I spent years being proud of the fact that I was a perfectionist. I thought it was a good thing — something that helped me to be successful.
I thought for sure it would make me a better student, a better employee because I couldn’t bring myself to turn in anything short of A work.
Spoiler alert: That is definitely not the case.
I feel like people have this idea about perfectionism, the idea that it helps them to do things perfectly.
But if anything, everything I’ve accomplished in my life has been in spite of my perfectionism, not because of it.
In this post, I’m talking about what perfectionism is, how it’s hurting your productivity, and how to overcome perfectionism.
How to Overcome Perfectionism to Boost Your Productivity
What is perfectionism?
First, let me tell you what perfectionism is not. It’s not the ability to do everything (or anything, for that matter) perfectly. It’s just the nagging feeling that you should be able to.
It’s not the ability to create perfect work every time. What’s more likely is that you end up creating nothing at all, because you’re afraid of falling short of perfect.
Have you ever heard to quote, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good”? Basically, perfectionism is letting perfect be the enemy of the good.
You guys, the struggle of perfectionism is real. Yeah, it sounds like a first-world problem, but it’s one that can lead to crippling anxiety and even depression.
For some people, perfectionism comes from external pressures placed on them by parents or other family members. Other times, it comes purely from internal pressures.
Sometimes it’s only present when it comes to school and work. But what’s more likely is that it follows you into every other area of your life too.
How does perfectionism hurt our productivity?
It might seem like perfectionism would be a great asset for school and work. It’s kind of the opposite though — perfectionism is likely to make you even less productive.
Perfectionism makes every task take longer
I’m a relatively fast worker, and yet tasks always seem to take me longer than they should. The problem isn’t how long it takes me to create, though. The problem is how long it takes me to edit!
As a writer, this is especially damaging. When I first started freelance writing, I would honestly spend as much time proofreading and editing a piece as I would take writing it!
I’ve noticed this in my day job too. Once I’ve written something, I’ll spend an eternity proofreading because I’m convinced I’m going to find a typo as soon as I hit send (as if a typo would be the end of the world).
Perfectionism leads to constantly second-guessing yourself
Not only does perfectionism cause me to spend wayyyy to long proofreading my work, but sometimes it leads me to rewrite a lot of it. Or worse, writing something I was really excited about, and then second-guessing the idea altogether.
Perfectionism has also led me to second-guess putting myself out there. I used to write a lot more personal content on my blog, but my perfectionism would always tell me that it was stupid and no one wanted to read it.
Perfectionism leads to procrastination
A lot of the time when I’m starting a new article or a new project, I notice a lot of resistance to the idea of starting at all.
Often, I’ll find other things to busy myself. I’m a pro at making my inbox take a huge chunk of my morning so I don’t have time to get to the new project I was previously really excited about!
If you find that you do a lot of procrastinating, you might want to stop and think if it’s actually perfectionism that’s causing it.
Perfectionism stops you from taking risks
I’ve always had a pretty small comfort zone. I’ve been risk-averse my entire life, and in many ways, I’ve gotten more and more that way as I’ve gotten older.
I know a lot of this risk-aversion comes from my perfectionism. It’s something I’m constantly working on. But you guys, it’s really hard!
Perfectionism leads to quitting out of fear
While my perfectionism often causes me to procrastinate or second-guess myself when I’m working on projects, a huge chunk of the time it leads me to quit altogether or never actually start in the first place.
I’m so grateful that I’ve been able to commit to my blog in spite of the crazy amount of fear I felt. But I also can’t tell you how many projects for this blog that I started and then never even started working on them because I just couldn’t fathom how I’d be able to do a good enough job.
Perfectionism also held me back from freelance writing for years! I would tell myself that since I didn’t have much of a portfolio, I probably wouldn’t get any freelance jobs and that I would rather not try at all than try and be rejected.
And you know what happened when I finally pushed aside my fear and did it anyway? I started getting hired.
How do you overcome perfectionism to boost productivity
If you’re a perfectionist, you’re probably reading this and thinking the future looks a little bleak. I promise it doesn’t have to be though! I have made so much freaking progress on overcoming my perfectionism in the past few years. No, I haven’t totally gotten rid of it yet, and honestly I probably never will. But I’ll take progress. Progress over perfection, right?
Be aware of your perfectionism
So the first step to overcoming your perfectionism has to be admitting that you’re struggling with it. Honestly, you probably know if you’re a perfectionist. But if not, take a hard look at the way you work, the way you procrastinate, and the “failures” you’ve experienced.
If any of them sound like perfectionism, keep reading!
Change the way you talk to yourself
My perfectionism is completely self-inflicted. The standards I set for myself are far higher than the ones anyone else has set for me. And because of that, I tend not to use the kindest words toward myself when I feel I’ve fallen short.
One of the ways I’ve really been able to work on this is through journaling. I can dig up the negative things I’ve saying to myself, and then replace them with new thoughts. And yeah, it takes a lot of practice to replace those negative thoughts!
Ask yourself what the worst that could happen is. Then ask yourself what the best that could happen is
I always see advice that if you’re afraid of something, ask yourself what the worst thing that can happen is. And yeah, sometimes the result is seeing that the worst-case scenario is not actually as scary as you thought. But sometimes it’s still pretty freaking scary!
So after you figure out what the worst that can happen is, ask yourself what the best that can happen is. Because most of the time, I’m guessing the chance of getting the best that can happen outweighs the risk of the worst that can happen.
Remind yourself that perfectionism is totally subjective
Part of the reason why perfectionists are so afraid of putting their work out into the world is that they’re afraid of being judged.
But guess what — what you think is imperfection, someone else might think is amazing. And what you think is perfect, but not be that great to someone else. Perfection is totally subjective in most cases, especially in the creative world.
Compare yourself to yourself instead of comparing yourself to others
Perfectionists spend a lot of time comparing themselves and their work to others. What I like to do instead is, instead of comparing myself to anyone else, I just compare myself to myself.
I don’t ask myself if other people have already achieved the goals I have for myself. Instead, I ask myself if I’ve personally made progress toward reaching my goals.
Compare your progress to anyone else’s is a waste of time.
Question your all or nothing mindset
Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you miss one workout and think — well, I broke my streak, I might as well quit.
If so, then you might have some perfectionist tendencies!
Perfectionists tend to have an all or nothing mindset. They think they have to reach their goals and stick to their habits perfectly or there’s no point in doing them at all.
Next time you find yourself having those thoughts, question them.
Listen, friend, I know how much of a struggle perfectionism can be. I know how hard it can be to remember that perfect doesn’t exist, and you’ll never get there no matter how much you beat yourself up.
I know what it’s like to deal with crippling anxiety because of all of the ways you think you’re showing up in the world imperfect.
I get it. And I’m here for you.
Perfectionism isn’t something we can overcome overnight. The best we can do is just work on correcting our perfectionist thoughts when we have them and remind ourselves that we’re actually doing pretty freaking awesome.