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Strictly Business: How to Make More Money by Working Less
Posted Mar 31, 2006 Print Version     Page 1of 1

I once worked on a project that involved the late designer Charles Eames. You may have seen one of his legendary educational films, such as Powers of 10, or know Eames through his furniture design work. (If you've ever spent half a day sitting around O'Hare Airport waiting for your connection, chances are that shiny aluminum-framed black leather seat you occupied was a Charles Eames design.)
     At any rate, Eames was known for being an absolute stickler for detail. Everything he did was the very best he could do—which was considerably better than most everyone else. Being frankly envious of him for all the first-rate clients of his design studio who would pay for perfection, I had to know the secret. And so I asked him, "How do you do it? How do you get people to sit still and wait for you to make sure what you do is absolutely perfect?"
     His answer surprised me.
     "Not everyone gives me that latitude. If I only have until next Tuesday, I do the very best job I possibly can right up until my deadline. And then I let it go. Not everything I do is as perfect as I'd like it to be." Or as he more famously put it, "I don't remember being forced to accept compromises, but I've willingly accepted constraints."

Eames' philosophy was to balance the amount of time allotted to a project with the result of that work; it's a good example of the Law of Diminishing Returns, which states that each unit of time spent on a project will contribute less benefit than the previous unit of time.

For example, you may spend one or two days editing a client presentation, and another two or three days messing with the type fonts, the type spacing, the special effects, and a bunch of other little cosmetic touches in order to get your video project "just perfect."

Did that third or fourth or fifth day on the edit make your production twice as good? Did it need all the changes you made? Did the few changes it probably did need really require a whole extra day's work, or even two full days extra? Did the last 10 or 12 hours of nit-picking really make a difference when it was all done?

Probably not.

Back in my days of multi-image slideshow production, and usually after we'd been up for 20 hours straight making sure slide masks and effects were perfectly positioned and slides were absolutely free of the smallest speck of dust, we often joked about one of our favorite laws, the Law of Finality. It goes like this: "A multimedia production is never finished; it's merely abandoned." (Audiobook business expert Brian Tracy calls this the Walk Away Law. I like that.)

You might do well to follow that law. Fine-tune your video production until it looks and sounds pretty darn good—rather than perfect—and call it a day. I can almost hear you muttering right now, "How do you expect me to stifle my natural tendency to strive for creative perfection? I absolutely need to spend 40 hours editing a wedding!"

Well, one thing that might help you is to stop and think about what that endless pursuit of perfection is going to cost you, not just in dollars and cents, but also in additional stress, productivity, and your most valuable commodity: time.

When you're spending more time than you're being paid for, or more time than you should on a client project, you're taking on a tremendous amount of stress. You may have just handed yourself an impossible task. And if you're trying to finish the project and hand it over to meet a deadline that's fast approaching—well, that's like racing towards a cliff with the throttle jammed open.

And here's another thing to consider: the time you spend trying to make something absolutely, positively perfect is time that you're not spending on some other project. Which means, of course, you're wasting your time—and your money.

It's time to re-evaluate your expectations. Are your expectations reasonable? Can you accomplish them? How do your expectations compare to what others expect of you? If your client thinks that what you've shown him or her is perfect, then maybe it is.

There comes a point in almost any project when you're just going to be sitting there, spinning your wheels and going nowhere, trying to meet some unreasonable standard that, all things considered, doesn't really make much difference. At this point, you need to ask yourself, "Will the extra effort I'm putting into this program have a corresponding benefit for my client?"

If not—if it's you and only you that will know the difference—it's high time to examine what you're doing, and then settle for what you've already got.

There's an old, most likely apocryphal story about Clint Eastwood directing one of his Dirty Harry movies. After a first take in one of the scenes, Eastwood hollered, "Cut. Good. Print it." A supporting actor ventured the opinion that maybe the director would like a second take.

"We ain't making Gone With the Wind here," Eastwood growled.

Think about that next time you sit down to edit.

Attempting to create the perfect video production will never succeed, because no one is perfect. Should you challenge yourself? Of course! But set goals within reach and make it a rule to do the very best job you can possibly do in less time than you allow yourself now. You'll be pleased with the results—just like your clients.

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