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?