Rule of the last inch

From The First Circle by Alexander Solzhenitsyn:

Now listen to the rule of the last inch. The realm of the last inch. The job is almost finished, the goal almost attained, everything possible seems to have been achieved, every difficulty overcome — and yet the quality is just not there. The work needs more finish, perhaps further research. In that moment of weariness and self-satisfaction, the temptation is greatest to give up, not to strive for the peak of quality. That’s the realm of the last inch — here, the work is very, very complex, but it’s also particularly valuable because it’s done with the most perfect means. The rule of the last inch is simply this — not to leave it undone. And not to put it off — because otherwise your mind loses touch with that realm. And not to mind how much time you spend on it, because the aim is not to finish the job quickly, but to reach perfection.

Via Still I Am One

It can be hard to know when something deserves the kind of polish Solzhenitsyn talks about. Sometimes you’re in the realm of rapidly diminishing return and it’s time to move on. Other times, the finishing touches are everything.

Related post: Scripting and the last mile problem

3 thoughts on “Rule of the last inch

  1. I’m in my late 50s. I am current in a master’s program for counseling; I have a full-time and a part-time job. My son called today from out of state to encourage me… Rule of the last inch is how he did it. Thank you for that impact on my son!…and me.

  2. I found this in his book The First Circle in 1981 and immediately copied it out! I have posted it in various dorms, offices, desktops. I preach it to my children. I add this “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” OK, so I know Thomas E. wasn’t a great human, but the idea is true.

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