I have a little desk clock that I keep by my computer.  It’s a little freebie-thing from Brookstone that I got for spending $40 there one day (I had a birthday gift card for the place) but I like it because it has a nice big clock face, displays the date and day of the week on it, and if you rotate it 90, 180, or 270 degrees, it turns into a thermometer, count-up timer, or world clock, respectively.

Just Enough ClockI’ve been out of the office pretty much since last July, so it was only this morning I noticed something interesting – instead of showing the year 2010 as ’10, my trusty little clock has rolled over to ’90.  Yes, I get to live the 90s all over again!

From what I can tell, the clock (made in China) uses some sort of cheap computer circuit board that was programmed with the minimum function set required to provide the features advertised on clock.  Rather than expand the memory/processing power of the clock to handle dates outside the range of 1990-2009, the designers decided to just let the clock roll over and never show the correct date after the functionality-imposed “end-of-life” of the clock.  Probably they expected that the hardware itself would only have a lifespan of a few years, anyway, so those folks like myself who got the clock in 2003 would never have it last long enough to see this bug “feature” in the design.

But my clock survived (against all odds?) and is a great of example of what I like to call the “Just Enough” syndrome.

“Just Enough” can apply to any number of aspects of your life, whether it be you doing just enough work in your job to get the task at hand completed, paying just enough on your credit card debt to stay off the “finance charge” list, cleaning just enough of your house/car/workspace to keep it from looking like a total dump, or studying just enough to get by on your test/presentation/speech.  The results of “Just Enough” work can be described by a single word – mediocre.  Mediocre can also describe the quality of life you might have if you employ the “just enough” attitude regularly.

However, attempting to go “Above and Beyond” on everything you do creates a different peril; spending so much time and effort on a single task could mean you end up not having enough time/resources to finish everything else, and have to sacrifice something to make up for it.  This is what I personally tend to struggle against, both at work and at home.

The solution, or course, like so many other things in life, is moderation.  The “Just Enough” attitude is perfect for throwaway work that you don’t need to deal with ever again, or things that would suck up your time without providing you with enough return on your time investment.  You can still go above and beyond on things that are important to you, whether it’s playing with your children, putting together that big report for work, cooking a fantastic meal, working to get out of debt, doing something creative, or participating in a hobby.  The key is thinking about what you’re doing, and really consciously deciding up-front how important the activity is and how much you want/need to invest in it.  Waiting until you’re halfway done (or sometimes, even after you’ve been done for hours/days!) won’t work – you’ve missed your chance to repurpose your time for more important things, and all you’ve got left now is a lesson to learn from for next time.

Do More or Less?I hope my poor little clock continues to run.  I’d like to keep it here on my desk to remind me to evaluate whether what I’m working on deserves more than a “Just Enough” solution.  And because that isn’t always the right answer, I’ve paired it with my Staples Easy Button to remind me that I often take things well beyond what is needed, and need to scale back my effort and time investment accordingly.  If I can keep my behavior somewhere in the middle, I’ll have a few new single-word handles to hang on my quality of life – Happy, Contented, Fortunate, and Worthwhile.