During a recent keynote on success strategies for both work and life, one of the attendees asked about how to deal with perfectionism. I have heard from people who spend so much time completing a project that it’s late. Others spend so much time on a project that they fall behind on other equally important or even more important tasks. Still others want to make a change, maybe take on a new responsibility, but are afraid to fall short.
Avoiding opportunities, falling behind, and overworking are just some of the very real consequences of perfectionism. If you are finding that the quest for perfection is hurting your progress, it’s time to change your focus and prioritize other quests than trying to be perfect . Here are four ways you can keep perfectionism in check:
Broaden the end goal
Sometimes perfectionism rears its ugly head when a goal is defined too narrowly, making it an all-or-nothing proposition. For example, if you define the perfect career as meaning a promotion to leadership, then anything short of that will disappoint. However, if you brainstorm multiple ways to attain career success beyond a specific title (in fact, you don’t need to move up to move your career forward), then you can focus on a number of career improvements — making a lateral move and learning a new area; expanding your thought leadership outside your company; taking on a leadership role in your community – and get unstuck from one definition of success.
Prioritize starting over finishing
If perfectionism is keeping you from turning in a project or moving onto other tasks, then change your priority from finishing a task to starting a new one . Make a successful day one where you initiated or made some movement on a set number of tasks. Your strong finishing tendencies will invariably take over and you will finish more than you expected, by first prioritizing getting started.
Try alternating work and rest segments
If you normally don’t start on new tasks before one task is finished, practice a new rhythm for working by setting a timer for work and resting, and switching tasks at each segment. Try 25 minutes on with 5 minutes off, 50 minutes on with 10 minutes off, or 75 minutes on with 15 minutes off. I wouldn’t go longer than 90 minutes without a break because your productivity is probably dragging at that point and you just don’t realize it! Pick three projects or tasks to alternate, and do your best for the work period you selected. Then take a true rest (I like to have a pot of tea at my desk so I can pour myself a treat and just sit in silence), and move to your next task. You can try this work/rest/switch routine in the morning and then spend the afternoon finishing up.
Give yourself an artificial deadline
Work expands to fit the time allotted. When your boss comes to you with an analysis that needs to be completed in two hours, you figure out how to get the information needed and calculated in two hours. If you had till tomorrow, you may add more research or additional calculations, and these may or may not add that much more value. This doesn’t mean that should never take more time on a task – that’s where your professional judgment comes in! But if you have perfectionist tendencies, you probably overengineer a solution where a simpler one will do, and one way to keep your time in check is to move up your deadlines. If you have already broadened your goals, if you prioritize starting over finishing and if you build a routine of work/rest segments, then you’ll have so much more to do that the artificial deadlines you set may start to feel more real.