INCREASE YOUR PRODUCTIVITY – SAY GOODBYE TO PERFECTIONISM
At this point, we have identified what perfectionism is and how it can be a serious detriment to your productivity, not to mention your life in general. Now, let’s get to work. Together, we can create more productive habits and smarter ways of looking at your business and personal relationships, work products, and mental health.
You can’t begin these tips without a full understanding of what perfectionism is and how it may be impacting your life – especially your productivity and progress toward your goals. So let’s start there.
KNOW THY ENEMY
As a short review of the definition of perfectionism, the term refers to a person’s reluctance – or even inability – to accept nothing short of the best. This applies to your appearance, your projects, your grades, your house – even your standards of other people’s behavior. Perfectionism becomes a serious problem when your life is stymied by it and if you cannot manage it.
There are many degrees of perfectionism, so to begin to manage perfectionism, you really need to know how serious the problem is. Many of us believe we just have a higher threshold of acceptance than others, and we stop there. True, it is fine to have high standards, but when does healthy perfectionism become clinical perfectionism? And is there even such a thing as healthy perfectionism?
The first step to controlling perfectionism is to admit that you can’t. At least, not without trying. You can’t will away something built into the very psyche of your being, which perfectionism is. Whether it’s hereditary or environmental, something has made you who you are and it is inescapable. That’s ok. A natural brunette can be a blonde by altering the playing field with dye or chemicals. She recognizes that brown hair is not what she wants, and she takes steps to change it. You can do the same. Unfortunately, there is no bottled solution to perfectionism, but the analogy remains the same. Acknowledge that there is something about yourself that you want to change, and then put the effort required into doing so.
Look to others in this step. Friends and family members, coworkers and supervisors alike know you better than yourself in some ways. And this may be one of them. People can sense your displeasure no matter how well you try to mask it. They know you’re never happy with your work, or that you don’t like to lose or make mistakes. A note of caution: be prepared to receive the feedback. You will call it criticism, but it is not. It is feedback. It is a statement of what exists in an effort to help you. This is also a good test of what we will discuss in a moment – being able to let things go.
For the purpose of this article, we will consider healthy perfectionism to be a continual attempt to do better, to be better, and to produce better. And there’s nothing wrong with that. MushMonday is devoted to the concept that we should always want to improve ourselves and our situation, and to providing you with the tools to be more productive in order to do so. Goals are wonderful ways to motivate us and give us something more to work toward. But you need to understand the difference between high standards and impossible standards.
Now study the table below, and take plenty of time to do so. Don’t scan it and quickly and make a yes or no determination. Like we said, there are degrees of perfectionism. If you do think you have neurotic, or clinical, perfectionism, then try to determine how much, and how bad the problem is affecting you. You don’t want to make drastic changes in your life if you don’t have to. Alternately, you don’t want to pick out one or two characteristics that don’t apply to you and think you have everything under control.
If you have examined yourself and acknowledged that you have some degree of clinical perfectionism that you need to learn how to manage in order to be more productive, here are some specific steps you can take.
Have you ever gone to a movie that you just knew would be wonderful, and you hated it? Then a few years later, you see it again knowing it is terrible, and you actually wind up enjoying it a bit? The first time your expectations were high, and the second time your expectations were low. See how your level of expectation affected the same experience?
Expectations can be devilishly problematic, both to you and those around you. Let’s say you start your child on piano lessons, and he or she is miserable. It’s great that you encouraged your child to try something new, but if your expectation was for him or her to enjoy it as much as you did as a child, or to become a prodigy, you were constantly disappointed and your child was constantly frustrated. Imagine the time you waste and the stress you endure when you always want things to turn out precisely as you wish.
Instead, that time and energy could be spent productively – finding something your child really does love, perhaps even something you both enjoy doing together. Remember, you cannot and should not place expectations on other people unless you are a parent or supervisor, and even then, you have to be careful that they are not unrealistic expectations. Your child will not have a clean room or tidy appearance all the time, even if you do. Your employee will not always be on time, even if you are.
It is terribly unfair to other people to judge them by your own standards or expectations. If your bank account is reconciled every month to the penny, but your friend’s is not, offer to help them once. If they truly want to improve that particular aspect of their life, they will take you up on it. But under no circumstance should you mention it every time you see them, or really even give it another thought. That’s their life, not yours. Let go of the expectation that your friend will or should care about that as much as you do.
Besides, do you want to be known as hard to please? Your perfectionism can have a very negative impact on your relationships (more about that in a minute). Imagine how uncomfortable everyone would be if they constantly feel inferior to or judged by you. Anyone who knows you well would be hyperconscious of their appearance, their words, and their activities. You could soon find yourself without a support network or close friends that can make your life more complete and fulfilled.
In a nutshell, lower your expectations or remove them altogether. If you are constantly critical of yourself and of others, then when will you be happy? The answer: rarely, if ever. And, as we will discuss in a moment, unhappy people are not productive people, and they may feel no desire to better themselves in healthy, productive ways in order to improve their lives.
There’s a reason that we listed managing expectations first in this list of techniques to reduce the impact that your perfectionism has on your life. It’s quite possible that managing your expectations of yourself and others is the most important – and most effective – way of being more productive in your life.
If you are too critical of yourself and others, your perfectionism has gotten the best of you. Let’s take a small test. First, ask yourself how much you value your own time. Now, ask yourself how much you should value your own time. Chances are, you don’t place a high enough value on the waking hours of your day.
The value of your time is far greater than the dollar-per-hour or salary-per-year wage you earn. It may be a bit cliché to say you only have one life to live, that you never know what tomorrow will bring. But this notion is cliché for a reason. It’s so, so true. When you look back at your life, are you going to assign a dollar value to the hours you lived? Of course not. So why do it now? If you look at the span of your life, you can see that every minute of the short time you have is infinitely valuable.
To make the most of your time, be more productive with it. Tell yourself over and over (and over again, if necessary) that you are valuable. Your time is valuable. Your contributions are valuable. Build yourself up to a point where you know deep in your heart that you deserve to enjoy your hobbies, you deserve a vacation after working so terribly hard all year, or that you are worthy of that promotion – all these things despite your flaws. Don’t spend so many hours critiquing every tiny aspect of your life. It’s a waste of time.
Likewise, don’t do it to others. Don’t be the rotten apple that spoils the bunch. Instead, be the cherry on top of the sundae. Be a cheerleader to others, and make sure they know they are not being judged by you (or your perfectionism). You will be amazed at how much more you can achieve with cohesive friendships, work teams, and family relationships. Your time will drastically increase in value, no matter how you sum it up.
To a perfectionist, everything matters, when really that is so far from the truth. If your goal is to buy a second home, then proofreading a document for the tenth time is not getting you closer to that dream. If you want to learn how to ski, then why are you constantly looking in the mirror and adjusting your appearance? It’s been said often that “it’s the little things in life that matter.” If a perfectionist wants to use that phrase to justify his or her over-the-top actions, that perfectionist is wasting time by chasing unnecessary details, all the while passing up opportunity after opportunity to find the little things that truly matter.
The old adage “choose your battles” somewhat applies here, too. Choose which details you will battle and which can be sidestepped. Not everything matters, but anything has the potential to impede your productivity.
TRACK YOUR TIME
Do you spend higher-than-average time perfecting your hair or your clothes? How much time does your perfectionism actually rob you of? Test yourself. The next time you think a project needs just a few “final touches,” time how long it takes you to finish. Then do the math for a week. That’s probably enough to go grocery shopping. A month? Possibly an entire day in your wood shop. A year? You could likely have learned a new language. Stop it!
This tip is especially critical when you are self-employed. Many people don’t think twice about doing extra as a salaried employee, and possibly their supervisors expect it. But when you are self-employed, a half-hour here and there can mean a lot for your bottom line, and your bottom line can mean the difference between a week-long vacation at home or in the Caribbean.
How many times have you said “it’s just easier to do it myself?” rather than delegating a task to someone? Is that really the case, or do you just want to make sure the end product does not fall short of your unrealistic expectations?
One of the main principles of time management is to delegate, delegate, delegate. If your husband is willing and able to clean the garage, but just not as well as you can, let him do it and accept the differences between how he does it and how you would do it. You’ve just freed up the better part of a day to do something that will mean infinitely more to you than your garage.
On the flip side, delegation can add to your woes unless you do it right, which is to say you step away from the delegated activity and let it go completely. Don’t spend too much time meddling or worrying about the result.
TURN THAT FROWN UPSIDE DOWN
Many talk about the power of positive thinking, not because of the famous book of the same name, but because so many can testify to it. Instead of a vicious cycle of disappointment, unmet expectations, and criticism, a good attitude can turn your life into a rolling snowball of positivity and self-encouragement. Your confidence will grow and you will try new things. Your smile will be infectious, and you will increase your social circle, almost guaranteed, which will open new doors of opportunity to you.
Happier people are more productive, plain and simple. So celebrate every step toward your goals and even relish your failures. That’s right. Failure is a remarkably successful tool for self-improvement, so look at it that way rather than avoid anything you might not be the best at. Negative thinking is poison to your soul and to your productivity.
The next time you are suffering from “just one more minute” syndrome, revisit the reasons why you need to be more conscious of your productivity rather than your perfection. Re-read our list of reasons to be more productive, and take some notes. You have likely heard people advising others to write their goals down. We will now reiterate that: write your goals down! Not only is this an accountability metric, but it serves as constant motivation for you to focus on your productivity habits as means to ends. Post them somewhere you will see them all the time, like the bathroom mirror, next to your computer, or on the refrigerator. Your goals are very specific WHYs as well.
We have focused on the impacts of perfectionism on your productivity, but clinical perfectionism can be a major problem in all areas of your life. If you have tried and tried, but still cannot seem to let go of your perfectionist tendencies, or if your perfectionism results in some obsessive or compulsive behaviors, there are professional counseling services that can assist you. Just remember that perfectionism can – and must – be managed to lessen the negative impacts on your productivity, and thus your life.