Wisdom//

15 Ways to Silence Your Inner Perfectionist So You Can Finally Get Things Done

Once you realize perfection isn’t possible, you’ll start seeing real progress.

Courtesy of Ruslan Grumble / Shutterstock
Courtesy of Ruslan Grumble / Shutterstock

Sometimes, our desire to get things exactly right gets in the way of the need to simply get things done. We spend so much time redrafting, second-guessing, and nitpicking tiny details (procrastinating, really) — when we could better spend that time fine-tuning what’s most necessary, and then enjoy the satisfaction of finishing the task at hand.

We asked members of the Thrive community to share their tips and tricks for silencing their inner perfectionists in order to become more productive. Their stories will inspire you to accept your imperfections, and as a result, finally see some real progress in your work. 

Focus on learning, rather than getting it right

“Two realizations have helped me challenge my perfectionist tendencies: First, the world needs more people who are human. Trying to appear ‘perfect’ creates an unrealistic expectation that others, especially those less experienced, try to emulate. Second, when we obsess over perfection, we naturally focus more on what we are doing individually rather than what we can do together and learn from one another. The world needs more imperfectly perfect people.”

—Andrew Gobran, people operations, Minneapolis, MN

Set a strict deadline and stick to it 

“If I have a freelance assignment, I’ll give myself a drop-dead deadline and, yes, I’ll tweak and polish and edit a million times before that deadline, but I get it done. For more personal, creative projects, I send my writing to a trusted friend or editor to take a look. With that type of work, I’ve found that my perfectionism is really a form of procrastination stemming from fear. After all, if it’s never perfect, I never have to send it out and face possible rejection. Getting the go-ahead from someone else takes away that excuse.”

—Dawn Yanek, content creator, Mount Kisco, NY

Stop masking your fears, and start facing them

“When I fall into a ‘perfectionist procrastination loop’ I pause and ask myself, ‘What is the worst thing that can happen?’ This works for all of my second-guessing, redrafting, maniac rescheduling, and nitpicking. Asking this specific question helps me stop ‘fear-fighting and fear-masking’ and start ‘fear-setting and fear-facing.’”

—Alla Adam, blockchain solutions architect, Chicago, IL 

Have someone hold you accountable 

“I have someone I respect hold me accountable. While I was earning my master’s of science degree, my course leader, Berenice, was a real force of nature. Her knowledge, brutal honesty, work ethic, and sense of humor really impressed me. My assignments were completed on time and to a high standard to receive recognition from her — and also to avoid her wrath. Now that I’m back in England and don’t have Berenice to hold me accountable, job hunting is slow and procrastination is high. Deciding what to eat for breakfast, for example, is currently taking way longer than it should.” 

—Steven Crowe, psychology M.S., Worcester, U.K.

Try the “FOMO technique”

“For years, I’d spend hours editing proposals, fine-tuning production timelines, and stressing over how to phrase something in an email. The result? Long hours, weight gain, strained relationships, and, eventually, burnout. I developed what I call the ‘FOMO technique’ to manage perfectionism. When I’m tempted to tinker, I ask myself, ‘What am I missing out on because of this behavior?’ Things I value more than the task come to mind, such as eating dinner with family, exercising, scheduling a prospective client call, or networking. The technique has helped me reframe perfectionism as a negative behavior that robs me of joyful experiences and connections with others.”

—Carolyn Montrose, team workshop leader, Haworth, NJ

Keep a tight deadline

“Setting a short deadline has worked best for me. Instead of dragging a project out for a couple weeks, what I if I knock it out this afternoon? Or in the next hour?”

—Natalie Biesel, mindset coach, Louisville, KY

Remember that you have the power to get it done 

“I remember that I have all I need. No one is me, and that is my power. Words on a page are always better than a blank page. I make the call, send the email, attend the event. No matter what happens, I will learn and grow. I remember that imperfection is authenticity, vulnerability, and bravery — the most invaluable life tools.” 

—Siobhan Kukolic, author, inspirational speaker, and life coach, Toronto, Canada

Embrace your inner perfectionist with open arms

“I’ve learned that my inner perfectionist is always coming from a place of love. She’s trying to protect me by keeping me from being embarrassed, wrong, and, yes, even successful. By putting on the brakes, she ensures that I don’t get in over my head in the uncomfortable waters of uncertainty. The way I tend to my inner perfectionist is to greet her with open arms and a listening heart. I acknowledge her and embrace her as a meaningful part of me. I tell her that I appreciate all she’s done for me and that I love her.”

—Zette Harbour, certified personal accountant and energy leadership index master practitioner, Los Osos, CA 

Find an inspiring quote to guide you

“I’m a third culture kid who has had cross-cultural influences on my personal, academic, and professional development spanning continental borders. In my relentless efforts to meet and exceed — often uncertain — expectations at each stage in my life, I often considered productivity and perfectionism synonymous. Spending hours crafting the most comprehensive report, email, or analysis was the norm. Meanwhile, I found little solace clicking the send button and finally ‘shipping’ my product. In recent years, I have taken a more pragmatic approach, deliberately and mindfully removing projections of self-doubt from the process by reverting to this one quote from Theodore Roosevelt: ‘In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.’ Roosevelt’s pearls of wisdom remind me of the consequences of the paralysis of inaction.”

—Ana-Maria Visoiu, international program manager, New York, NY

Identify the time value of the task at hand

“The underlying mindset that drives most of us toward perfectionism is that what’s at hand is not ‘good enough.’ Whether it’s a draft for a speech, presentation, plan, or proposal, our minds force us to believe that the best is yet to come. While we all want to be quality-conscious, it’s also important to be tracking time and moving the needle. The time value of a task should set the ball in motion so we focus accordingly. Becoming aware of this psychology has helped me tackle my perfectionism in a practical way.” 

—Vinutha Narayan, global head of strategic programs and special projects, San Francisco, CA 

Make an effort to become “unstuck” 

“When we procrastinate, what we are really trying to avoid is an unpleasant feeling — often boredom or fear. To break the procrastination cycle, I take myself through the five steps of the unSTUCK process, created by Shira Gura: S for Stop: I pause what I’m doing, and take a few deep breaths. T for Tell: I tune into my feelings to identify the emotion I am trying to avoid. U is for uncovering my beliefs. For example, I might be honest with myself and think, ‘Writing this report is such a waste of time!” C is for considering other possible thoughts. Perhaps I’ll come to the realization that ‘Writing this report will help raise my profile at work.’ K for kindness: I hold myself in self-compassion — rather than letting my harsh inner voice take over. Once I am unstuck, I take the first action I can take to get the task done.” 

—Isabelle Griffith, emotional well-being coach, London, UK

Rely on a team to keep you on track

“To reduce procrastination and increase productivity I simply make my projects team projects. I find that working with a team, even if it’s just one more person, keeps me from dwelling too much on one subject or one part of the entire project. I also feel like I kill two birds with one stone — I get team collaboration and someone to review my work; I get the opportunity to bounce ideas, but at the same time, my team members give me boundaries and I do the same for them so we finish the project on time while delivering the highest quality possible.” 

—Lana Brkic, marketing associate, Los Angeles, CA

Focus on the power of small wins

“To prevent myself from going down the perfectionist rabbit hole, I push myself to get started right away and set small milestones along the way to the completion of the task. Setting these milestones helps me focus on the power of small wins and focus on getting to a goal, rather than procrastinate along the journey.”

—Erandi Palihakkara, Digital Marketing Manager, Savannah, GA 

Keep a forward-looking mindset

“The pressure of others’ expectations and the next project waiting to be done can silence the inner critic. I try to live in the present with each project, but with an eye on the future and what’s next. This lets me break the endless cycle of ‘one more edit.’”

—Stacey S., program specialist, Mansfield, CT

Set boundaries to avoid perfectionism burnout

“My boss told me about David Sedaris’ ‘Four Burners Theory,’ which says, ‘One burner represents your family, one is your friends, the third is your health, and the fourth is your work.’ His idea is that in order to be successful, you have to cut off one. And in order to be really successful, you have to cut off two. While I grapple with this theory as a young professional who claims to prioritize all four, I accept the fact that depending on the day, certain burners are stronger. Perfectionism can lead to burnout of all four.” 

—Emily Davis, public relations professional, Chicago, IL  

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