If you agonize over details and find it hard to ever call a project complete, you’re probably suffering from acute perfectionism. If you miss deadlines or neglect other work because you’re spending so much time trying to perfect a project that you can’t let you go, you’re at real risk of perfectionism harming your career.
Of course, a bit of perfectionism is a good thing. You want to be someone who produces excellent work, rather than rushing through and settling for something subpar. But perfectionism is a real problem if it causes you to spend far longer on something than most people would find reasonable, and especially when it interferes with your ability to juggle other priorities.
But you can retrain yourself to let go of projects and stop agonizing over whether they’re flawless enough. Try these five steps.
- Realize that not everything needs to be done perfectly. In many cases, getting something done reasonably quickly is more important than making it flawless. You might find it helpful to talk to your manager or others who are affected by your work to discuss their expectations. Would they be okay with a less “perfect” product if it left you with more time for other work? Do they care about the details you’re putting in hours to perfect? You might be surprised by the answers! You can also talk with others who do work similar to yours; pick people whose work you admire and find out what they consider the standard to strive for. You might learn that they don’t even think about some of the factors that you agonize over, because it doesn’t make much difference to the final output.
- Realize that sometimes merely “good” work is actually better than “excellent” work because it will leave you with more time and energy to work on other important priorities. After all, the costs of perfectionism can be missed deadlines or lower productivity, which are very much the opposite of a perfect performance – something that perfectionists often overlook.
- Be honest with yourself about how much of a difference extra time will make. If you tend to spend an hour getting a sentence to sound just right, it’s probably not going to make enough of a difference in the final product to be worth the time you’re spending on it.
- Be clear with yourself about the trade-offs you’re making. If you spend two more hours reworking that draft, that’s two hours that you won’t be spending on something else. Do you have that time available to you, or will you be digging yourself into a hole with the rest of your work?
- Use an alarm to time yourself while you work or schedule your work in rigid chunks. For example, tell yourself that you’ll spend one hour working on that client report, and then you’ll move on to a second project. This will prevent time getting away from you and discovering that you’ve spent far more time than you intended on something.