You know your drive to perfection is hurting you, but you believe it a reasonable price to pay for success. Just a little more and you'll have it right.
We live in a culture that rewards excellence, and it is easy to confuse excellence with perfection.
Excellence is delivering the best product given the constraints of time and resources. Perfectionism pushes harder, offering a nearly identical excellent product, but consuming inordinate amounts of resources to do so.
Our resource most at risk in the face of perfectionism is time.
Perfectionists set excessively high standards and then doggedly pursuing their ideal regardless of resource and time constraints.
We admire our tenacity and wish others had that same drive. We see the results of our efforts and believe the same output to be better because of the effort put into it.
The results are an illusion.
Perfectionism is a consumer of time; as long as time is available, improvement is possible. There is always another tweak, upgrade, or change as we look over something one more time. We sacrifice time for other ideas, initiatives and family to pour ourselves into the current project in pursuit of perfection.
For a perfectionist, success is never enough. You could do something more; a tweak here, an adjustment there.
The moment must be perfect for hitting “publish” or releasing a new product, or completing an assignment. When you do ‘finish' it, you're thinking “I could have done more” or “I should have done this or that.”
The possibility of a mistake or missed improvement haunts you.
Moving Beyond Perfectionism
Escaping perfectionism's trap is not easy; it's an addiction and addictions are hard to defeat.
I use four simple steps in my quest to overcome perfectionism.
- Identify The Endpoint. Write it down, including the total time you are willing to dedicate to finishing. When you arrive at your clear endpoint, force yourself to say “finished” and move on to the next project.
- Plan For imperfection. The pursuit of perfection is in reality to the pursuit of diminishing returns. For instance, when I write articles, the final 10% of editing easily consumes 50% of my writing time. If I stopped at the 90% mark, would anyone notice? Not likely. Is the article perfect? Nope, but it is good enough.
- Accept Adequate As OK. Think in terms of “good enough, better than most, and meeting the needs.” Know that “adequacy” is not the same as “mediocrity.” Although both are subjective, use your common sense to know the difference. Plan your adequate to be excellent. When you have a clearly identified endpoint with excellence, you pass ‘mediocre' well before you reach ‘adequate.'
- Think Big Picture. Know the priority of each project and its place in the big picture. Having perspective is critical; the importance assigned to the project at hand does not overshadow all of the others. You know what you have to get done, your resources and time constraints, and can repeatedly deliver excellence within those limitations.
If these four steps are not enough, Celes Chau wrote a three-part series about perfectionism, how to deal with it and how to move beyond it. The first is 11 Signals That You Are A Perfectionist. You can get to parts II and III from there.
I recommend you read Cele's articles if you are a perfectionist, have perfectionist tendencies, work in close collaboration with a perfectionist, or live with one.
Pursue Excellence Not Perfection
Keeping your big picture in mind and planning ahead enables you to get more done with excellence. Defeating perfectionism will allow you to reach your potential.
You can do it.
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