Aiming for 80%

Hank Green, one of the two Vlog Brothers, recently made a video answering a question he often gets from fans: “What is the secret to your productivity?” I have never read a John Green book nor am I subscribed to the vlogbrothers channel. I found the video while searching for motivational content on YouTube.

Hank is highly productive because he doesn’t aim for perfection. Instead, he aims for a B (80%) and refuses to try for a higher “grade”.  Perfectionists have low productivity because they are never satisfied with anything they attempt. A novelist who aims at perfection may never get past the first paragraph.

I think Hank’s advice is excellent! As a PhD student, I never have enough time to do everything that I’m assigned. I have already completed a Master’s, so I know from experience that you don’t need to read every book with 100% concentration. Some books (namely the books you choose to write your term papers on or the ones that appear on your Master’s exam) are more important than others. You struggle to keep your head above water.

Unfortunately, I am a perfectionist when it comes to writing term papers. I write a paragraph in the time most students take to write a draft. (Ok, I’m exaggerating, but only a little.) I want the first draft to be a masterpiece. I would be more productive if I didn’t aim for perfection in the first draft. Subsequent drafts would be much easier to produce, and my 80% would be easier to attain.

While it’s true that an 80% in graduate school is a terrible grade, Hank’s advice is for perfectionists who have set insanely high standards for themselves. After all, even the best graduate paper is not ready for publication. The 80% goal is less intimidating than a goal of 100%. I feel inspired to try new things and start new projects if I have an 80% goal.

Behind Hank’s advice is the unstated assumption that humans like to make excuses for why they haven’t completed a project. “I haven’t written a novel because I am not a good writer”. But no one becomes a good writer without writing, and no one who begins writing is already a good writer. To improve, you have to start somewhere.

Hank doesn’t mention time management, but I think that an 80% goal should be coupled with good time management skills. I can only accept a sloppy first draft if I have enough time to rewrite it. I may be a perfectionist, but I don’t have the best time management. I fool myself into thinking that I can write a perfect paper in a couple days. Waiting until the end adds to my stress because I know that I have to get the paper right the first time.

I am trying to juggle multiple projects at the same time, but I am glad that I started daily blogging. It is teaching me to “just do it”. I feel less intimidated by the idea of writing. The perfectionist mindset has hurt my writing productivity. I don’t write anything when I worry that my posts won’t be perfect. But if the goal is 80%, well, I can do that!

4 thoughts on “Aiming for 80%”

  1. I’ve worked with many people who want to do everything at 100% and then get frustrated because they can’t achieve it. The main coaching we give them is that not every project *needs* 100% – often 80% is good enough.

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