We all complained that we haven’t got enough time for the things we have to do, and even less so for the things we enjoy doing. But how many of us are happily entertaining our perfectionist side? Well, I know it’s pretty ironic for someone considered as an expert in time management to admit this, but I am… It’s taken me a very long time to realise that no matter how big my achievement was, the satisfaction I was deriving from it was very short-lived. In the meantime, in my quest for perfection, I had sacrificed sleep, family time, and personal time – maybe some would add sanity!
But I’m not here to talk about myself but rather to make you appreciate the amount of time that your perfectionist side may be costing you too and also share the strategies I’m personally using to deal with it.
Indeed while having high standards of excellence undoubtedly helps achieve great results, perfectionism also costs a lot of time because…
You spend countless hours working at improving a project you’ve theoretically completed, undertaking tasks that don’t necessarily add more value to it.
You do things that could be delegated to others but either you don’t trust them to do them as well as you would or they’re unwilling to help you because they know you’re very difficult to please.
You procrastinate because you doubt your ability to handle a new project and you worry about making mistakes. Sometimes it paralyses you so much that you never get started.
You have to manage your stress and anxiety caused by the fact that you don’t feel capable and you’re never satisfied with what you do.
I talk by personal experience here, but I’m sure it resonates with the perfectionists who are reading this post.
So how to break this mindset? Well, let’s face it, I don’t think that someone who has been a perfectionist all of his/her life can suddenly let completely go of this mindset. But, talking about personal experience again, I think it’s completely possible for a perfectionist to accept that his/her perfectionist behaviour is best reserved for a few important things in life.
In order to achieve this, you need, before jumping into a new project, to look at the big picture and evaluate whether this project is worth your perfectionism. Ask yourself the following type of questions:
- What is it that I’m expected to deliver?
- Does it help me serve one of my professional goals or personal aspirations?
- What is the real impact of this project on my work or personal life?
- What would be the worst possible consequences if I was not doing it perfectly?
- What would I have to sacrifice if I wanted to entertain my perfectionist ambitions?
Then set a performance standard for this project. There are various ways to do that:
Strategy #1: Use the minimum/intermediate/maximum approach
Ask yourself what is the minimum you have to do to deliver against the expectations of the project and what is the maximum you would like to do to satisfy your perfectionist expectations. Settle for something intermediate. Perfectionists tend to see things in black or white, while there are multiple shades of grey in between. Once you’ve delivered against your intermediate expectation, evaluate whether you have more time available to work towards achieving your maximum expectations. If you decide to do this, make sure to set a time limit (see Strategy #4 below).
Strategy #2: Ask yourself which outcome you would expect of someone if you were assigning the task to him or her.
Perfectionists often ask less of others than of themselves, so it can help you set a more reasonable target.
Strategy #3: Look at it from someone else perspective
If you’re unable to set a reasonable standard on your own, seek someone’s input, your boss for example. Indeed your boss is likely to want you to spend your time on tasks and projects that bring value to the company instead of dwelling on details.
Strategy #4: Set a time limit
I’m quite sure that like many people if you’re given one hour to complete a task, you’ll finish it in one hour; similarly, if you’re given 2 hours, you’ll make use of these 2 hours. Imagine a perfectionist to whom you give a task without any time limit. You can be sure s/he will be relentlessly working on it until s/he achieves his/her desired outcome. So alternatively or in addition to setting up a performance standard, give yourself a finite time to complete a task or project.
It’s not easy to change a perfectionist mindset. But by being more aware of your own tendency and taking the time to evaluate the criticality of a project before jumping in, you can be more selective on where you really need (or want) to give your best and save a considerable amount of time. Like with plenty of other things, practice makes perfect… No, no, let me take this back, practice… helps make progress!
I’ve developed a time management coaching programme based on an Inside Out approach whereby the individual’s needs, preferences, and energy cycles are taken into consideration to design a solution that will work for her/him and will be easy to maintain. Don’t hesitate to contact me if you need help to get back in control of your time.
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