You’ve finished a project, and you know it’s good. But there’s a voice in your head asking, “Yes, but is it perfect?” Before you send it off, you spend three more hours scrutinizing your work. Is what you submitted truly any better than what you would have sent if you hadn’t spent that extra time combing through the project one last time — or five last times?
There are people who send off an email with a silly typo, notice and feel a small flinch of embarrassment. Then there are people for whom such a mistake would be devastating: perfectionists.
First, remember that if you are a perfectionist, you add a lot of value to your team. You take pride in your work. You work hard and see errors where others may not. You have wonderful attention to detail and the ability to meet deadlines. All of these are fantastic traits that will serve you well as you grow in your career.
Unfortunately, perfectionism also has a downside that can keep you from realizing your potential at work.
Why We Seek Perfection
To understand how perfectionism can be holding you back, it’s important first to think about why you feel the need for things to be perfect.
Being a perfectionist, for some people, is actually an indication of a low level of self-confidence. This kind of perfectionist is so worried about missing a detail or making a mistake that she can’t let go of a project. This manifestation of perfectionism is closely tied to fear. She may be afraid of disappointing her boss, or her team, or concerned about negative consequences associated with a mistake.
Working in a constant state of fear is stressful and will not lead to your best work.
The Problem with Perfectionism
The problem with perfectionism, in addition to the pressure it puts on the perfectionist herself, is multi-faceted. Here’s a look at the domino effect that can happen when you let perfectionism rule your work life:
- Your slow progress could frustrate your team, and your need to look over things could be misread as you not trusting your co-workers
- You work until the very last second, adding pressure to yourself (and sometimes the team) as deadlines approach
- You never feel the satisfaction of finishing something and having done an excellent job
- If you never feel you have done an excellent job, you will never celebrate your own success
- If you never celebrate your own success — and toot your own horn for a job well-done — no one else will either
- If you don’t toot your own horn, you may not get credit for your work — and you could even be overlooked for a promotion or pay increase
Challenge Your Perfectionist Tendencies
- Employ the 80% rule: Author Dan Sullivan coined this term for completing all of your tasks to 80% of your standard for excellence and moving on. The theory here is that you will be the only one who notices the last 20% of your effort.
- Recognize what’s not that important: Some things that you do at work are very important, others are not. Recognize the difference and complete less important tasks quickly. If it helps, list these tasks on a separate to-do list to remind yourself of how they rank.
- Watch the clock: Assign yourself an amount of time in which you will complete each task on your list. Set a timer on your phone or computer and when it goes off, stop.
The true problem with perfection is that it’s not attainable, so most perfectionists will never feel that they have achieved their goal. Redefining success and taking perfection out of the equation will allow you to accomplish more and feel better about your work.
Have you battled with perfectionist tendencies? How have you harnessed the good traits and let go of the ones that hold you back?
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