Dorothy Crenshaw August 23, 2011 | 10:48:54

Six Strategies To Beat Perfectionism

“The show doesn’t go on because it’s ready; it goes on because it’s 11:30.”           — Tina Fey

In her very entertaining book Bossypants, Tina Fey warns against the evils of perfectionism, the enemy of so many creative projects. As she advises, “perfect is overrated.”

Even busy agency folk struggle with impossibly high standards, particularly those who write for a living. What we do as PR pros can be frustratingly ephemeral, but a blog post, white paper, or other content tends to stick around. It’s tempting to keep working until every word is just so. Yet it’s not always a productive use of time.

Here are some proven strategies to beat perfectionism, and its close cousin, procrastination.

Quantify the improvement likely to come from your efforts. Then decide if it’s worth it. If another hour will improve your proposal by 40%, then spend the time. But if the enhancement is likely to be minimal – ten percent or less – it may be better to fight the urge.

Get fresh eyes on the situation. This is generally easy in an agency environment where a team structure is the rule. And someone else is far more likely to spot an error or notice an omission that might never have occurred to you, so it can be doubly helpful.

Focus on the objective, not just the product. Go back to that document that you can improve by 10 percent. Will that increase your odds of winning the project? Or is the time better spent in research or preparation? Sometimes, done is better than perfect.

Start in the middle. This can be an effective strategy for those who have trouble beginning proposals or papers. A perfect beginning is rare and can be fixed later.  I usually end up deleting a few sentences of throat-clearing from posts like these. For procrastinators, it’s better to just jump in.

Set small goals. Instead of telling yourself, “I’ll write an amazing blog post,” or “I’ll finish the proposal tonight,” try thinking, “I’ll spend an hour on the proposal with no interruptions.”

Ask yourself, “How important will this by this time next year?” In five years? This is the ultimate question to ask if you’re really stuck. Taking pride in work quality is admirable, but a little perspective can go a long way.

I wanted to come up with seven strategies here, but six is just as good. Because, sometimes, less is more.

6 thoughts on “Six Strategies To Beat Perfectionism

  1. Having even tested out as a perfectionist I finally became aware of why I felt like I am walking through thick sludge instead of jogging down my highway of dreams. Everything you wrote I agree with. Dorothy, you have accomplished step after step with the first step being the hardest and the last step being a leap of Faith…thinking everything is done but still worried it could have been better. In Notes from the Manager’s Scratch Pad, Articles Written to the Employees of the Company, author Bruce Cloud, Sr. proposes similar ideas become best business practices helping make not just his company successful but everyone who did their job as well as possible became successful. Yet, they always …, always continued to look for a better way. Will our perfectionist traits give up or do we eventually accept the work for what it is instead of what we think it could be? Thank you Dorothy. B. Cloud, Jr.

  2. Thanks, Bruce.
    I posted this just before the news about Steve Jobs’ resignation broke, triggering a flood of stories. My favorite was TechCrunch’s “Steve Jobs: The Patron Saint of Perfectionists”
    Like many, I love reading about famously successful perfectionists like Jobs, Annie Liebowitz, certain film directors, auteurs, etc.
    But the trouble is obsessive attention to detail works for very few people, and to thrive that way, or even just get away with it, you need to have the talent and level of accomplishment to match.

  3. Great stuff. My experience in life has been that unless a person is on the precipice of a major personality change (which happens), the perfectionist folks will read this, agree with it, and rarely be able to implement the strategies.
    On the other hand, people who are very laid back, not too detail-oriented and tend to say “whatever” more often than most, will also agree with you but they may need to read “Six Strategies to Beat Carelessness.”
    Thanks for the post, which came to me via Steven Silvers blog Scatterbox.

    1. I think you’re right, Steve. We tend to ‘self-select’ when it comes to advice. Thanks for the comment.

  4. It’s a bit sad that we sometimes get stuck with perfecting even the smallest of tasks, but expect awesome results from it. By acting now and here, taking a decision, and doing what you set your mind on, even if it’s not the perfect choice, you create other opportunities. This applies to almost everything we do.
    Here’s another nice article about perfectionism: Oh, that’s cute. Perfectionist dog 🙂 Mine does that too, but everything he has to do his…..”business’. He walks in circles 4-5 times then goes on to do his business. I’m pretty sure he’s trying to find the perfect location to ……unload.
    Perfectionism sucks when you notice that you do it even with the smallest and simplest of tasks. That’s when you realize you’re loosing precious time with something that should be fairly easy and quick to do.
    Here’s another interesting article about perfectionism:
    Hope you like it.
    “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein

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