Q. Help! I’m a perfectionist. I know it’s bad for my productivity but what can I do about it?
This was a question I had from a delegate at a recent ‘How to be a Productivity Ninja’ session.
I’ve spoken and written a lot about perfectionism in the past, but I realised it’s all dotted around my blog, books and workshops. So here’s a roundup of 7 ways to stop that pesky perfectionist streak from hijacking your productivity:
1. Lower the stakes
If perfectionism is stopping you from getting started and causing procrastination then lower the stakes.
Give yourself permission to start badly, and space to improve it later. And if ‘getting it right’ feels like a tall order, then experiment with one of these seven alternatives to being right.
Remember, imperfect action beats perfect inaction every time.
2. Be mindful of the trade-off
If perfectionism is stopping you from finishing, this quote from Chief Ninja Graham Allcott is apt: “The last moments spent on anything are rarely the best ones.”
There comes a point where each extra ounce of effort you put in gives you less and less payback – to the point where you could either spend twice as long on one thing and make it marginally better, or you could have two things done well.
Be mindful of the trade-off and choose wisely.
3. Experiment with setting limits
Use a timer, or limit yourself to a certain number of drafts, edits or rewrites. Set external deadlines with people who will hold you accountable.
Make sure it’s a real deadline with real consequences. So for example, if you’re putting together a presentation, book the meeting now in everyone’s diary, including the meeting room, for when you’re going to deliver it, rather than waiting until you’re comfortable that it’s done or perfect.
4. Focus on ‘shipping’
This idea comes from Seth Godin, who points out that there is no value to what you’ve been working on until it’s actually being used. An imperfect published paper will always deliver more value than a perfect draft. Focus on getting it ‘out there’.
5. Choose progress over perfect
Perfection in practice means focusing on what’s wrong. Progress is about focusing on what’s good and what’s going well and building on that. Over time, this helps you to become more comfortable with when good enough really is good enough.
Practice writing a ta-da list to help you focus on progress instead of perfection.
6. Swap ‘but’ for ‘and’
If perfectionism is turning into fault-finding and being over-critical of yourself, experiment with using the word ‘and’ instead of ‘but’.
7. Choose where you apply your perfection
High standards and attention to detail is a strength, and strengths can be overused. Some things are worth that level of attention, but not all things.
Not everything has to be gold-plated. Some things can be silver-plated, bronze-plated or just plain done. So be ruthless with your perfectionism. Only apply it to the things that are really worth it!
Over to you
Are you a perfectionist? How does it affect your productivity? Which of these tips would you choose to put to action? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Love the ideas but struggle with putting them into action?
My clients tell me I have a knack of getting them doing stuff (not just thinking about them!) and of course that’s where the magic happens. Check out how to work directly with me here.