Perfectionism helps you maintain high standards in what you do, but unfortunately, it can also derail your productivity if left unchecked. When perfectionism becomes bad, it can lead to chronic procrastination, inefficiency, anxiety, trouble establishing long-term imperfect relationships, and a never-ending dissatisfaction for many unrealistic standards not met. That’s why you need to learn to stop perfectionism from affecting your productivity. However, to do that effectively, you also need to understand your perfectionism and learn how it’s bad for productivity.
Why Perfectionism Is Bad for Productivity
When perfectionism manifests its flaws, they often compromise productivity. The following list shows how perfectionist tendencies can be bad for productivity.
It can lead to extreme procrastination
Waiting for the perfect moment, the best tools, or the right people are reasons a perfectionist can give to evade action. The problem is, time doesn’t wait for perfection, and this tendency to procrastinate unnecessarily may become chronic, hence hindering productivity.
It makes you inefficient
Productivity and efficiency go hand in hand, meaning you need to be effective and efficient to achieve productivity while producing the best results. However, when you mainly seek perfection, you may prolong time unnecessarily to perfect your project while those extra hours could be spent on more productive activities.
It leads you to the compare-and-despair cycle
The compare and despair cycle is a continuous state of evaluating your success based on that of others, feeling discouraged when you fall short. An example is when you fail to see an idea is good enough to match others’, so you fail to act. This keeps you in a freeze as you wait for a better idea to come along, further wasting time and resources.
It nurtures the fear of failure
Productivity promotes the nurturing of good habits, but perfection, on the other hand, can promote a fear of failure. In an attempt to appear perfect in everything you do, you inevitably fear being labelled stupid, delusional, incompetent or anything that suggests failure. This leads you to avoid new things, which in turn keeps you unproductive.
It leads to chronic dissatisfaction
Unhealthy perfectionism often generates unattainable, unrealistic goals. Nonetheless, perfectionists beat themselves up for not accomplishing these goals, which creates persistent dissatisfaction and frustration.
11 Ways to Stop Perfectionism and Stay Productive
The best way to stay productive is to overcome perfectionism. The following are strategies to stop perfectionism from ruining your productivity.
1. Understand that perfection is subjective
What you think is perfect isn’t perfect for everyone. Therefore, you may waste time searching for the perfect font for your job application letter, but let’s get real: will the person receiving it truly care about it and commend you for it?
Whenever you’re afraid of finishing something because you don’t yet see perfection in it, realize that you’re wasting time. Do the best you can with what you have and send it off. You’ll get feedback, improve, and know better. That way, you stop perfectionism from trapping you in unproductivity.
2. Focus on the big picture
I’m generally a big picture kind of person. However, sometimes I get caught up by perfectionism and criticize the details so much that they almost drown me. But then I remind myself that it’s the vision I should be working toward, not perfect irrelevant details every step of the way.
If you’re a perfectionist, this reminder would help you gain productivity tremendously. Instead of stressing over the tiny details that end up irrelevant to the end goal, focus on the progressive actions that would lead you to the big picture.
3. Stay flexible with your standards
I can’t say I am a chronic perfectionist but I love perfection in certain areas. Like in articulation of my ideas, in cleaning, and also proper hole digging for planting trees. I have a couple of weird perfectionist inclinations, but you surely won’t find me striving to be perfectly tidy all the time. That I can let slide. It may not be the case for you.
You don’t have to seek perfection in everything because if you do, you’ll definitely fall into unproductivity frequently. This was confirmed in a study on perfectionist professors. You need to prioritize your perfectionism – striving to be perfect where it counts.
4. Stick to a process
Most times, seeking perfection is a search for an unknown result. For instance, waiting for “just the right time” is as directionless as going for a journey without a map. It can take you a great deal of time to take a step that you could have otherwise taken earlier to have accomplished something.
Instead, stick to a process – a checklist if you’d rather, as Matt Plummer, a productivity coach, recommends in the Harvard Business Review. This way, you can confirm the measurable goals most important to the task at hand. And in the end, you achieve productivity, satisfaction for finishing a task, and improvement points to do better next time.
5. Follow a timeline
What if you’re stuck in not starting or not finishing projects because of perfection? Whether you are waiting for a great idea to come or in search of the best decision for your situation, you need to give yourself a defined timeline to help you get things done.
Parkinson’s law explains that every task will expand according to the time assigned. Timelines work with our minds to bring results at allotted times. So set the time to get things done instead of waiting to make things perfect. You can apply the Pomodoro Technique in this strategy.
6. Stop ruminating and start solving
Studies show that most self-oriented and socially prescribed perfectionists are prone to overthinking. They ruminate on their previous and future failures and get trapped in unproductivity. Commonly, they have deeper underlying self-identity issues they need to solve.
Have you ever realized that you’re caught in a rumination cycle – that no matter what you think about yourself or your situations, you’re not solving anything. The next time that happens, break the cycle by seeking solutions. Even if they don’t seem promising, act on the solutions available to you. They’ll help you get out of the rumination rut and start being productive.
7. Imagine your friend in the same situation as yours
This strategy especially works best for the self-oriented and socially-prescribed perfectionists. When you’re caught up in perfectionism, it’s hard to consider self-compassion. A better way to make yourself stop perfectionism from ruining your productivity is by putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and viewing yourself as a friend. What would you advise them?
Would you really be blind about their unnecessary struggle or point out that what they’ve done is good enough? When you give someone else the compassion you need (even if imaginary) you’ll probably see how hard you’re being on yourself. But even if this doesn’t work for you, the following step will.
8. Get perspective to stop perfectionism
Get someone who is willing to tackle your emotional tendencies with you. Be ready for any feedback, opening your mind to any uncomfortable opinions about you.
Depending on how the situation is relevant to your life, you can get insights that help you lessen your grip on perfectionism. Perfectionism leads me to overthink some situations in my life, but after getting some people to put things into perspective, I gain the courage to just act.
9. Spot and deal with the triggering fears
As stated in Brown University resources, some main causes of perfectionism are the fears of failure, making mistakes, and disapproval. Which one of these is causing your perfectionism? I’ll be honest with you: I experience all three. Sometimes they suffocate me so much I can’t act.
However, I remember that I need to overcome. I then seek resources like this article on Why We Need To Fail to remind me of what’s important. But it starts with narrowing down what exactly I fear. You can do the same with a little self reflection.
10. Aim to be a professional and not a perfectionist
Many perfectionists disguise their unproductive tendencies under the veil of “I’m just trying to be professional.” While a perfectionist seeks an extension for deadlines to perfect a project, a professional meets the deadline and expectations. A perfectionist keeps their ideas secret from the team for fear of looking stupid, while a professional shares imperfect ideas to figure out together how they may be applicable.
It’s really tough to draw a line between perfection and professionalism, especially where creatives are concerned. However, aim to be functional and progressive more than perfect yet stagnating. It’s all the diference between professionalism and perfectionism.
11. Reflect on progress and embrace the process
An all or nothing mindset is a tough nut to crack for perfectionists. So while striving to manage your perfectionism, you may find yourself back in the ditch because you don’t see the little progress you’ve made. This is the most important point to remember.
Keep on reminding yourself how far you’ve come and embrace the ongoing process of rehabilitating your perfectionist habits. Take one step at a time knowing that sometimes you get something perfect but not all of it. And it’s okay.
Letting Go of Unhealthy Perfectionism
Perfectionism is a gift and a bad habit on different levels. Now that you know when it becomes bad for productivity and how to manage it, you can work towards being a consistent productive perfectionist.
Are you a perfectionist? How do you manage to stay productive? Let’s chat in the comment section below! Are you on the other side of the spectrum? Read on to learn what positive procrastination is and how it can help.