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Why Being A Perfectionist May Not Be So Perfect

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?

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    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.

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    How so? Here are some examples:

    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. 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.
    4. 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.
    5. 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.

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    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.

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    Here are my 8 personal tips on how we can be healthy perfectionists.

    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    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? 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.
    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 (#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.
    5. 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.
    6. 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.
    7. 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.
    8. 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?

    Image: doublej11

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    Celestine Chua

    Celestine is the Founder of Personal Excellence where she shares her best advice on how to boost productivity and achieve excellence in life.

    5 Steps To Move Out Of Stagnancy In Life How to Stop Procrastinating: 11 Practical Ways for Procrastinators 13 Bad Habits You Need to Quit Right Away 42 Practical Ways To Improve Yourself How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

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    Last Updated on August 20, 2019

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard. Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

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    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

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    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

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    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

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    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

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    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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