5 Tips to Beat Perfectionism at Work

Perfect is the enemy of done.

Posted Mar 04, 2020

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I’ve noticed perfectionism hits me hardest at work. Or maybe it’s just easier for me to recognize it in that area of my life. I procrastinate tasks because I’m scared I won’t do it "right." I start getting sleepy, not because I’m tired, but because I’m avoiding a job responsibility I feel has to be done flawlessly. 

When perfectionism is running roughshod all over me and my (now) mushy mind, one way I manage it is by creating my own mantras. These little reminders help put things into perspective, pivot my thinking and reassure me the sky isn’t falling. They help me get out of my head and into perfectly imperfect action. I write them on sticky notes and plunk them all over my desk. 

My current, self-penned “progress-not-perfection” prompts are the following. See if any help kick your perfectionistic paralysis to the sidelines. 

1. Don’t overthink it.

Sometimes I find myself rewriting and rewriting and rewriting AND rewriting blog posts, emails, even text messages. This "don’t overthink it" quip tells me I can take things less seriously and trust myself (and other people). I’ve learned I can send off that email more quickly, do only one or two revisions of my posts (yes, including THIS one!) and trust my texts don’t have to be eloquent or even intelligible (not for friends anyway). 

2. Good enough really IS good enough.

Those of you who’ve been reading my posts, or following me for some time, know this is my touchstone. It’s a comforting and truthful mantra. It reiterates what I often forget: Other people don’t care as much about the mistakes I make, most won’t care at all, some won’t even notice them. Good enough, helps me get to done. Voltaire and Confucius are considered cool cats for a reason. They both understood the importance of good old "enough-ness." Voltaire said, “The best is the enemy of the good” and Confucius, "Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without." Maybe it should be perfect is the enemy of done!?

3. What if… I let myself be happy? 

When I start to spin my wheels, or launch into a whirligig of negatives "what ifs," I ask myself this: "What if... I let myself be happy?" I think about this. Really think about it, just… letting myself be happy. Relaxing and letting myself trust I can do whatever is in front of me while letting go a bit. Whatever the task, I can experiment in doing it without fear or worry. When I do this, I start to feel a little lighter, a little happier even. I also forget about why I should hang on to my white-knuckle control. Try it. It’s not a question we often ask ourselves. See what happens when you do. This little glimmer of happy helps me be more productive with less emphasis on doing things impeccably.  *Note: This isn’t when I’m in an arm wrestle with depression or acute anxiety – that needs a different approach and sometimes an appointment with my therapist or doctor.  

4. Leave it ugly. Let it be messy. 

I have a hang-up about making documents look pretty. Documents that don’t need a design flair. Documents that don’t even get seen by the public. Like colour coordinating the brand colours in my online to-do list I share with my virtual assistant, or neatly entering data just so with proper punctuation in my CRM. Yes, it looked nice. But it took me forever and to what end? I fretted over bolding titles, changing font colours instead of just getting the task done. It was a sneaky way to feel productive. Now I leave things ugly and let them be messy. 

5. Try it and see what happens.

This one really took me a long time to really get in my bones. Indecision has been a comforting friend and a way to avoid uncertainty in an *ss-backwards way. But the experimenting approach has brought the most fruit and a lot of relief. Indecision masked my fear of failure and belief that one wrong move would collapse my career. “Trying it,” simple as it sounds, wasn’t exactly simple. Not for this "risk-averse-need-a-guarantee-it’ll-all-turn-out-ok" kinda girl. I started by taking micro-sized healthy risks and seeing what the outcome was. Then, gradually, I took on bigger and bigger ones. This is all relative. For example, first it was writing a cold sales email to a potential client. Then it was choosing to do a follow-up phone call (egad!) to a client instead of another email. Instead of postponing my webinar again until I knew exactly what topic people wanted, I chose to do one that I was excited about and tried it out. 

These action steps might be easy for others but for me they were huge. Perfectionism is an insidious, heavy, and often sneaky culprit. What were the outcomes? Phone calls were nerve-racking but effective and actually welcomed by some clients. The Catalyst for Creativity and Courage: Intro to Storytelling webinar was… well it WAS! It happened and was a success.  

With these aphorisms, I experience less anxiety and self-criticism. They help me get my work done, get more done, and get it done more easily. The momentum of caring less about perfection carries me to a place of completed good work rather than almost perfect but never done work. 

Now that is pretty perfect. Not that it needs to be. 

© Victoria Maxwell