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The Productivity Threatdown

The Productivity Threatdown

The  Productivity Threatdown

    Fans of Steven Colbert are familiar with his “Threatdown” segment, an irreverent countdown of the five greatest threats facing the United States at any given moment. As I watched this segment one night – instead of, you know, working on the project I was desperately trying to get done – it occurred to me that the “threatdown” was one of the five greatest threats facing my productivity, at least right at that moment. So I thought I’d count down the biggest threats to productivity, as I see them.

    #5. Distractions

    I didn’t have to be watching The Colbert Report instead of finishing my project. I’d turned the TV on to have some noise in the house – it gets a little too quiet when I’m working late at night – and before I knew it I was watching the TV instead of working. I’d gotten distracted.

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    While there are times when distractions can be helpful – we often make greater headway on sticky problems when we think about something else rather than obsessing over them – for the most part, outside distractions pull our focus away from whatever we’re working on and slow us down.

    Only you can determine the degree of distraction-free-edness you need to work well. For me, too much quiet is itself a distraction, hence the TV. But the risk of getting sucked into a program or overhearing something that pulls my mind off my work is too great, I’ve decided – since my “Threatdown” epiphany, I’ve limited myself to playing instrumental music on the stereo instead.

    #4. Lack of constraints

    It’s true – one of the biggest threats to getting things done is not having any limits. Unlimited time, budget, personnel, resources – these are very often the elements of projects that just go on and on and on without ever getting anywhere.

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    We see this in big government projects all the time. Although military contracts, big construction efforts, the design and implementation of new computer systems, and other programs are usually budgeted when they start, contractors know that after a certain point, they can ask for whatever increases they want and they’ll get them. After all, it does nobody any good to have half a tunnel under Boston Harbor or two-thirds of a secure border or an almost-working bomber.

    At a smaller scale, most of us notice that we get almost everything with a deadline done on time, while projects without deadlines languish for months, years, even whole lifetimes. Writers often make fun at the”one-day” novel – not a novel written in one day, but a novel a writer intends to write one day. That “one day” almost never comes…

    #3. Imposed goals or no goals at all

    Not having a clear goal in mind for a project is a sure-fire way to kill the project. It’s hard to get passionate about something if we’re not really sure why we want to do it in the first place.

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    Goals imposed on us by others are just as dangerous. If the reason we’re doing something doesn’t have significant personal meaning, we’re likely to be unmotivated and sloppy. Businesses know this all too well – there’s a whole library of advice for corporations on building “buy-in” – that is, on getting employees to internalize the goals of a project as their own. Turns out, workers aren’t very motivated to excel when they’re just putting in hours for a paycheck – and material incentives like bonuses, promotions, and prizes rarely do much, either. What does work is when people feel that the success of their projects is meaningful to them personally, regardless of the benefits it might have for someone else.

    #2. Perfectionism

    Having too clear an idea of what you want to accomplish can be even more dangerous than having no idea at all! Not being sure about what we’re doing at least has the potential for opening up a space for improvisation and innovation, which may lead to success in any number of ways. But perfectionism doesn’t allow for such sloppiness – it accepts only the fulfillment of rigidly defined standards.

    Because perfectionists are often aware of the impossibility of perfection, they can even develop a resistance to achieving the perfection they think they are working towards. When we set out to do something that’s “good enough”, we accept that it will have shortcomings, so we can divorce our own identity and self-esteem from the faulty product knowing we did the best we could with what we had. Perfectionism brooks no such escape – the lack of perfection is perceived as a fault in the self, and we often sabotage our “good enough” efforts to avoid facing our own faults.

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    #1. Procrastination

    Of course. There are thousands of reasons we procrastinate, including all of the above, but the end result is always the same: we don’t work on something we need to get done. And while the notion of productive procrastination is a nice one – meaning we work on other things that are also important to avoid working on the big one we’re procrastinating – having that big old project just hanging there inevitably produces stress, guilt, self-incrimination, and other unpleasantness. If productivity were just measured in units of work done per unit of time, that wouldn’t matter, but I see productivity’s best measure as satisfaction with ourselves, and we’ll never be satisfied with ourselves with big unfinished projects hanging over us.

    #0 Bears

    You can’t get anything done if you get eaten by a bear. So avoid that.

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    Last Updated on November 12, 2020

    5 Reasons Why Being a Perfectionist May Not Be So Perfect

    5 Reasons Why Being a Perfectionist May Not Be So Perfect

    As a perfectionist, do you spend a lot of time “perfecting” your work so that everything comes out the way you want it to?

    I believe many of us are perfectionists in our own right. 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.

    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 a perfectionist and having a keen eye for details help us improve and reach our goals. 

    However, as ironic as it might sound, a high level of perfectionism prevents us from being our best as we begin to set unrealistic standards and let the fear of failure hold us back.

    Below, we’ll go over some of the reasons why being a perfectionist may not be so perfect and how it can inhibit you from being the best version of yourself.

    Why Perfectionism Isn’t So Perfect?

    1. Less Efficiency

    As a perfectionist, even when you are done with a task, you linger 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 is actually required.

    In order to be truly efficient, we need to strike a balance between the best we could possibly do and the level of “good” a specific project requires. No one will expect perfection from you because it will ultimately be impossible to attain. Do the best you can in a reasonable time frame, and allow yourself to put it into the world.

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    2. Less Effectiveness

    We do little things because they seem like a “good addition” without consciously thinking about whether they’re really necessary. Sometimes, not only do the additions add no value, but they might even ruin things.

    For example, over-cluttering a presentation with unneeded details can make it confusing for listeners. Jam-packing a blog layout with too many add-ons can make it less user friendly. Sometimes, consistency is key, and if you continuously change things, this will become much more difficult.

    3. More Procrastination

    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 that 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.

    Instead of overthinking it, set small objectives if you have a big project ahead of you. This will help you tackle it step-by-step and complete it before the deadline.

    If you need help tackling procrastination, check out this article.

    4. Missing the Bigger Picture

    As a perfectionist, you get so hung up on details that you forget about the bigger picture and the end vision. It’s not uncommon to see better jobs done in pruning the trees than growing the forest.

    Take a step back and remind yourself of your end goal. Try setting a timeline to help yourself stick to the work that needs to be done without ruminating on things that could be improved.

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    5. Stressing 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 surface or don’t matter that much.

    When Perfectionism Becomes a Problem

    The problem isn’t perfectionism specifically. Perfectionism helps us to continuously strive for excellence and become better, so it can really be a good thing.The problem is when setting high standards 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, s/he misses the whole point altogether and does damage to their mental health. Such perfectionists can be known as “maladaptive perfectionists.”[1] Maladaptive perfectionists spend so much time setting high expectations and striving for perfection that they increase levels of depression and anxiety. 

    Diagram showing how a healthy perfectionist and a maladaptive perfectionist respond to failure.

      The answer isn’t to stop being a perfectionist or high achiever. 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[2].

      How to Be a Healthy Perfectionist

      1. Draw a Line

      We have the 80/20 rule, 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 it doesn’t help us accomplish much. I used to review a blog post 3-4 times before I published. All the reviewing only amounted to subtle changes in phrasing and the occasional typos. It was extremely ineffective, so now I scan it once or twice and publish it.

      2. Be Conscious of Trade-offs

      When we spend time and energy on something, we deny ourselves the opportunity to spend 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.

      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.

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      3. 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?

      As a perfectionist, to make sure my attention is set on the end point, I have a monthly and weekly goal sheet my 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 to keep me on track.

      4. 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 helps you know the big rocks that contribute to the end goal.

      5. Set a Time Limit

      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.

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      6. Be Okay With Mistakes

      Part of the reason why a perfectionist obsesses over their work is because they 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.

      7. Realize 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 versus in the present.

      This doesn’t mean you 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 beforehand.

      8. Take Breaks

      If your productivity is waning, take a break. Resting and coming back to the same thing later on gives you a renewed perspective and fresh focus.

      The Bottom Line

      Perfectionism doesn’t have to be the enemy. If you’re a perfectionist, you can use it to help you be better at what you love to do. However, there’s a time and a place for it, and it’s important to learn strategies to start overcoming perfectionism when it becomes an obsession.

      Instead of doing work perfectly, do your best and move on. This will help you go farther, faster.

      More on Being Your Best

      Featured photo credit: Elsa T. via unsplash.com

      Reference

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