Perfectionism and Productivity
Perfectionism is an issue that affects many of us, and it can be one of the biggest hurdles to getting things done. The desire to do our best often keeps us spinning in circles instead of moving forward with a solution that works.
The problem is further compounded by the innate human tendency to compare ourselves with others. Thanks to social media, we’re constantly bombarded with the perfectly presented lives of others, leading many of us to up the ante on what we expect from ourselves.
But it’s important to remember that comparison is the thief of joy, and when it comes to achieving important goals and feeling happy about your work, perfectionism simply isn’t your friend. In fact, it’s often counterproductive and damaging when taken too far.
In this post, we'll look at how perfectionism blocks productivity and how you can overcome it.
8 Ways Perfectionism is Holding You Back
You can only fix a problem once you understand it. Here are some ways perfectionism might be blocking you from moving forward in your life:
- You’re Paralyzed by Fear
Perfectionism can be a double-edged sword. While it can drive us to strive for excellence and achieve our goals, it can also be a major source of anxiety and fear. When we hold ourselves to impossibly high standards, we can become so preoccupied with avoiding mistakes that we become immobilized.
That fear of making mistakes or trying something new can significantly hinder personal growth and development. Growth includes taking risks, trying new things, or exploring uncharted territories–all things perfectionism may make you shy away from.
- You Focus Too Much on the Details
Perfectionists often become so focused on the details that they lose sight of the big picture. Being obsessed with perfect outcomes makes you more likely to overlook important deadlines or miss out on opportunities to be creative or innovative.
In your attempts to make sure every “i” is dotted, you might spend too much time and effort on mundane tasks and not enough time on high-level goals. For example, a perfectionist planning a conference for work might get so bogged down with choosing the perfect catering, hotel, and meeting rooms that they neglect critical big-picture necessities– like securing the best speakers or getting proper input when setting the conference agenda.
- You Can’t Make Decisions.
Perfectionists spend large amounts of time considering all possible solutions thoroughly; they can sometimes become so overwhelmed by the many possibilities that they have trouble choosing altogether. This kind of indecisiveness can send you into a deep procrastination spiral as you feel yourself falling increasingly behind.
- You Have Trouble Finishing Tasks
One of the most important (and satisfying) steps in productivity is calling something finished and crossing it off your list. But perfectionists often find it difficult to accept that something is done and hold on to work that should be turned in. This can lead to unproductive rework cycles, as you don’t just cause a backlog in your schedule: you also hold up the people you work with. It’s a domino effect of unproductivity.
- You Develop a Poor Reputation at Work
This is an extension of the previous two points. Because perfectionists struggle to call things finished or make decisions, they may struggle with meeting deadlines.
This can be highly problematic in fast-paced and dynamic environments where timely action is required. Getting a reputation for missing deadlines due to your perfectionism can lead to missed opportunities and seriously stunt your professional growth.
- You Feel Like You Have to Do Everything Yourself
Being able to delegate and share your workload is important when working with a team. Unfortunately, perfectionists often feel the need to do everything themselves instead of asking for help. They may think that others won’t be able to do things as well as they would or that it would just take too much time to explain how they would like it done.
And ultimately, an unhealthy reliance on yourself to do everything puts you on a sure path to burnout.
- You Compare Yourself to Others and Focus on Their Successes
Comparison with others is a major driver of perfectionism. It’s pretty common for perfectionists to suffer from feelings of inadequacy and frustration when confronted with the success of others. Keep in mind that this point refers to socially prescribed perfectionism, not self-oriented perfectionism. It’s the socially prescribed perfectionism, the one that’s driven by believing others expect you to be perfect, that has a significant correlation with depression. You can read more about the different kinds of perfectionism here.
- Excessively High Standards Mean You’re Always Unhappy
It is a well-known fact among productivity researchers that the happier you are, the more productive you are. Unfortunately, perfectionists set such high standards for themselves that they spend much of their time feeling disappointed and unhappy. Setting a standard you can never reach is a recipe for hopelessness; You never get to feel like you did a great job, and you miss out on the dopamine rush and motivation boost that comes with accomplishment.
Taming Your Inner Perfectionist
Now that you understand the nature of the beast, let's look at some helpful strategies to reign in those perfectionist urges.
One way to tame perfectionism is by using productivity methods. Methods that encourage goal setting, time management, and task prioritization provide a structure that keeps you moving forward and make it less likely you’ll get bogged down by your perfectionist tendencies. Some popular methods include:
● The Pomodoro Technique: Using a Pomodoro timer, this technique promotes 25-minute intervals of focused work followed by 5 minutes of rest. It’s a great tool for perfectionists who can become so obsessed with getting a task just right that they forego breaks altogether. Those 5-minute breaks are a great chance to regularly reset and regain some perspective; when you return to your work with a refreshed mind, you might realize that the work you’ve done is quite good and that it’s time to move on to a new task.
● Timeboxing: This method requires setting a specific amount of time for each task you need to complete. By committing yourself to a specific timeframe for getting something done, you gradually make peace with doing good quality work and moving on–whether it’s “perfect” or not. Because timeboxing requires you to map out the time you can afford to spend on each task in advance, you are far less likely to go down the perfectionist rabbit hole of spending excessive time on mundane tasks.
● The Eisenhower Matrix: This method helps you decide which tasks are urgent and important and which can be delegated or put off for later. It involves breaking down your to-do list into four categories: do first, schedule for later, delegate, and eliminate. By focusing on the most critical tasks first and delegating other tasks, you override the perfectionist tendency to focus on the wrong things or to try to do everything yourself.
● Kanban: This productivity method helps you visualize your workflow by breaking it down into sections – such as to-do, in-progress, and done. It also makes it easier to see which tasks are taking too long and need reevaluation. With this technique, you can identify tasks that need your attention without getting overwhelmed by the entire list.
It’s important to be patient and understanding with yourself when striving for perfection: self-compassion is a well-documented antidote to perfectionism, and countless research studies like this one have confirmed this. Researchers have also found that self-compassion can protect perfectionists from burnout. Practicing self-compassion includes things like good self-care (nourishing food and adequate rest), encouraging self-talk, and mindfulness meditation.
One of the best ways to ensure you are being kind to yourself is to talk to yourself like you would a friend. You wouldn’t likely ever be harsh or overly critical with a dear friend, so why treat yourself any differently?
Focus on Progress
Start prioritizing progress over perfection. Remind yourself that improvement doesn’t happen overnight and celebrate small wins along the way. Consider making a physical to-list of all the small things you want to accomplish so you can have the satisfaction of crossing off each item as things progress. Staying focused on moving forward in the name of a bigger, long-term picture can help you avoid preoccupation with the minutiae.
If you struggle with perfectionism, commit to delegating tasks or outsourcing work. This frees up precious mental energy and gives you more time to focus on your most important tasks. Just remember to set clear expectations and deadlines for each task you hand over to ensure the best outcomes.
Stop Trying to Overdeliver
Perfectionists often feel that if they’re not overdelivering, they’re underdelivering by default. But constantly overdelivering sets a dangerous precedent: people will come to expect it from you, putting even more pressure on your shoulders.
So, it’s important to consciously resist the urge to overdo it or take on too much. Try setting a standard of simply delivering on time and make overdelivering an occasional event if you’re particularly passionate about a project.
And never forget: it’s really okay to let some things go, so don’t be afraid to set boundaries and say “no” when necessary.
Lean into Failure
A common thread in nearly every success story is the failure along the way that was essential to getting things right in the end. Failing teaches us things that getting things right on the first try can’t. So don’t be afraid to get things wrong; instead, get excited about what you can learn and embrace those experiences as a necessary stepping stone to a great outcome.
For a fun way to “lean into failure” try checking out “f*!k up nights”, where professionals share their biggest failures and celebrate the things they learned from them.
As with most things in life, it’s all about balance. Being a perfectionist can have benefits – it can help you create amazing things and push you to new levels of ability. But it’s important to remember that it’s nearly always detrimental if left unchecked. By understanding how perfectionism is getting in your way and taking steps to manage it, you can create a healthier relationship with your desire to do your best and strive to reach your goals with your mental health intact.