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Why Being A Perfectionist May Not Be So Perfect
Are you a perfectionist? Do you spend a lot of time “perfecting” your work,so everything comes out the way you want it to?
I believe all of us are perfectionists in our own right. I’m a perfectionist, too. We set high bars for ourselves and put our best foot forward to achieve them. We dedicate copious amounts of attention and time to our work to maintain our high personal standards. Our passion for excellence drives us to run the extra mile, never stopping, never relenting.
And a dedication towards perfection undoubtedly helps us to achieve great results. Yet, there is a hidden flip side to being perfectionists that we may not be aware of. Sure, being perfectionists and having a keen eye for details help us become excellent. However, as ironic as it might sound, perfectionism at its extreme prevents us from being our best.
How so? Here are some examples:
- We become less efficient. Even when we are done with a task, we linger on to find new things to improve on. This lingering process starts off as 10 minutes, then extends to 30 minutes, then to an hour, and more. We spend way more time on a task than required.
- We become less effective. We do little things because they seem like a “good addition”, without consciously thinking whether they’re really necessary. Sometimes, not only do the additions add no value, they might even ruin things. For example, overcluttering a presentation with unneeded details. Jam-packing a blog layout with too many things.
- We procrastinate, as we wait for a “perfect” moment. Our desire to “perfect” everything makes us overcomplicate a project. What’s actually a simple task may get blown out of proportion, to the extent it becomes subconsciously intimidating. This makes us procrastinate on it, waiting for the ever “perfect” moment before we get to it. This “perfect” moment never strikes until it is too late.
- We miss the bigger picture. We are too hung up over details that we forget about the bigger picture and the end vision. It’s not uncommon to see better jobs done in pruning the trees than growing for the forest.
- We fuss over unfounded problems. We anticipate problems before they crop up, and come up with solutions to address these problems. It becomes an obsession to pre-empt problems. As it turns out, most of these problems either never do surface or they don’t matter that much.
However, the problem isn’t perfectionism. Well, not the normal form of perfectionism anyway. Perfectionism helps us to continuously aim for higher standards and become better. It’s a good thing.
The problem is when the quest for perfectionism turns into an obsession – so much so that the perfectionist becomes neurotic over gaining “perfection” and refuses to accept anything less than perfect. In the process, he misses the whole point altogether. Such perfectionists can be known as “maladaptive perfectionists”.
The answer isn’t to stop being a perfectionist. It’s to be conscious of our perfectionist tendencies and manage them accordingly. We want to be healthy perfectionists who are truly achieving personal excellence, not maladaptive perfectionists who are sabotaging our own personal growth efforts.
Here are my 8 personal tips on how we can be healthy perfectionists.
- Draw a line. We have the 80/20 rule (see #6 of 13 Strategies To Jumpstart Your Productivity)where 80% of output can be achieved in 20% of time spent. We can spend all our time getting the 100% in, or we can draw the line where we get majority of the output, and start on a new project. Obsessing over details is draining and tedious, and doesn’t help us accomplish much. I used to review a blog post 3-4 times before I publish. All the reviewing only amounted to nuance changes in phrasings and the occasional typos. It was extremely ineffective. Now I scan it once or twice and publish it.
- Be conscious of trade-offs. When we spend time and energy on something, we deny ourselves from spending the same time and energy on something else. There are tons of things we can do, and we need to be aware of the trade-offs involved, so we can better draw a line (#1). For example, if some unimportant blog admin work takes an hour, that’s an hour I could spend on content creation or blog promotion. Being conscious of this helps me make a better choice on how to spend my time.
- Get a view of the big picture. What is the end objective? What is the desired output? Is what you are doing leading you to the overall vision? To make sure my attention is set on the end point, I have a monthly and weekly goal sheet for The Personal Excellence Blog that keeps me on track. Every day, I refer to it to make sure what I’m doing contributes to the weekly goals, and ultimately the monthly goals. These help me stay on track.
- Focus on big rocks. Big rocks are the important, high impact activities. Ask yourself if what you are doing makes any real impact. If not, stop working on it. If it’s a small yes, deprioritize, delegate it to someone else or get it done quickly. Seek out high impact tasks and spend time on them instead. Knowing the big picture (#3) helps you know the big rocks that contribute to the end goal. I used to spend endless amount of time tweaking my blog layout, which is really insignificant to the reader. These days I focus more on writing articles and guest posting which are the big rock activities.
- Set a time limit. This is same as time boxing (see #5 of 13 Strategies To Jumpstart Your Productivity). Parkinson’s Law tells us work will take however long we want it to take. If you give yourself 4 hours, you will finish it in 4 hours. If you give yourself 3 hours, you will finish within 3 hours. If you don’t give yourself any time limit, you will take forever to do it. Set the time limit and finish the task by then. There can be a million things you can do to improve it, but you have to draw the line somewhere.
- Be okay with making mistakes. Part of the reason why we obsess over our work is because we want it to be mistake-free. However, trying to achieve 100% perfection is highly ineffective. If we’re busy perfecting this thing, we can’t get to other important things. Realize that making mistakes is a trade off we have to embrace. The more we open ourselves to making mistakes, the faster we can get down to learning from them, and the quicker we can grow.
- Realize our concerns usually amount to nothing. It’s good to plan and prepare, but there comes a time when we should let things roll and deal with problems as they crop up. Being overly preemptive makes us live in an imaginary future vs. in the present. As I grow, I’m more inclined to adopt a “roll with the punches” attitude. It doesn’t mean I don’t care. What it means that most of the things that do crop up can always be controlled on the spot, without worrying about them before hand.
- Take breaks. If your productivity is waning, take a break. Resting and coming back to the same thing later on gives us a renewed perspective and fresh focus. Sometimes I run out of mental juice when writing my articles, and I don’t get anywhere by pressing on. I know it’s pointless to continue, so I take a break from work. Not surprisingly when I return later, I’m able to make progress again.
Are you a perfectionist? What are you doing to stay healthy and get things done?
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