But when the need to create perfection at every turn starts to impact your productivity, stopping you from getting things done and leading to a string of missed deadlines, or when it starts to impact your sleep and health, it has got out of hand.
Perfectionists give themselves extremely high standards. They have an excellent work ethic. In a management role they can be an incredibly positive influence on a team. On the downside, when it goes too far a desire for perfection can make someone hyper-critical, drive them to micro-manage and even negatively affect their own work as well as other people’s.
Like so much in life there’s a balance to achieve, a level of output quality that you can live with and those around you are happy with. If you’re struggling to control your own perfectionism, here’s how to
rein it back in.
How to cope with a powerful desire to be perfect
Most of the time the important thing is getting something done, something finished, rather than aiming for perfection. Let’s face it, plenty of jobs can easily end up more or less infinite. Say you’re asked to analyse a website for a client. Your report could be ten pages long. It could be a hundred. If you’re prone to rampant perfectionism, it might help to make sure you get a very detailed brief, pinning down exactly what the client wants to know, setting yourself a reasonable timescale, and sticking to it. Once you have a set of rules to work to, you’ll be better at spotting when you’ve done a good enough job and it’s time to stop.
The N word – learning to say no
No. It can be a hard word to say, especially when you set such store by being able to handle everything your working life throws at you and juggle every plate with ease and flair. But no is an essential word, and your working world won’t fall apart if you use it. There are positive and negative ways to say no, of course, so learn how to turn down work that you can’t handle with grace, professionally and positively.
The perils of over-delivery
Over-delivery is a tricky one. Good people always want to do the best possible job. But when you over-deliver every time you create a rod for your own back, which can lead to stress, exhaustion and clients or colleagues who soon grow to expect constant over-delivery. Again, having a solid, detailed brief and a strict timescale for a project helps perfectionists reel themselves in and keeps other people’s expectations under control.
At the end of the day every task is different. Some projects demand total perfection, others are more forgiving and just need to be done to a standard that’s good enough. Knowing the difference can change a perfectionist’s life for the better. Can you set yourself a suite of rules by which you can prioritise, clearly identifying tasks that require perfection and those that demand less of you… and can you stick to them?
If you fall off the wagon now and again remember you’re only human, forgive yourself, pick yourself up and keep going. You haven’t failed. You’ve just experienced a setback.
The 80 / 20 productivity rule
Rules can be extremely helpful. Take the Pareto Principle, a rule that says about 80% of effects come from 20% of causes. It’s often brought into play for economics but it can also help you shape your day wisely. Once you know that just 20% of your work produces 80% of your results, intelligent prioritisation shines through as a powerful tool. Identify that crucial 20% and focus on that, and you’ll be better equipped to stop spreading yourself so thinly.
The dangers of procrastination
Perfectionism has a lot of positive attributes. Procrastination isn’t one of them! If things get acute you could find yourself unable to move forwards, paralysed into inaction by the demands of your own perfectionist nature.
When you’ve over-burdened yourself to the nth degree it can be hard to force yourself to kick off another task or project, because you know you’ll only end up dedicating your life to it. You might feel unable to hand a piece of work over because you can’t quite believe you’ve actually finished it, that it really is good enough. If that sounds like you, setting priorities as we’ve mentioned can help you get things back in perspective and un-block you. So can learning to delegate, something we talk about next.
Learning to delegate
Look online and you’ll see countless articles, posts and more about learning to delegate. That alone proves that it’s a problem for a lot of people. As a runaway perfectionist it’s helpful to know that it’s just not possible to do everything on your own. It might help to know that it isn’t all about you, either. Delegating to other people has considerable business value. Making them feel trusted and respected, helping them to grow in their role, feel more confident, spread their wings and take their skills to the next level.
Delegation comes with some pitfalls to be aware of when you’re a perfectionist. Additionally, you’re your own worst critic, but applying the same level of criticism that you beat yourself up with to others can ruin working relationships. It’s really important not to criticize colleagues whose work is less than your version of perfect.
In a nutshell, letting go doesn’t mean giving up. Make sure you know the difference and you’ll be a lot less hard on yourself and others.
Staying calm under pressure
One of the biggest down-sides of perfectionism is you tend to find pressure really tough to deal with. You already apply quite enough pressure to yourself, so adding external pressures to the party can drive you to despair. The more stressed you feel, the more stressed you become, in a horrible vicious circle that affects everyone you engage with at work and at home.
It helps enormously to learn how to stay calm when the world around you seems to be going crazy. Basic meditation skills can be incredibly helpful, but there are all sorts of proven relaxation techniques you can harness. As a perfectionist you should find it easy to learn a few of those techniques to help you deal with stressful situations, handle your own workload better and help other people do the same.
Mistakes are always bad, right?
Mistakes happen. As a perfectionist they probably drive you nuts. But when you see mistakes as part of a larger learning process, they become a positive thing. As the saying goes, you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs. Any scientist worth their salt will tell you that mistakes are an incredibly valuable way to learn, move forwards and discount un-workable theories and ideas. What a relief!
Knowing everyone is different
Perfectionism can turn you into a monster. It’s important to understand that everybody is different, and know that just because they’re different it doesn’t mean they’re worse at their job than you. When you understand other people’s motivations and working styles, it helps you treat people with more respect and also helps you dial down the sometimes enormous amounts of pressure you apply to yourself.
Work to live
Life is short. It’s also very beautiful. You could spend most of working. Or you could give yourself, your family, friends and colleagues a break and get a decent work-life balance going. Additionally, it’s good to take regular breaks, work reasonable hours, and know when you need to stop and top yourself up. These are all valuable skills in themselves, and as a perfectionist you’re very, very good at acquiring new skills. Set yourself the task of creating a perfect work-life balance and it’ll help you control your perfectionist tendencies to everyone’s benefit.
The fine art of asking for help
As a perfectionist, asking for help or even acknowledging that you have a problem can be very tough. You don’t want to be human. You are naturally inclined to aim for superhuman status. Understanding and admitting you’re veering into overly-perfectionist territory is half the battle. The other half is doing something about it, and that can involve asking others for help.
It isn’t easy admitting to a perceived weakness in a business context, but you’re working with a bunch of your fellow human beings and most people are very understanding, keen to help and give advice. Swallow your pride and you might find an entire team of people leaping in to support you in changing your working style so it’s less focused on perfection, easier on yourself and on them.
And that’s where we come in. Our executive coaches can help you steer yourself away from dangerously over-perfectionist waters into a safe harbour. Where your inclinations are entirely positive, wholly beneficial to you, those around you and the organisation you work for.