Willie Dixon, the great blues singer, laid out in specific form one of the general problems that people face in decision making when he sang “I’m built for comfort, I’m not built for speed.” (Howlin’ Wolf did versions to which I’m partial.) The general principle is that sometimes there are multiple desirable characteristics that compete against each other. In automotive design, one common trade-off is the choice between comfort and speed: higher speeds want lower weight vehicles with stiffer suspensions, which means a bumpy ride, while greater comfort wants a softer suspension and greater weight, for a smoother ride.
One could say that a designer could seek both—indeed, it’s possible to seek both comfort and speed, but generally at some other cost (for example, more care in the design process, and more expensive components): a Porsche may not be any faster than a top-of-the-line Nissan, but it will cost more.
Real-world decisions involve many different considerations—different dimensions on which something can be evaluated. The Howling Wolf example explicitly invokes two dimensions, but most decisions involve far more than two dimensions. One difficulty in evaluation processes is in balancing different evaluative dimensions.
Consider, for example, the evaluation of an athlete in a team sport. Strength, size, speed, quickness/reaction time, agility, and balance all matter. So do intelligence, confidence, judgment, and ability to work with others. A professional team that considers adding a player to its roster must consider all of these, as well as considering the player’s future prospects, and the cost of signing that player. Do you get the greatest talent, at possible cost to team chemistry, or do you get less talent to support chemistry? In baseball, two of the greatest second basemen of all time exemplify this question: Rogers Hornsby and Eddie Collins were near contemporaries. There is little debate that Hornsby was the better hitter, but his teams didn’t do particularly well, and often traded him away. Collins, on the other hand, played a key role on multiple championship teams. Who was greater? There isn’t a clear answer.
One trade-off that is central to writers is the trade-off between time and quality, about which I’ve written before. You can choose to spend more time on a project in order to improve its quality, but that additional time spent on the project is time that cannot be spent on other projects. For researchers, this is essentially a never-ending conflict: research never answers every question—indeed, every answer will lead to new questions (Jorge Luis Borges lays out this problem in his essay “Avatars of the Tortoise”).
Perfectionism inevitably runs up against this reality. There is no “right” answer to these questions. There are only decisions that one must make.
I suppose my suggestion for a perfectionist is to look beyond any single project to look at something bigger—something that encompasses any single project—a career, for example.
If you focus on one project and want to make that project perfect, that’s great. But what if making that project better means that you don’t spend time on another project?
Where do you focus perfectionist intentions? On individual projects, at possible cost to your career or to your life? Or do you focus your perfectionist intentions on your career, which might lead to making compromises on an individual project?
Again, there isn’t a clear answer, which is why this is such a thorny issue. You have to make a decision that serves you. When there are multiple dimensions on which to make an evaluation, and when there are trade-offs, choices become difficult and there is no really objective standard by which to judge. The choice is yours--don't think you've failed because you chose to make a compromise.