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How Perfectionism is Killing Your Productivity

Learn how perfectionism is actually killing your productivity and what you can do about it.

“Perfectionism is a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from taking flight” – Brené Brown

Perfectionism might seem like a positive attribute at first glance. It comes under the guise of many things: detail-oriented, meticulous, or even high-standards. 

Now don’t get me wrong. If you are my future doctor or lawyer, you do you. Keep perfecting those skills, we need a lot of you perfectionists. What I am saying though, is most of us could really be a little easier on ourselves. 

I believe ‘perfectionist’ is a label we use to keep us in a prison of our own creation.

Don’t worry though, I’m going to tell you why and I’m going to let you know what to do about it. Once it’s recognized it will be easier to control the thoughts that create those actions.

What is Perfectionism, Anyway?

While writing this post, I started searching definitions of perfection. Turns out, Webster has about 22 uses for the word. At first I stressed about which definition to pick that relates most closely to what I would be talking about here. But then I realized how silly that was.

I was literally embodying the very context of what I was trying to teach here.

The truth is, it’s silly how much importance we place on a word, an ideal. I think we can all agree on a general definition of perfection though. It is conforming absolutely to the description or definition of an ideal type entirely without any flaws, defects, or shortcomings. 

In a lot of ways, its a mechanism we use as a way of coping. Perfection is a tool we use to feel like we have a sense of control in a world of chaos. The problem with this is, is that it’s not possible because we will always find something wrong.

How I Define Perfectionism

In terms of creating, productivity, and goal-getting I see perfectionism a little differently. I define it as a consuming fear that what you’re doing isn’t good enough. It is a fear-based response to uncertainty and undermines your own potential.

As someone who is continuously editing, tweaking, and revising, I can totally relate to the trap. I take pride in the quality of my work and I want it to look good and truly be a reflection of me and the hard work I put into it. Starting a blog in large part was a personal challenge of overcoming fear and self-doubt. As I was writing and creating little thoughts couldn’t help but creep in, “What if people think I’m stupid?”, “What if it isn’t good enough?” 

It took months for me to finally let go and realize my blog won’t be perfect but I’ll have endless opportunities to learn and implement those findings. 

What it can be Mistaken For

As I said in the intro, it’s easy to justify being a perfectionist. From being detail-oriented to being a Virgo, the excuses are endless. Not only that, perfectionism does get good results. 

Don’t fall into that trap. It is not striving for excellence or being thorough.

There is a difference between perfectionism and those things. Striving for excellence is always looking for ways to grow. Thoroughness is making sure your facts are checked and all your bases are covered. Perfectionism is anything beyond those, that ends up eating valuable time.

Why All of this is a Problem

Perfectionism is killing your productivity because it is wasting your time. Instead of focusing on getting a task done and moving onto the next one, you pick apart your work and focus on mistakes. It is the act of choosing only to see what is wrong. When trying to achieve perfection you spend time focusing on the negative aspects of your work – the flaws, the defects, and the shortcomings in lieu of the positives. It can be thought of in 2 ways: procrastination and self-sabotage.

You are procrastinating by using it as an excuse as to why something isn’t finished or why you haven’t even started it. I’m sure almost everyone can recall a time when they were waiting for all the stars to align perfectly to get started. As Brené Brown says in the opening quote, it is preventing us from taking flight.

The perfection is also an obsession that leads to a sabotaging inner-dialogue. Have you ever over-thought and tweaked something to the point of unrecognizable? What ends up happening is frustration and scrapping the project altogether.

Perfection’s Relationship with Failure

Failure is the omission of an expected or required action.

Let’s unwrap that. If you are expecting perfection, then you are automatically setting yourself up for failure. Remember, perfection is something without any flaws, defects, or shortcomings. It is simply impossible and that is where the problem is. This causes you to produce less because you’re focused on the past instead of what is next.

What You Can Do

Now, let’s really look at failure. Most people’s knee-jerk reaction to the word ‘failure’ is likely negative and something to avoid at all costs. But if we remove the ‘perfection’ from our expectations and simply focus on getting something done, we can reframe how we look at failure.

Once the term ‘failure’ is reframed and we don’t meet expectations, it simply becomes something we tried and learned from. It is much less scary thinking of it that way and can actually be exciting. Who doesn’t want to learn so that mistakes aren’t repeated?

The more you do, the more you can learn, and ultimately the more you will get better at meeting your expectations.

Strive for excellence, know you did the best you can, and then move on. Simple on paper, but hard to actually implement.

How This Leads to Productivity

Once you’re liberated from the constraints of perfectionism, you will naturally be able to produce more. Remember, if you’re still putting in 100% of your effort you’re producing a high-quality output. It is so important to remember the distinction between excellence and perfectionism. 

You won’t be beating yourself up, obsessing and nit-picking. You’ll be taking flight.

A Lesson in the Art of Letting Go

This is a topic very near to me because it is something I am constantly trying to work on. If you are like me, then it’s likely something that’s been with you since childhood. You were rewarded for memorizing the alphabet perfectly or getting your chores done properly.

Bringing those same mindsets to adulthood isn’t practical though. In a world that’s moving faster and faster you need to be able to keep up. The only way to do this is letting go of perfectionism.

Keep reminding yourself you’re giving it your all and you can’t do any better than your best.

Be prepared to amaze yourself and accomplish things faster than you ever thought possible!

Originally Published on Lovely and Green

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