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The A to Z of perfectionism

Perfectionist

Some people say they are perfectionists – wearing it as a badge of honour.  By definition the perfectionist cannot succeed so it’s quite a self-destructive character trait to have. In fact, it is often referred to as “the highest form of self-abuse” because perfection simply doesn’t exist. More importantly, perfection is rarely necessary in day-to-day working environment. Don’t get me wrong, perfectionists are frequently high achievers but the price they pay for success can be unhappiness and dissatisfaction. In reality being a perfectionist will always hold you back, it’s not about doing tasks well, it’s about doing them to the highest standard and berating oneself (and others) when this unattainable standard is not reached.  You can see why it’s a recipe for disaster!

Perfectionism creates bottle necks

Many business owners and entrepreneurs state they are perfectionists and consequently find it hard to delegate (because no one will do it as well or as fast as them!) as the business grows, and they can no longer do everything or know everything or control everything, they have a hard time letting go.  Ultimately this stops their business growing and creates a lot of stress for the owner.  Not good.

Breaking down A to Z

So when working with perfectionists, I talk about starting at point A with the ultimate aspiration of arriving at point Z but first focus on getting to point B.  What does this look like? What would a good acceptable outcome be? Once you are clear about point B you can let go of Z and just focus on delivering B, then C and so on.  Before you know it, you will get to Z.  This creates shorter term realistic goals that can be delegated whilst giving the business owner the confidence things are being done and projects moving forward.  By breaking big goals into smaller parts, it is easier to celebrate successes and deliver realistic achievable results.  This approach helps the perfectionists feel more in control and that they are succeeding (rather than failing because they haven’t got to Z yet!).  It also helps them let go and delegate more and have realistic rather than unattainable expectations.

Is good enough good enough?

perfectionist

Many people struggle to delegate because they believe other people won’t do the work as well as them, the want the job done the way they would do it and they want it done perfectly. This may well be true (that others won’t do it as well as them) but they are asking themselves the wrong question. It shouldn’t be ‘will they do it as well as me?’ but ‘ will they do it well enough?’ Those who don’t delegate become bottle necks, and if they are the owners of their businesses (like many clients I work with) then they stop their business growing – which is the exact opposite of their intent.

Many people brag about being a perfectionist – they think it shows the quality of their output and that they are better than your ‘average Joe’ but the truth is perfectionism is unhealthy; it stops us doing things, its focuses the attention on failure rather than success and it stops us delegating.

“Striving for excellence motivates you; striving for perfection is demoralizing.” Harriet Braiker

We often equate being a perfectionist as a good thing. Yet perfectionists rarely complete task, or don’t ever start tasks – for fear of not being able to do it perfectly. Perfectionism often causes procrastination. Perfectionists are terrified of making a mistake, and consequently find themselves stressed, anxious, and desperately focused on not failing. They maintain unrealistic expectations of themselves and of others and consequently, don’t delegate.

Doing something ‘good enough’ (….for the client to be happy….to represent the brand well) is what we should strive for instead. This level of excellence focuses our attention on what’s right and working well, rather than what’s not working – and this keeps our attention on the positives and how things could be even better. Excellence is limitless and progressive, since you can always reach for greater and greater excellence. Whereas perfection can never be achieved.

Breaking the cycle

Here are my 4 tips on breaking perfectionist tendencies

  1. Focus on progress, not perfection – Get a clear sense of the purpose in everything you do. Then it will be easier to know which things deserve that extra time to get things “just right,” and which things don’t.
  1. Set your minimum standard, and stop when you meet it – Get clear about your minimum standards – and once you find an answer that meets those minimum standards, choose it. Stop searching for more options.
  1. Get organised – Create your daily/weekly lists and do the hardest thing first
  1. Get unstuck – When you get stuck and find yourself procrastinating, JFWDI (and if you want to know what that means, drop me a line!)

I run workshops on delegation and being a great leader and this is a topic that is discussed with more detail on strategies to overcome it.

So the next time you think ‘I can’t delegate because they won’t do it as well as me’ or ‘ I don’t want to tackle this because I don’t think I can do it perfectly’, ask yourself ‘will they/I do it well enough?’

Are you a perfectionist?

Client Relationship Management skills help when you need it at Da Costa

If you wear ‘being a perfectionist’ as a badge of honour then you are setting yourself up to fail.  By definition the perfectionist cannot succeed so it’s quite a self destructive mantra / character trait to have. In fact it is often referred to as “the highest form of self-abuse” because perfection simply doesn’t exist. More importantly, perfection is rarely necessary in day-to-day working and living (unless you are a brain surgeon). Don’t get me wrong, perfectionists are frequently high achievers but the price they pay for success can be unhappiness and dissatisfaction.

Perfectionists are also make for difficult managers, focusing on the minute detail (especially if there is a small error) and therefore easily missing or forgetting the bigger picture.  They are unreasonably demanding micromanagers who irritate employees by obsessing over nonessential details. Because everything is important, they are terrible at prioritising, perhaps the most important task of a manager.

Being a perfectionist manager also stops them from delegating because of course, no one will do it as well as them.  But, as I point out to clients, they are asking the wrong question.  Rather than considering “will they do it as well as me” they should ask “will they do it well enough?”, and if the answer is “yes” then they should delegate.

Are you a procrastinator?

Procrastination is often a symptom of perfectionism.  Perfectionists fear that they won’t be able to complete a task perfectly so they put it off as long as possible.  Perfectionists worry that failure will result in criticism or ridicule either from internal voices or external authorities and peers. The higher the fear of failure and ridicule, the more perfectionists procrastinate.

Procrastination is not laziness. It’s more a misguided sense of activity based on a low tolerance for frustration and failure. For example, when you delay completing a task that seems like it will take a really long time, only to realise that it took less time to do it than to think about it repeatedly.  That’s why one of my best time management tips is to make your to-do list and do the hardest thing first.

Procrastination is easy to spot: Are you doing what you want to be doing or are supposed to be doing, or are you surfing the web/reading Facebook posts/filing papers/doing laundry/running errands? If you answered yes to the latter, then you are procrastinating.

Breaking the cycle

1. Focus on progress, not perfection.

Get a clear sense of the purpose in everything you do. Then it will be easier to know which things deserve that extra time to get things “just right,” and which things don’t.

2. Set your minimum standard, and stop when you meet it.

Get clear about your minimum standards – and once you find an answer that meets those minimum standards, choose it. Stop searching for more options.

3. Get organised

Create your daily/weekly lists and do the hardest thing first

4. Get unstuck

When you get stuck and find yourself procrastinating, JFWDI (and if you want to know what that means, drop me a line!)

I run workshops on delegation and being a great leader and this is a topic that is discussed with more detail on strategies to overcome it.

So take your ‘perfectionist’ badge off and replace it with on that says you are a realist and a do-er.

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