How to overcome perfectionism

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If you haven’t figured out how to overcome perfectionism, you likely don’t know that “done” is much better than perfect…

Are you a proud perfectionist? No doubt, we all share high standards. You wouldn’t be where you are today without setting and consistently reaching a high bar.

But when the bar you’ve set is high enough to begin with, good enough is often, well…good enough.

“Perfection is the enemy of good” is a phrase often attributed to 18th century French writer Voltaire. This aphorism highlights how our insistence on perfection can prevent us from implementing what would be reasonable improvements.

Instead of perfection, we should aim for progress. Progress is far more important than perfection. The world needs your brilliant ideas, your work, and your results. Not your perfection. If you wait for perfection, you may never release your work into the world.

Of course, there are certain situations where precision is crucial. When you’re dealing with data or citing someone’s name, you want to be exact. But in most situations, especially with writing, there is a wide range of good enough (and even great) options. If we keep iterating and striving for unattainable “perfection”, we squander time chasing diminishing returns. When perfectionism inhibits your progress, your approach is far from perfect.

The Pareto Principle, or 80–20 rule, explains this numerically: It takes 20% of the full time to complete 80% of a task, but completing the last 20% of a task takes 80% of the effort. Most of the time, 80% is good enough. Striving for absolute perfection costs you far more time than you need to spend. Seeking perfection is simply inefficient.

The link between perfectionism and procrastination

Often, procrastination rears its ugly head because of another “P” word — perfectionism. We get so worked up about doing a task “perfectly” that it feels unattainable. We feel defeated before even starting. The good news is once we begin, we gain momentum, and become motivated by our progress.

How to know when you’re pursuing unnecessary perfection

Most importantly, be kind to yourself. Don’t let perfectionism stop you from doing great work.

By telling you not to strive for perfection, I’m not suggesting you settle for sloppy work. Rather, I’m encouraging a solid “good” product. But if you’re a recovering perfectionist (like me), you can seek input from others whom you respect. If they tell you it’s good enough, it’s likely good enough.

On that note, I’m hoping you found this piece helpful. I’m tempted to do another comprehensive review, but I risk running out of time and never posting this piece. As much as it can pain us, “done” truly is better than perfect.

For more on how to set yourself up for success, see Ann’s latest book, Workday Warrior: A Proven Path to Reclaiming Your Time, published by Dundurn Press, 2022.

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