Recently, I had a conversation with a creative director about finishing up on a project. It was, he said, getting to be unprofitable – and we’d achieved what we set out to achieve. The brand we were working for might want more, but we’d met their expectations – possibly even exceeded them. Now we needed to ensure we didn’t cross the line into perfectionism. That was a battle we didn’t want to take part in.

I’ve tried in the past to know when it’s time to stop, to say enough is enough. Often I’ve failed. But failure is okay, right? Not always.

I don’t mean that doing a poor job on a project is anywhere close to acceptable, but understanding expectations – of internal stakeholders, clients, and the audience for whom the project is being created – that helps to set boundaries and cut-off points. And as we being to use more Agile methods with our projects, those boundaries may shift – but only when agreed and, of course, there is budget to do so.

I’m as guilty as anyone when it comes to over-delivering (at least I hope so!) and this is borne of wanting the final ‘thing’ to be the best it can. I’ll stay late, put in more hours, worked a weekend or two. Ultimately, though, the project isn’t exponentially better – or conversely, wouldn’t be exponentially worse – than if I’d not done so.

Yet there’s something that stops me meeting expectations and then stopping. Of course, this generally means that expectations are higher the next time I work with the same people. They want more for less, or the same.

Agency billings are, if the surveys are to be believed, down more than any other year. More effort is given for less gain. It’s not sustainable. Staff are more disillusioned now than ever before. They are required to put in more effort – to keep clients happy, to keep their boss happy, to justify what they earn.

It’s time to set expectations (and do so realistically), then meet them every time, and then stop. You won’t get back that time with your friends or family, those lost weekends and evenings. Yet, there is always a next phase, a new iteration, a follow-up. It’s the one thing that never fails.