering what might have been an unreasonable request in a reasonable timeframe only enables the initial project glutton who have no idea of the time and sweat equity lost in the process. In the end, workaholics aren’t heroes and they don’t save the day, they just use them up. The real heroes are the ones at home because they’ve already figured out a faster way to get things done.

heros (not) wanted

So here’s a little secret: it’s better to be a quitter than a hero. I’ve always been a big believer in self-propelled initiatives. People talk about achievement, of exploring new things, of finding a passion instead of a profession–but the dividing line becomes how badly do you want it? If your slowly morphing into an compulsive designer, you need to stand up, admit your addiction and commit to translating this passion into an identifiable pay-out. But how do you translate chronic perfectionism into something beneficial?

Education. This is the key to redirecting your design OCD. I’m no psychologist, but I’ve found that perfectionists tend to also be passionate (or annoying depending on your point of view)  people. Knowledge is power. So by redirecting your passion and broadening your design “worldview,” you begin to drop the uneducated pretenses and illusions of perfectionism. This ultimately translates to more sophisticated designs with a little less arrogant approach.

a (mental) apple a day keeps the tweaker at bay

I’m committed to breaking out of my mold of ethnocentric design. So everyday at 7:00 pm, I turn off the computer and trade one project for another. But this time, it’s about my dreams and about pushing my professional limits–because I know I have deficiencies and they need to be addressed. Thus, it’s up to me to take ownership of my professional growth and educate myself. I’m committed to squeezing in a few extra hours (but sometimes its just minutes) in the day to make it happen. Lynda.com has become my newest educational inspiration. With hundreds of video series broken into easily digestible clips, the format is perfect for today’s ADD-addled web user.  I’ve also started reading Jakob Nielsen’s Prioritizing Web Usability. Folks, this book will rock your (web) world. If I know you and you ask nicely, maybe I’ll loan it to you. But maybe not. (hint: I’m easily bribed with cookies. Especially if they’re oatmeal chocolate chip).

Growth fuels momentum and momentum leads to motivation. By committing myself to growth, I  propel myself produce better work in more efficient manner.  So In the end, letting go really is about letting yourself grow.

Coming up: Follow me as I attempt a complete web redesign for a major organization in just 30 days. It’s either going to be a rousing success or spectacular failure. Fasten your seltbelts, kids. Things could get a little rough…

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