Doing Things Well

Well Done sign. It seems in modern culture that doing a large quantity of things is more highly valued than doing things well.
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

The other day I was helping a client wipe down and move some beautiful, old pieces of furniture. The craftsmanship was impressive. They were so well made! This experience got me thinking more about doing things well. It seems in modern culture that doing a large quantity of things is more highly valued than doing things well. Everyone seems to be “under the gun” to get more and more things done. The lists keep getting longer and we rush around, simply trying to check off the boxes. Sometimes, there is more to do than can reasonably be accomplished, even when we truly put our nose to the grindstone. At other times – especially during this pandemic – a lack of human interaction and external accountability has led to lethargy and a struggle to get motivated to do anything at all.

Sadly, whether we are doing a lot or a little, it seems few of us are enjoying the fulfillment of doing things well. This is a shame! Few endeavors are as motivating and satisfying as doing things well. Whenever we can point at something we’ve completed, and feel proud about how we did it, we enjoy a pleasurable sense of gratification. It builds our confidence and makes us feel that we are spending our time in ways that are worthwhile. Furthermore, in some cases, doing things well has long term benefits, such as improved efficiency, enhanced productivity, and new opportunities.

I’m not the only one who feels this way.

“We were created for meaningful work, and one of life’s greatest pleasures is the satisfaction of a job well done.”

~ John C. Maxwell

“A job well done is a reward in its own right.”

~ Fredrik Backman

“The reward of a thing well done is having done it.”

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

“There is nothing to regret with a job well done.’

~ Joe Garcia

“True happiness comes from the joy of deeds well done.”

~ Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Before I go further, lest you think I am being critical of people who are managing to take care of what needs to be done, let me assure you that I am not! I am a firm believer in the idea that “done is better than perfect.” We all have to make life work however we can. Reality dictates that we rarely have the privilege of doing all things in exactly the ideal manner. Most days, we are just trying to get through. This is not a guilt trip.

Nevertheless, if we agree that there are positive emotions associated with doing something well, it seems worthwhile to give ourselves permission, even if only every now and then, to do something well. Not perfectly (which is largely illusory), but well.

Consider a few options:

  • A chore you honestly hate, but which doing well might make more palatable
  • A task you actually enjoy, but rarely allow yourself the time to do at a desirable pace and to your standards
  • A task you’ve been avoiding because you think you will do it badly
  • A project you’ve been wanting to start but have delayed because you don’t want to rush through it
  • A basic chore you perform every day, but which you choose, just this once, to really do well

How do you do things well? There are three key ingredients.

First, you need to allow yourself sufficient time.

Rushing is the primary cause of “less than ideal” results. When we are hurrying around, we make mistakes, skimp on the finishing touches, do slipshod work, and otherwise underdeliver. Much of the time, this may be necessary. But if you really want to do something well, set aside the time you will need to move at a comfortable pace.

Second, gather the right tools.

One of the reasons we fail to do things well is because we are working with suboptimal supplies. We try to clean up the spill on the car seat with a tissue, and it disintegrates before it can do the job. We scribble a note to ourselves with a crayon and then can’t read it later. We try and repair an item with a butter knife instead of the appropriate screwdriver because that is what is close at hand. Having the right tool not only makes a job easier, but it also frequently gives us better results.

Third, see the task through to completion, including cleaning up when you are finished.

Half-finished tasks, or tasks that leave a mess behind, can be disheartening. If we refill the salt shaker but leave a dusting of salt on the floor that we then find ourselves stepping on for three days, we won’t feel great about ourselves. If we wash and dry the clothes, but never get them folded and into the drawer, we lack a sense of accomplishment. Instead, push through to get something fully finished: wash the brushes after painting, wipe the counter down after the meal, put the stapler back in the drawer after using it, file the paperwork instead of sticking it in a stack, hang the towel up after showering, put the dirty clothes in the hamper, hang up the coat on the hanger, etc. It is the finishing touches that are often most rewarding. Treat yourself to a visually and functionally satisfying result.

Here is a personal example.

My least favorite household chore is putting clean sheets on the beds. I honestly don’t like it because it is a bit difficult for me. Lifting mattresses to tuck blankets underneath is hard on my back. Some of my sheets are a bit tight, so I have to tug and pull to get them on. The comforters are large and can be cumbersome to get back in place. I find the whole process to be sort of a drag. Nevertheless, it must be done.

Most of the time I try and just get it over with as quickly as possible. However, last week I decided I would really do this one task well. I took time to wash and return the mattress cover. Then I slowly and methodically replaced all the bedding, pausing to make sure it was straight and smooth. I placed the decorative pillows back on the bed with a bit of care, and even bent down to adjust the dust ruffle so it hung properly. When I was finished, I was able to take a bit of satisfaction in the nicely made bed. Will I do that every time? No, I probably won’t. Having a perfectly made bed just isn’t important. But for that day, I felt good about my little effort, and that put a bit of jump in my step.

***

Reality will likely dictate that you can do all things at all times as well as you might like. However, if you are feeling a bit down on yourself, like you aren’t accomplishing anything, or like you aren’t making anybody happy, perhaps slow down long enough to do at least one thing well. Revel in whatever it is you achieve, even if only one solitary time. Let that feeling nourish your soul and motivate you to get up and face whatever else is on your plate.

Can you remember a sense of satisfaction from having done a task particularly well?

30 thoughts on “Doing Things Well”

  1. Ironically last night I finally cleaned under our kitchen sink area. See, we have a rack built-in for the garbage can under there. It is hard with my lower back issues to always clean out behind and therefore I loathe and despise doing it. Last night, I finally had enough and pulled everything (including the garbage can rack) to get in there to really deep clean. It does feel good and like I truly did accomplish something as crazy as that may sound. So, great advice, and yes sometimes we really just need to do even those tasks we hate but do it well to feel that sense of accomplishment.

    1. Way to go, Janine! I totally “get it.” And now, every time you open that door under the sink you will feel a little rush of satisfaction. That’s the best!

  2. I gave up perfection a long time ago, but not doing a job well. I agree with you, doing a job well brings so much satisfaction.
    When I graduated college, I moved to my own apartment, in a turn of the century building, in NYC. The fine workmanship of beautiful tiling and coiffered ceilings was jaw dropping remarkable. I never forgot how well done it was and the skill it took to create. It was impressive.

    1. Craftsmanship is a word we rarely hear these days. People used to take pride in a job well done. I hope we can see a return to that feeling as it makes not only a beautiful product, but also a sense of joy in the making.

  3. I so enjoyed this post. It rings so true, as a job well done gives the benefit of self-satisfaction. A job done through to completion is an accomplishment, rather than leaving the tidy-up time til whenever.

    My task done particularly well was last night’s dinner. I took more time that the recipe listed as needed, did my item substitutes, asked for help so that it’d be served hot with all of us at the table on time.

    To me, preparing a meal for family is like giving a present. The more care and consideration put into making it, the more the family appreciates the meal and feels the love ❤️ Added bonus, feeling good about my accomplishment!

    1. I so relate to this comment. I love cooking and giving that gift of a meal. I watch shows like Chopped, and while it is fun to watch the competition, I know I would never enjoy a setting like that. When I’m cooking, I don’t want to be rushing. I like to set that aside as a time to create something and wind down from the day.

  4. I was reading Real Simple magazine yesterday and there’s a piece that talks about the benefits of slowing down. Actually mindfully moving slower so that you experience all the various parts of that which you are doing. I thought it was a fascinating commentary. I know I am guilty have having that laundry list of things to do and love to check off as many things as humanly possible. Doing that means that I do not savor each experience. I push through to get things done. That article combined with your piece is really speaking to me. For me, right now, doing less may mean that I get more out of what I am doing. Thank you, Seana.
    Diane N Quintana recently posted…Show Love for Yourself on Valentine’s Day & Every DayMy Profile

    1. There is a crazy sense of satisfaction we get from doing a job the way we really want to, instead of having to rush through. Sometimes the rushing is necessary, maybe even most of the time. But the slowing down, the SAVORING, there is great joy in that!

  5. Great post, Seana! My cleaning service couldn’t come a few weeks ago, and I told everyone in my house that they will need to help me clean the house. So, the weekend came, and I was ready. I started with changing sheets, cleaning the bathroom and other areas of the home. It is so satisfying to see a room cleaned and refreshed. I found that there were just not cleaned areas in a while because the cleaning people do not do those tasks. So, I spent time and really did a detailed job on those areas. I can’t do it often because of back issues, but it was satisfying to get the cleaning done, and I could enjoy the clean home again.
    Sabrina Quairoli recently posted…Five Family Command Center Board Options to Organize a KitchenMy Profile

    1. I totally relate to the idea of cleaning those areas that are not part of the cleaning staff’s regular chores. You just want to get in there and “do it right,” and that can be so satisfying. I think we are robbing ourselves of a bit of joy by focusing on checking the boxes and not how we are doing the task. Even an unpleasant task can be rewarding if we do it up to our standards, right?

  6. I actually feel the joy before I do the task. It motivates me to take action, to just start. I think about how amazing I’ll feel when I do the task (and do it well), and I experience those feelings even before I begin.

    It usually turns out to be more satisfying once the task is complete especially because I proved myself right. And the feeling of satisfaction (and pride, too) is enormous.
    Deb Lee recently posted…Top 5 Work From Home Productivity TipsMy Profile

  7. I whole-heartedly agree! Doing a job well, even a job you dislike (for me it’s cleaning the shower), leaves you feeling accomplished and satisfied and energized. We’ve all felt that, but I don’t think most of us realize the value in slowing down in order to experience it and savor the lift that comes from focusing on doing a task well and seeing it through to the end (to include clean up). Loved your examples.

  8. Oh, I feel this post. After a year of COVID, I have felt a lot of my systems slipping and see myself half-arsing (if I pretend I’m British, this isn’t swearing, right?) things. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE how you positioned this in multiple ways, but especially, “A chore you honestly hate, but which doing well might make more palatable” because that pride-in-workmanship feeling, doing something you really don’t wanna (whine, whine) do, but doing it well, provides an uplift like almost no other.
    Julie Bestry recently posted…The Professor and Mary Ann: 8 Other Essential Documents You Need To CreateMy Profile

    1. That’s exactly it – an uplift! Sometimes we are forced to just get it done, but every now and then, it helps if we can take our time and feel a bit of pride in how we accomplished a task. Even if the task isn’t particularly desirable!

  9. This is such a lovely idea about leaning into the satisfying feeling we get when we do something well. And also important that you stressed “well done” and not “done perfectly.” Because striving for perfection, which is usually unattainable, can take all the joy out of progress.

    The other piece that comes into play here is mindfulness. I often feel that I enjoy mundane tasks like folding laundry or washing dishes because I can focus on being in the moment and visceral sensations.

    Recently, I did a workshop for The Executive Mom Nest. I had a worksheet and also created a visual presentation to go with it. Previously, I used PowerPoint for all of my presentations, but I tried Keynote, which is an Apple program. I loved using it, and after I was done creating it, I had that feeling of satisfaction. It learned how to use something new. It was visually appealing and led the participants along.

    1. Isn’t that terrific? You took the time to actually learn something new, and then it really paid off for your viewers. Trying to approach a task in a new way, or taking the time to try out an approach we’ve been considering, can be so rewarding. Every now and then it just feels so good to slow down, focus, and feel good about what we are doing!

  10. For sure. This is sort of related because I was paid at the time and we generally don’t get paid for chores, but I worked at a bed & breakfast and every now and then, a cleaner wouldn’t show up and as the Innkeeper, it fell on me. I really realized that getting better at it became something of an art form for me – making perfect hotel bed corners, chocolates on pillows, etc.

    I know I’m on a tangent but for me, it was about quality, and not quantity of rooms cleaned and prepped.

    1. Exactly! You were able to take pride in what might have felt like a mundane task. You focused on how well you did the job, and the beautiful room you prepared for a guest. Perfect example:)

  11. Seana, I love this! You are 100% right. I can think of so many examples where quantity is valued more than quality and I really do think it’s a huge reason why people are as stressed as they are. The reward is small when you complete a task to complete it. It is so much more meaningful when you get to take your time and make it yours. Thanks so much for sharing!

  12. Ok, this post resonated with me as you just saw my social media post on ‘stress cleaning.’ For some reason, when I stress clean I do tasks quite well and thoroughly! It gives me the satisfaction in this one area of my life that I can’t get anywhere else at that moment.

    1. I think you’ve touched on an important aspect of this – control. When we take our time, we feel in control. We can perform the way we want to, which feels like we are in the driver seat. I’m sure this is one of the reasons why doing things well is satisfying.

  13. Great post! It’s true that to do anything well, preparation is key. I often find that if I get too excited about something and I rush to start, execute, and finish, the whole endeavor is kind of a bust. Having the time and the tools in place can create some real magic!

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