Imagine this: Your desk is full of paper and it’s all related to unfinished work. Also, your task list never seems to shrink – instead, it’s growing bigger and bigger.
Even if you work hard on your tasks, you have this nagging feeling of incompletion in your head. You also feel that it is impossible to meet your inner critic; you are never satisfied to your results.
You are frustrated and burnt out. And even if that’s not enough, you start to procrastinate on your tasks.
You only wish that you could leave the office at 5PM and spend time with your family. And then you look at the piles of paper on your desk.
It is going to be yet another night spent working.
There is no finish line in sight
Unfortunately, this image is way too common in offices around the world. Most people are overwhelmed by the amount of unfinished work they have.
There are really four reasons why this is happening:
First, it’s because the amount of distractions. They don’t have a chance to work in a focused manner and their work performance slows down.
Secondly, it is because working on too many things (tasks, projects, etc.) at once. When they work like this, they are unable to get anything properly completed.
Third, they don’t have an organized way of handling the workload; they have issues with prioritization and they don’t know what tasks to focus on next. This in turn may be caused by a non-existent day planning.
Now, even if those three previous conditions are met, there is still one thing that causes people to procrastinate and be overwhelmed: It’s the unfinished work and the fact that they are never 100% percent satisfied to the quality of their work.
When they are unsatisfied to their work quality, they keep tweaking and tweaking the results but they are unable to finish anything. This is a sure way to overwhelm their selves and generate unnecessary stress.
It is also a sure way to make other people angry – especially if their performance is dependent on the person who is never capable of finishing his/her part of the task/project.
If it’s not perfect, it is not ready!
Inability to let go of tasks and never finishing them are symptoms of perfectionism.
The fact is that you are never going to satisfy your inner critic because you think that there is yet another tweak that you have to do until you can let go of the task.
What is causing all this?
It’s the underlying fear that is holding you in its arms; the fear that others label you as a failure if you release something imperfect. The fear that you are letting yourself down (and not meeting your standards) if everything is not 100% perfect.
Well, I have some news for you — perfection doesn’t exist!
I admit that in certain circumstances (for e.g. professions) you always have to be striving for perfection, for example when you are an airline pilot or a surgeon.
But in 90% of other cases perfection is not serving you. Instead, it is slowing you down, making you procrastinate and increasing your stress levels.
Let’s talk Scrum
If perfection is slowing you down, help can be found from a surprising source; from the world of agile software development and Scrum.
“Hmm… Scrum? What is Scrum?” you are asking.
Scrum is a software methodology that software developers use and one of its components is “Definition of Done” (DoD). It describes what a development team has to have ready by the end of the development iteration (also known as sprint).
When the team declares something as done, it means that the new functionality is fully tested, documented and could be even put to production.
Even if the DoD is used in context of software development, it can be easily applied to individual productivity needs as well.
Definition of Done describes clearly and explicitly what needs to be achieved until a task can be declared as done. And when you define your “done”, you can get rid of your perfection bug.
What is your definition of done?
Let’s take the concept DoD, simplify it a bit and put it into the context of personal productivity. To create your definition of done, follow these steps:
- Define a task you want to accomplish
- Explicitly describe (in written form) what requirements have to be met before it can be called ready
- Mark a task as checked when it’s ready
- When all the rows are checked, that particular task is done
Let’s say that you are blogger, you want to define your “done” regarding a new blog post. In that case part of your DoD could look like this:
Writing a blog post:
- Outline a post [checked]
- Write a post [checked]
- Proofread the post [ ]
- Create a compelling headline [ ]
- Find a accompanying picture [ ]
- Schedule the post in WordPress [ ]
- Write an email message to your autoresponder [ ]
- … [ ]
The previous DoD is clearly explaining what has been achieved so far and what still needs to be done.
To make your DoD even more effective, share this with an accountability partner if you have one. This way you can make continuous checks on how you are progressing with your work and if the individual tasks have been accomplished or not.
If you still try to strive for 100% perfection, your partner can remind you of the agreement that you have created (your DoD). This way you are not endlessly wasting your time by making irrelevant tweaks to your tasks.
I have been guilty of striving for perfection and this bad habit has slowed me down on my projects.
However, once I started defining my “done” (in a written form), I was able to see clearly which parts of the project were finished and which still required my attention.
Once the item on the list is checked, it’s done and I can move to the next task or project.
How do you handle perfection?
(Photo credit: Program code on a monitor via Shutterstock)