Seeking Perfection Hurts Productivity

I’ve discovered that a few of my coaching clients have come to me seeking advice on how to get more done when their problem is the real issue they face is perfectionism. There is an important distinction, and researchers find that your search for being perfect in what you do can be counterproductive to being productive. There’s also evidence that perfectionism is on the increase.

There are three types of perfectionists. Some people are critical of themselves, some are critical of others, while some perfectionists believe others are judging them. A little perfectionism may not be a bad thing, but overall, it doesn’t help. It can cause depression, insomnia, and anxiety.

While some people bring perfectionism to themselves, it can also be caused by the environment in which you work. “Perfectionism can be reinforced by organizational culture—when the norms, values, and beliefs of an organization are characterized by fear of making a mistake and lack of trust,” says researcher Dr. Laura Hamill. “Individual employees can tend to be perfectionistic, but the culture of the organization can reinforce it.”

But seeking to be perfect is an obstacle to productivity.

When you are a perfectionist, it is tough to get started on a project. There is a fear of failure that can paralyze the worker.

But even when the project is started, the perfectionist fears judgment. Dr.Hamill says, “Productivity is not just about the quantity of work, it’s also about the quality of work—[and] having unreasonably high expectations for yourself absolutely can limit your ability to do your best work.”

It’s also challenging to be part of a team when one of the members is a perfectionist. Such a person doesn’t like to take risks and always thinks about the way colleagues perceive them.

If you are concerned that you might have these tendencies, think about whether you are always unhappy with your work.  Do you seek the approval of others, even disregarding your self-assessment? Do you find that you cannot declare a project to be completed because you are also looking for things that need to be fixed? Do even small mistakes overwhelm you?

If you want to shed your perfectionist tendencies so you can be more productive, there are some things you can do.

Admit to your problem. Seek help from others who can help you measure how your perfectionism is hampering your ability to get things done. When you have a trusted partner, they can tap you on your shoulder when you get caught up in a project and can’t declare it done. Replace that inner voice that tells you that you must do everything perfectly. Tell yourself that all you can do is your best and that nobody is perfect.

Start with small things. Big projects might seem overwhelming, but they may seem doable if you break them down into smaller actions.

Give yourself deadlines. You want to have enough time to do things well but not enough time to procrastinate.

Decide when errors need to be fixed. Ask yourself if it matters, Willis impact the outcome, and whether it will matter in a few days.

Reward yourself for a job well done.

Once you can move beyond your procrastination, you can embrace improving your productivity and achieve greater things.

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