Perfect procrastination: How perfectionism harms productivity

Perfectionism used to be the one ‘weakness’ we all declared when asked that dreaded interview question.

But as we become more enlightened about mental wellbeing, and more open to experimentation over polished performance, there’s an attitude shift going on that sees perfectionism as an unhealthy stressor.

It may be that you don’t even think you’re a perfectionist – you don’t have time, right?

But if you beat yourself up about those tiny slip-ups, feel fearful about actually showing your work to the world or stall forever on getting a project started, you’re probably suffering from what I call perfection paralysis.


Who are you trying to please?

The first thing to look at is the standards you’re setting for yourself. Often we push ourselves to higher standards because we’re fearful of being criticised or judged a failure, but we kid ourselves we’re working to meet someone else’s standards.

The truth is, so long as you’re doing a good, well polished job for your clients, that’s good enough. Remember, they hire you to do something they don’t have the time or ability to do, so your own skills are adding value even before you’ve started work!

So be prepared to say – ok. That’s good enough, it’s finished.


Allow someone to remind you how good you are

Ask your clients for testimonials, with specific examples of how you helped solve their problems, make their life easier and help out their business. Read them, and keep them. Don’t reject praise just because you don’t believe it – that’s like throwing a gift back in someone’s face. Give people the respect of believing what they say about you.

You’re good as you are – in fact you’re great! So go easy on yourself and allow yourself to listen to others’ positive assessment of how you’re doing.


Stop nit-picking and look at the bigger picture

Whether you’re looking at your own or someone else’s work, honing in on the one little flaw doesn’t just bruise egos. If all you see is the bad – you miss out on a whole lot of good! That’s no way for anyone to live – so step back, and be appreciative of your own and others’ efforts and achievements, and make your criticism as constructive as you can.


Be playful and open to learning

Aim to approach your activities the same way you learned to walk – with determination, completely impervious to any mistakes you make along the way, and with no doubt in your mind whatsoever that, no matter how long it takes, you’ll get there in the end. You don’t see toddlers giving themselves a hard time and refusing to try again every time they land on their backside. Let your kids inspire you!

Perfectionists feel that the slightest whiff of failure is an unforgivable crime, or the end of everything. It’s just not true. In fact, the best entrepreneurs are the ones who turn their failures into successes, by being creative and wringing every last learnable lesson from the experience.


Rekindle your love

Why did you go into business? Because you love making your widgets, or providing your service… remember? And because you know you’re good at it. We can get too results-focused in self-employment, but it’s never to late to re-learn how to be in the moment and enjoy the process of what you’re doing. If you can find more fulfilment in the work itself, the results lose their life-or-death significance… and you relax!


Redefine ‘good’

There are many different ways to be ‘good’ at what you do, and your idea of the best may only be yours. Which means your perfectionism could potentially be completely irrational, if you’re clinging to one, rigid idea of the ‘right’ way of doing things. So instead of thinking in terms of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, try to look at the process as a whole, what you’re learning, and what value you’re adding to someone else’s life and work.


Relax and be mindful

Step away from the problem, mentally if not physically. Breathe deeply and still your mind. Check in with yourself and ask some gentle questions – why does this matter so much? Are they valid reasons? What’s the worst that could happen? Take the time and space you need to change your thinking and learn to be kind to yourself.


Get some perspective

Hang out with a young relative, or an elderly one. Go for a walk late at night and look at the stars. Really, the world is bigger than your marketing report. It helps to know that.


I hope this has given you some ideas to loosen the hold perfection paralysis has on your activities, enjoy your work and be pleased with your efforts – whatever the result.

Catherine Lee
Catherine Lee

Catherine Lee is a business blogger and founder of Kaleidoscope Virtual Assistant Services. She has more than 20 years’ experience in office management and Personal Assistant Services, and is now an indispensable right-hand woman to executives working all over the country. Catherine is also on a mission to inspire women to make careers as self-employed Virtual Assistants, and to encourage Virtual Assistants to remember they are giving essential, professional business services and to know their own worth.

Be the change that you want to see. Step into your leadership.