Perfectionism Can Hurt Your Productivity and Cause You to Micromanage


Setting high standards for your work is admirable. And, while doing things perfectly has its place, perfectionism can keep you from tackling big projects and getting things done on time.

First, don’t blame yourself if you have perfectionist tendencies. Perfectionism has a significant biological component, suggests Dr. Jason Moser in a Wall Street Journal article. His twin research at Michigan State University showed a link between perfectionism and genetics.

Perfectionism can cause you to set such high standards for yourself that you’re constantly unhappy and your work is often late. It can trap you into feeling as though everything is important, reports And, for some assignments or projects, “everything” can seem overwhelming and filled with opportunities for error … leading to procrastination.

Trying to curb your inner perfectionist? Treat yourself like you would treat a close friend. Here’s some advice:

  • Positive self-talk. If a friend makes a mistake or performs badly at some task, you would encourage him or her. Treat yourself with the same kindness. Stop criticizing yourself.
  • Allow for mistakes. Making a mistake is not the end of the world—everyone makes them. That’s how we learn. (One therapist mentioned in the Wall Street Journal article uses mistake exposure therapy to help extreme perfectionists build tolerance for mistakes—helping them learn that a small mistake doesn’t make an entire project worthless.)
  • Find the positive. Consider the job you’ve done and what you’ve gotten right.
  • Set realistic standards for yourself and those around you. Not everything you do needs to be completed perfectly. Being better than everyone else at everything you do is not realistic. Consider your strengths. Try to keep things in perspective.
  • Remember that goals are only guides. The purpose of a goal is to give you direction—to push you. If you set a goal to write five articles a week, and you only write four (but you were previously writing two), what will happen? Your overall progress is positive. You are successful. Celebrate your success!
  • Let yourself do things incompletely and imprecisely. An all-or-nothing, black-or-white mindset can paralyze you. It’s hard to start something if you don’t feel you’ll have adequate time to completely finish the job. But consider: Would just getting started allow your mind time to process alternative solutions while you’re not working? Progress is progress, after all.
  • Set reasonable time frames and stick to them. Consider up front how much time you should spend on a project. When the time is up, stop.
  • Celebrate action. Success is easy to celebrate—you won, you hit the mark, you beat your rivals! But any progress is good. Failing makes you wise. Celebrate it all.

If your perfectionist tendencies are slowing your progress at work, or just making you unhappy, you’re not alone. Give yourself a tiny break. Try stepping away from your innate desire to perfect things … and treat yourself kindly … as your own good friend.

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