How to stop being a perfectionist…

Rhiannon Jones
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“Don’t say you’re a perfectionist” is a pretty common piece of interview advice – because it’s a cliché and nobody believes it. But what if it’s actually a bad trait?

At a certain point, perfectionism is a form of procrastination. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been sat at my desk, long after most people have left the office, obsessively “honing” my words to achieve the perfect sentence. Or how often I’ve been joined by a colleague, agonizing over the placement of a single line in a graphic, or biting their nails over a simple task but refusing to ask for help. High standards are essential, but an office where nobody finishes their work because it never seems good enough isn’t a productive or happy workplace.

Are you spending the better part of a workday on a simple task? Are things starting to pile up? Maybe it’s time to ask, am I too much of a perfectionist?

If you suspect (or know) that the answer is YES, then I have a few tips for you. And don’t worry, they won’t be “just hand in any old rubbish and hope for the best”! I couldn’t do that so I don’t expect you to.

1) Set yourself a time limit.

How long this is will obviously depend on the task and how much other work you have to do. That last bit is crucial – if you have 20 things to do by the end of the week then you have to be strict with yourself. If you only have two, then you can indulge a little bit. But only a little bit…

Set an alarm, work as hard as you can on the project in the time allotted, and then STOP. If you find yourself with spare time at the end of the day then, by all means, treat yourself to some perfecting. But, first, you need to get used to working within a set timeframe to a high standard.

If you struggle to prioritize your time, try one of these time tracker apps and see how and where you’re currently spending your time.

2) Get a second opinion.

This isn’t as simple as it sounds. Perfectionists struggle to ask for help, or show anyone work that isn’t, well… perfect. It’s kind of in the name. It helps me to pretend it’s a first draft that I want feedback on (they don’t need to know it’s my twentieth).
Make sure you ask someone you respect – otherwise, if you’re anything like me, you’ll just ignore their advice. And then, and this is the crucial bit: take the advice. Just the once, give it a go. One of the best ways to learn is to take feedback from people you respect. Think of it as a way of perfecting yourself 😉

3) Assess the positives as well as the negatives.

Get yourself a little perspective. Find a recent project that you really weren’t happy with, make a list of all the targets you were supposed to achieve, and tick them off. You’ll probably find that you delivered on 85% of the project.

If that still doesn’t make you feel better, write down all the positive things about it (especially anyone else’s feedback). It’s easy to ignore what you did well when all you can think about it is the one thing you’re disappointed with, but I bet you have more to be proud of than you think. And the confidence you get from realizing that you totally pulled off that project will help no end with the next one.

4) Stretch your comfort zone.

I’m not saying you should go sky-diving if you’re afraid of heights (sky-diving looks more than a little bit terrifying to me) but perfectionists often struggle to try new things, for fear they won’t immediately succeed. This means you’re missing out on lots of fun and missing out on a way to help yourself. The best way I’ve discovered for dealing with this is a bit counter-intuitive, but stick with me: pick something you have almost no chance of being good at.

Find an equally uncoordinated friend and try out trampolining or squash together so you can laugh at how bad you both are and enjoy being “not-perfect” for once (it’s crucial that you don’t pick a champion squash player for this sort of thing). For me, this works brilliantly because there’s no pressure. Nobody who has ever met me would expect me to be good at sports, for instance.

The fun you get from trying to play basketball with other equally hopeless friends reminds you that you can enjoy yourself even when you’re not very good at something – and that being perfect really isn’t everything.

If all that less-than-perfect stuff has left you wanting to improve another area of your daily routine, try our tips on how to be more productive at work.

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