I’m sure its confusing to read that we need to ‘manage perfectionism to boost productivity’. After all its a positive quality to achieve high standards right. Well here comes the law of diminishing returns- It states that after a certain point the benefits gained are less than the time and energy invested in a task. Too much perfectionism starts affecting your health, relationships and quality of life.
There are 2 kinds of perfectionist behavior- healthy and neurotic. Healthy perfectionism is when you get excited and motivated to work towards a goal. When you look at the bigger picture and make realistic goals without getting stuck in every little detail. Its when your quality of life is not compromised to get a task done.(1)
Whereas neurotic perfectionism causes anxiety and stress. You are so afraid of making a mistake that you don’t even get started on a project. You want to make a perfect plan and chalk out every detail beforehand which often leads to procrastination and unfinished work.
The causes for extreme perfectionism can be- Perfectionist parents, competitive siblings, perfectionist boss or work culture. Though it can be an inborn personality trait too, accompanied by anxiety, low confidence and OCD(not in all cases).
Below are most common symptoms of neurotic perfectionism. If you identify with few or more of these traits then you must work towards managing perfectionism to get tasks done effectively and on time.
Here’s the uncomfortable truth about perfection. It is often insecurity in disguise.Gary Vaynerchuk
Signs of extreme perfectionism
1- Feeling overwhelmed or anxious by a task because a lot has to be done to meet your own unrealistic standards.
2- You keep procrastinating until all requisites are prefect which leads to time loss and frustration.
3- Even if you finish the work on time you never feel satisfied and happy with it.
4- You have unrealistic expectations from your co-workers, children or spouse and feel disappointed as they can’t match to ‘your standards’.
5- Too much time is wasted on unimportant details that don’t matter in the bigger picture. Like the folder color or font of the presentation.
6- You keep redoing the work in order to make it perfect or take 4 hours for a 1 hour work.
7- You don’t try new things due to fear of failure.
8- Self-care and family time is not important to you and is often neglected in order to make the work perfect.
9- You feel ashamed of your mistakes and regret the ones that were made in the past that are not significant now.
10- All or Nothing attitude– you feel not doing the work is better than doing imperfect work.
11- Feel defined by your failures and achievements.
According to psychologists (2) perfection is not the same as giving your best, it does not focus on learning and growth. On the contrary the need to be perfect is related to ego, fear of judgement, anxiety and leads to self-defeating thoughts.
The good news is with consistent effort and a will to change we can manage our perfectionism tendencies and boost productivity without stress and dissatisfaction.
The key to happiness is letting go of the idea of perfection.Debra Messing
Steps to manage perfectionism to boost productivity and quality of life
1 Practice self-compassion
Often times perfectionists are very harsh on themselves. They use phrases like’ I can’t make mistakes’ ‘I should never loose’ ‘I can’t fail’ ‘If I make mistakes people will think that I’m a loser’.
Be mindful of the negative self harming sentences and replace them with positive affirmations. Such as ‘I am not a failure if I fail once’. ‘It’s ok to make mistakes’ ‘I don’t need to impress everyone’. Appreciate small victories and credit yourself for the hard work you do.
It takes time and practice to change the mindset, keep repeating the positive statements or write them down everyday and slowly you will start believing them.
2 Make a realistic to-do list
Start by taking baby steps. Make a priority wise realistic list to get you started. This way you will feel less anxious and in control. keep ticking off the things as they get done. Focus on sticking to your schedule consistently instead of worrying about the final outcome.
A priority list will also give you clarity on which task requires more effort. Every minute detail doesn’t need our time and energy.
3 Settle for good enough
The idea here is not to make you lazy or stop you from aiming higher but to find a balance between health, work and relationships. Set achievable realistic standards because perfect is a myth and trying to achieve that will only cause stress and disappointment.
Do your best, review your work, ask for feedback and let it go if its good enough. Constant rework leads to burnout and confusion.
Write a journal and practice mindfulness to get perspective and clarity on what’s important to you and work towards inner peace and happiness.
4 Don’t be scared of failure
Failing at something does not mean that you are failure. Every great leader, athlete, painter, actor or businessmen has failed many times before succeeding. It is part of the process, learn from the mistakes and move on. Constant fear of not making a mistake will paralyze you. Give your best shot as sincere effort matters more than the result.
5 Trust others
If you are in a leadership position try to delegate the work efficiently. If you want to get things done a certain way then guide them to do it. Let them grow and evolve and don’t try to do everything yourself.
If you work within a group, ask for support and advice to improve your work. Seeking help is not a sign of weakness. Also don’t judge others by their mistakes, create a trusting and compassionate work culture.
Similarly build trust in personal relationships by being empathetic and compassionate. Understand their perspective, be open minded and flexible in your approach.
6 Set time limit
Time limit is to stop you from procrastinating. Decide on your time schedule and a daily goal. Follow it to get things done step by step.
7 Reward yourself for victories and progress
Don’t live your life in constant pressure and dissatisfaction. Enjoy the journey, celebrate small victories and the progress you’ve made so far. Cherish even the mistakes or failures because it’s only human to err. Watch your favorite movie, order your favorite meal or go out for a walk. Do whatever soothes your soul and do not feel guilty of self-care.
8 Spend time with uplifting and compassionate people
There might be a possibility that someone in your family, office or school is an extreme perfectionist and demands you to be like that. Though its not possible to avoid them completely but you can limit your interaction with them. Also, communicate effectively that their expectations are unrealistic and you are working to the best of your capacity.
Spend more time with people who motivate and uplift you. If you can’t find someone like that then find other sources such as books, movies or activities that instill confidence in you.
Perfectionism is good to achieve success and move forward in life. But you need to manage extreme perfectionism not only to boost productivity but to have a healthy and harmonious life. Be mindful of the physical signs of stress like fast breathing, perspiration and anxiousness. Take few deep breaths, relax and focus on the solution, make a list to begin with, delegate, seek support and have faith.
Striving for excellence motivates you: Striving for perfection is demoralizing.Harriet.B.Braiker