How Do You Know When You’re Done?

“Sometimes I’m done because I run out of time. Sometimes a deadline gets you to stop. Sometimes a project is done because you’ve done too much and you’ve made it worse. You need to stop and go back. Sometimes you’re never done.”

Paula Scher

in How To Think Like a Great Graphic Designer


I wore my “perfectionism” as a badge of honour until I discovered it was made out of pure fear. Fear of failing myself and others. Fear of not being as good as I thought I was. Fear of being discovered as totally inept. What right did I have to say/write/teach/attempt this?


Perfectionism and fear strangled many ideas and plans over the years that never saw the light of day.


Seth Godin often discusses the “shipping” mindset (which may have come from the Steve Jobs phrase “real artists ship”. We fear shipping because it means exposing ourselves to criticism and the negative consequences of wasting time/money, annoying someone in power or making a fool of ourselves.


Consider the positive consequences of sharing your work:

  • Giving voice to a story that needs to be heard
  • Changing the world with what you create
  • Making something faster/simpler/easier/cheaper/more elegant/more fun/more satisfying
  • Reducing pain and suffering


In any of these cases it would seem selfish to hold back from shipping.


Seth generously created a document called the Ship It Journal which is an amazing tool for helping you do the hard work first. By following the prompts, you can pre-empt and prepare for the obstacles (from yourself and others) that may come up during the development of your project and deal with them accordingly. I’ve borrowed some of his critical ideas to help answer the question “How do you know when you’re done?”


Before you start, ask yourself these questions:


When does it ship?

Please give a date and a time.


Who is responsible for getting it out the door?

There may be a team working on your project, but assign ultimate responsibility to one person.


What does perfect look like?

Be as specific as possible at the start of the process.


What does good enough look like?

This is the minimum standard your project has to reach to achieve some purpose. It’s better to ship and discover that what you created wasn’t a good fit for your market or audience than to not ship and never know.


What are 10 things you could add that would subtly or radically improve your project?

Things that would make it more artistic, generous and world-changing.


What are 10 things you could subtract that would subtly or radically improve your project?

Things that might improve or simplify the user experience, focus on the core brilliance of your idea and help get it out the door.

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