March 23, 2018

Credit: Matt Dunham / AP Images

It’s 1:30 in the morning, and you’re obsessing over whether the conclusion you’ve written captures the essence of your research paper. But is putting in all this time and effort actually paying off? Eugenia Cheng, a scientist in residence at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, explains that by using the concept of diminishing returns, we’ll find that perfectionism isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.

Three Takeaways 

  • Beware the law of diminishing returns. That’s the ratio of what you get to the amount of effort you put in. So if the effort is small and the payoff is huge, Cheng says go for it. But over time, the payoff will decrease and you’ll have to decide whether it’s time to call it quits.
  • The chance of making mistakes is greater the longer you’re working. Imagine staying up late to finish that research paper and you’re so tired, you end up introducing more errors than you started with. Yikes!
  • Lower your minimum standards. When you’re writing a rough draft, focus on getting your ideas down on paper. Then, when it’s time to edit, you can be a little bit more of a perfectionist.

More reading 

innovation hub, Eugenia Cheng, pri, Kara Miller, WGBH

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