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95% Is 5% Too Short

Most people are content with doing less than a 100%. They’ll do “just enough” and be happy with that—but “just enough” is not enough if you want to be at a top performer (whether that’s at work at home at church or for a non-profit).

In fact, let me give you a real life example of this in a home context. Several years ago, when Jacquie and I were first married, if I did the dishes, I’d do (maybe) 95% and be content with that. The majority of the dishes were done, the majority of the counters had been wiped clean and the majority of the food that needed to be refrigerated had been put away—and I was okay with that. But not your mother.

She was annoyed that there was always something that wasn’t completely done. The dishes that had to be hand washed were drying on the counter top. The counter tops may have been wiped clean, but not the stove top. Or the food may have been put away, but one or two spice jars were still on the countertop. In other words, there was always something left that she had to finish. Finally fed up with this, one day she simply said, “Bruce, if the kitchen isn’t completely done, it’s not done!” (or using the phraseology from this letter, “95% is 5% too short!”). You either complete a task or you don’t. 95% is not complete!

This principle holds true across the board. For example, in school, most of your peers are okay with not doing the last 5%. They won’t do the extra work, they won’t do that last search to find that perfect illustration/quote/fact. They won’t do that extra edit to clean up their grammar. They won’t take the time to say something different, etc. But if you want to be great, you’ve got to do all those things. You’ve got to go the last 5% for a number of reasons—for yourself, because that’s where all the rewards are, and because you rarely know ahead of time where the line is between just okay and great performance.

For example, I remember when I was at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and in my first accounting class (which was the weed class for business majors with several hundred students in each section). To get prepared for the exams, the professors gave us access to all their past exams. The idea was that we were supposed to study the past exams to learn how to think about problems so that when they threw something at us on the exams that we hadn’t seen before, we’d understand the thinking behind how to solve those problems.

During that semester, there were a couple of us who got straight A’s on every exam. When we talked about how much time it took for us to get prepared for each exam we discovered that all of us had studied at least 40 hours per exam. We couldn’t find one person who had studied less than 40 hours who got straight A’s. We also knew plenty of people who had studied 30 to 39 hours who all got B’s. Think about that. At 39 hours, they were just 5% too short. An extra hour. An extra problem or two. Etc. and they probably would have had an A. Life is like that. It’s often that, “little bit extra,” that makes all the difference.

This is clearly true at work. Again, most people will be content with doing just what’s required or what the minimum is. But not you! If you want to succeed, you have to keep thinking, “95% is 5% too short!” Do the extra work. Put in the, “little bit extra.” Do the extra edit. Stay a little later to complete a project and make it an “A”.  Be great!

In other words, if you’re going to do something, do it fully. If you’re going to clean your room/apartment, do it fully. If you’re going to write a paper/report, put in the “little bit extra” to make it great. If you’re going to create a presentation, add a few extra touches to make it sing. If you’re going to use an illustration, do the extra work to find the perfect illustration, not just one that’s “okay.” If you’re going to orchestrate a date, take the time to add your own touches of creativity so that it’s memorable. And if you’re going to volunteer to do a project at work, make sure you do the “little bit extra” so that it stands out.

Any way you add it up, 95% is always 5% too short. So cultivate the habit of doing, “the last 5%,” and you’ll begin to realize that all the rewards go to those who do “the last 5%.”

5 Responses to 95% Is 5% Too Short

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