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How Much Effort Should You Put Into An Interim 'Good-Enough' Job?

Updated on October 3, 2014

Are you overloaded with projects? Under stress, having a rough time in a toxic workplace, swamped with module deadlines for your degree course, depressed and unable to cope with the demands your life is placing on you?

If you’re something of a perfectionist then this can aggravate matters still further. Not only do you require yourself to fulfil all of your obligations, but also to do so with excellence, effort and dedication. But is that always realistic? (I ain't saying I don't know how it feels. If you do a job you want to do it right, right? I'm just saying, is it realistic?

There’s a famous quote usually attributed to Woody Allen about success being mostly about just showing up in the first place – I believe he put it at around eighty per cent. The comment is usually taken to be hilariously self-deprecating, but I believe there’s a deeper meaning and seriousness behind it.

Quote on Ambition

“Women who seek to be equal with men lack ambition.”
Timothy Leary.

After all, if you fail to show up in the first place then you can simply say goodbye right there to one hundred per cent of any results you might have achieved. A perfectionist might have it that it’s better not to show up at all than to do anything other than a real bang-up top of the line job. But is that true? Is it in fact worth showing up just to put another bum on a seat, to do the minimum and show your face?

I think in fact perhaps it is. To begin with, the ‘showing up’ and ‘doing the minimum’ parts are the labels for your actions in your head, before you actually do show up and get going on your work/tasks/project/course. When you actually turn up and swipe your card or sign your attendance rota, it’s actually quite hard to stick to doing the bare essentials and watching the clock.

I don’t just mean that your boss, teachers, supervisors or whoever will be whipping you along and getting you to put your back into it. I mean that real life provides a whole lot more stimulus than your mental image and expectations of an event. In practice, you have co-workers telling you jokes and asking you for help with their spreadsheet, fellow-students running up and asking you for help with their study group, a subject in class that sets off a whole train of thought and re-inspires you. But you have to actually be there in the first place for these moments of inspiration and spurs to action to occur in the first place.

It’s kind of the opposite of the Bible injunction to ‘avoid the occasion of sin’, i.e. to avoid temptation including those places and people that provide an environment conducive to temptation. If you show up for your project, class, band practice, then you’re setting up a virtuous (rather than vicious) circle, where incidents and people are likely to spur you on to greater efforts than you initially felt capable of.

So how much can ‘just showing up’ do? How much value should we credit it with in relation to our achievements? I don’t think it’s unreasonable to invoke the Pareto Principle as well as Woody Allen: maybe that’s what he was thinking of when he gave it eighty per cent of the credit. Just being there can produce so many more good results than we might think in anticipation, things we couldn’t have predicted without the assistance of a crystal ball. The ‘law of precession’ has been attributed to the famous architect Buckminster Fuller: the rule that all kinds of helpful incidents and objects and people cross our path – just as long as we take that initial positive action – such as showing up!

So it is worth ‘showing up’ in a half-hearted manner? Is it worth ‘doing the minimum’? Hell yeah – it’s got to be better than doing nothing, it’s psychologically easier to tell yourself that that’s all you’re going to do and thus lower your expectations – and you could be pleasantly surprised at the results!


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