There’s an adage that “perfect is the enemy of good.” It’s true: if you try to make something perfect, you’ll never get there. With the marketing team here at SpyFu, we use a version of that line to gut check improvements to our own work: Better than yesterday.

This doesn’t apply to new projects. It’s specific to those fixes that you need to make once you see how something is performing in front of customers.

Think about your landing pages, your instruction manuals, your product descriptions, your welcome letters, or your onboarding process. Whatever your customers interact with regularly is prime for improvement. Luckily, that usually means direct feedback about what they didn’t like or didn’t understand.

Here’s the balance: as an individual, deliver A+ work. As a group, strive for B-.

Sound like a disaster? It actually does more in the long game for productivity and improvement.

If you give yourself (and your team) permission to suck, you’re closer to making an improvement that would have otherwise festered in scheduling purgatory.*

“Suck” is relative. Of course you’re not going to ruin a project. Remember that we are our worst critics. Your customers appreciate small tweaks in the right direction. Give yourself permission to make something better than it was yesterday.

The A+ for individual work means that you keep an open mind, come prepared, and use your talent to contribute toward new ideas. The B- for the group means that you set short deadlines and don’t extend them for that list bit of polish someone wants to add.

Sure, the extra polish would make it 5% better, but where do you stop?

Where to stop graph

Lesson learned: stop equating time with importance

A few years ago–before adopting this approach–we took on a page update to help customers who didn’t fully understand how our new reports worked. We devoted dozens of man-hours on a huge product page update for Recon, because it was “Capital I Important.”

We debated colors. We stared as someone adjusting the borders on a button. We all took a shot at saying the same line 7 different ways. Weeks later we finally had our final page to roll out.

Then, crickets. No one really cared.

Since our marketing team had left behind other responsibilities to work on this, we didn’t have the luxury of scrapping this and starting over.  We asked what quick changes could we make that actually helped customers understand how our reports worked?

Tool tips. It was a simple solution we could knock out easily, and it paid off. We dropped them into the site knowing that it wasn’t ideal, but it was better than what we had in place. Our band-aid solution improved the customer experience, and we didn’t have to sacrifice our team’s productivity to get there.

Since that big lesson, we’ve embraced some ideas to help us devote the right amount of time to achieve great work. Keep them in mind in your shift to becoming better than yesterday.

Better Than Yesterday Rules

Don’t worry about massive overhauls.

Thanks to cost, team resources, or even the what-if-I-screw-it-up factor things like landing pages, instruction manuals, and product descriptions can be intimidating to change. Allow yourself to start small: Tweak the text, but leave the images alone. Reprint the brochures, but buy a small batch. Rewrite two emails in your onboarding process, but leave the remaining 12 for another time. You get the idea. Aim for mini projects that add up.

Check your work. Ask yourself again, “Is it better than yesterday?” When you get a yes, it’s time to deliver.

Small improvements make a big difference

Clarifying language — Listen to your confused customers. What did they miss? Go back to your copy and read it again with that perspective to see how you can reword it.

An updated interface — An improved design clears up user frustrations. There’s an entire industry dedicated to optimizing your site’s user interaction, but we’re intentionally keeping it small here. Look at how someone is supposed to use your site and make sure that the elements on the page don’t distract them from doing exactly that.

Brevity — Telling your customers everything they might need to know could actually keep them in the dark. Too much text can be scary. See what you can lop off from your copy. Even better–have someone else read it and highlight what to keep.

Make good use of your resources.

The challenge is to make a necessary improvement without it being a giant, daunting task. If a team can make small updates concurrently, then don’t hold back. Fix the copy on your landing page while someone else adjusts an image? Go for it. The point is to not let time or limited resources hold you up. But squeeze as much out of it as you can!

Don’t drop your standards.

This isn’t about being lazy. This isn’t about accepting “good enough” forever. In fact, this approach encourages us to embrace ongoing improvement. We might pour hours into good revisions, but once we start hitting the Wall of Nitpicking, a wise soul speaks up and asks “Is it better than yesterday?”

It keeps you from hating a project that could use some love.

Set a time to revisit it.

Once you have made a noticeable improvement, be done. Noticeable doesn’t have to mean obvious, either. Small changes can clear up a lot for your audience.

Then, here’s where things can go wrong. Schedule a time to revisit it. Test your improvements. Put your meeting time far into the future–just be sure to force yourself to be accountable to the original improvement. You don’t want to check this off the list and let the big update slip away. You might even make things better with a fresh set of eyes and perspective than if you had kept on it through round 1.

BeterThanYesterday_RevisitBetter than yesterday isn’t perfect, but it is one step closer to getting there.