The Jim Moran Institute for Global Entrepreneurship, at Florida State University, where I work, was recently consulting with an IT manager who spent two days drafting one letter trying to make it perfect. This same manager meticulously examines each and every piece of information that goes out to his staff and frequently reviews letters and e-mails six times before sending. Obviously, this manager feels that perfection or being the best is a worthy goal. Just being good is unsatisfactory.
Time is an IT professional’s most critical asset, and you must continually evaluate if you are using it wisely. In order to do so, it is useful to put a cost on your time. Let’s say you estimate your time is worth $100 or $200 an hour. Using this figure, you can quickly see if your time is being spent on the tasks that are most beneficial to your department.
Returning to the example of the IT manager who spent two days reviewing a letter, if we assume his time is worth $150 an hour, we see that he wrote a $2,400 letter. I doubt he would agree that the letter was worth that sum, but since he was not aware of his true cost, he let being the best get in the way of being very good.
Looking back on all of the managers and entrepreneurs we have assisted, I have noticed that the most successful ones seem to have one thing in common. They never complain about a lack of time. This is particularly true among successful IT managers.
Time is worth money
The secret that these managers and entrepreneurs share is that they realize their time is worth a lot of money. They constantly — perhaps unconsciously — make decisions about the best use of their time. They focus not on perfection or being the best, but rather on doing what is needed to get the job done.
In website design, we can work endlessly at building the perfect site. The cost and the time that would be required to do so, however, are frequently prohibitive. Technology can significantly improve productivity in terms of both outcomes and processes, but as with any tool, you cannot let the pursuit of perfection get in the way of being good.
Recently, I was working with some IT professionals who were developing new software. They were unwilling to release this software until it was perfect or met their standards. Because of this, the firm they were working for was incurring large losses.
Voltaire once said, “The best is the enemy of the good.” I interpret this statement to mean that perfection is an unreasonable goal and pursuing it ultimately detracts from the viability of a department or an individual. If perfection is an unachievable goal, why reach for something you know is unattainable?
Clearly, we all want to be as good as we possibly can, and that is a commendable goal. I can still remember my mother telling me to be the best that I can be. However, I now realize that piece of advice has not always served me very well.
What I should have been taught is that tradeoffs must be made and that being very good is wonderful. By pricing your time in a realistic setting, you can make decisions that prevent “the best” from being the enemy of “the good.”
If you want to be productive and make the most of your time, take care that you are not trying to achieve goals that are unattainable or inefficient in terms of cost.
Jerry Osteryoung has been both a Professor of Finance and Entrepreneurship at Florida State University for over 35 years. While at FSU he headed up the Jim Moran Institute of Global Entrepreneurship. He is co-author of the book “If You Have Employees, You Really Need This Book.” You can read his blog at http://jerryosteryoung.blogspot.com or you can write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.