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Why Raking Leaves is a Good Exercise for Perfectionists

Updated on November 12, 2016


The topic of this hub needs a little explaining. I was raking leaves this morning in my yard. It is something we all do this time of year in the northeast. It is a good exercise and to be outdoors in the fall chill and taking in all that fresh air. It occurred to me that it is a perfect exercise for perfectionists. Some people who have to do everything just right. We all know someone like that.

- Nov. 2016


Some people are perfectionist by nature. They can't help it. It is almost in their DNA. When given a task, any task, they must do it exactly right as directed. Some may call it an obsessive behavior or OCD. This is a good attribute to have in certain jobs or professions. We all want people who is responsible and capable doing our taxes or flying or planes or driving our trains...

However, a perfectionist goes to the next level. They must do everything "right" to the last detail or else they cannot rest. This becomes an issue with the problem of diminishing returns. You can spend a lot of time doing the last 1% of a job and it would make no difference. Most of us, have that instinct of knowing when it is time to stop or quit.

Why raking leaves is a good exercise you ask?

The answer is, it is a good way to demonstrate or illustrate the simple problem of efficiency.

How does this help?

If you were given the task of raking leaves on a plot of lawn. It is fall and leaves are falling all the time. The wind is blowing and leaves are coming from all directions randomly. You can rake up 90% of the leaves on the first go around. Once you bag them, you thought you are done. You look around and more leaves are showing. You decide to make a second pass, this time it goes faster but it took some incremental amount of time and effort. You repeat this exercise and soon you find that it is useless. No matter how hard and fast you try, there will always be a few leaves left around. That is when you realize that it is an impossible task to clean up every leave.

The lesson is that for certain class of problems, like raking leaves, there is no 100%. This task, by its very nature is a no perfect solution task. Once you realize that, the next step is to determine what is acceptable. Do you stop after the first round or the second...?

The hope is that this simple exercise will teach the practitioner that all tasks are similar. You can always spend more time and effort on a given task to make it better. The questions is at what point is acceptable to stop. For some, it may be after the first round, and for others it may be after 2 or 3 rounds. Eventually, everyone gets it.


I hope this concept can be adopted by perfectionists all over. Try it and see. I hope you will check back and provide some feedback. I want to know if it helps in any small way.


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    • Jennifer Mugrage profile image

      Jennifer Mugrage 16 months ago from Columbus, Ohio

      This makes perfect sense to me, but then, I'm not a perfectionist. :-)

      I agree that certain tasks do need to be done with perfection or near-perfection. Rocket science, brain surgery, and so on. Other tasks, not so much. The maddening thing is when the perfectionist starts applying rocket science/brain surgery type standards to inherently un-complete-able tasks or to tasks where 80% or 90% is actually better than 100%, such as ... keeping a clean house ... training your kids ... managing people. Certain types of art.

      Great Hub.