Perfectionism – How to Beat This Time Management Cheat
Perfectionism is a double-edged sword. Perfectionists are driven by the beliefs that mistakes must never be made and that the highest standards of performance must always be achieved. When they fail to reach their own self imposed ideals, they feel a failure, and can rarely take pleasure in a job well done. Their failure (in their own eyes) can lead to a downward spiral of losing confidence, setting the bar too high and failing again.
Striving for excellence is no bad thing, but those who strive in a healthy way take genuine pleasure in trying to meet high standards, and accept that mistakes are made, and don’t beat themselves up if they fail. Instead they look for the lessons they can learn, and then move on. They bounce back from failure and disappointment quickly and with energy. Good time management is not about perfectionism, it is about realism.
A couple of myths about perfectionists
I wouldn’t be the success I am today if I weren’t such a perfectionist. Many things are needed for success, particularly the ability to try things, make mistakes and still go on. In fact, given similar levels of talent, there is some evidence that the non perfectionist achieves more.
Perfectionists get things done and they do things right. No – perfectionists often can’t make a start for fear of not doing something well enough, and they miss deadlines because “it’s not quite right”. Good time management recognises that you achieve more by following the 80/20 rule, than aiming for perfection.
Letting go of perfectionism means accepting our foibles which can be difficult to do! Here are some strategies that may help:
Lists the pros and cons of being a perfectionist – to you and to others. You may find that some of the pros for the perfectionist are cons for others – I always do a good job – but miss the deadline. Some of the cons to you as a perfectionist are important – do you have time to do fun things (or are you always working?), are you always stressed (because you have too much to do and can’t fit it in?), do you constantly belittle yourself, and drag others down by doing so?
If you make a mistake learn from it – ask yourself these questions: How do other people see the end result? What parts worked/went well? What percentage of the task overall went well? Why did these things go well? What went less well? What does this tell me about how I tackled the task? If I was advising someone else on how to do this task again, what advice would I give them? What one thing will I do differently next time?
Set realistic goals, and don’t fall into the trap of black and white thinking. If someone said “I am going to run a marathon next week even those I haven’t walked down to the shops in 6 months” would you believe them? No, in all likelihood you would be suggesting a gentle programme of exercise to get them up to speed in 9 months time! So treat your own aims and ambitions in the same way.
Set strict time limits on your projects. When the time is up, do something else. Even better promise someone else that you will deliver the task to them at the end of the stated time – you wouldn’t want to let them down would you?!
If someone criticises you, learn to handle it, as perfectionists often view criticism as a personal attack, and respond defensively… If need be, handle the emotion – say that you would like to discuss it in more detail once you have thought about it. Then go back, ask for the behaviour you demonstrated such as “you handed in that report 2 days late”, and what was wanted. Acknowledge your mistake, but don’t make excuses (unless there was a genuine reason such as sickness). If you think some training would benefit you, ask. Learn the lesson and move on.
Finally, perfect the art of imperfection! Remember that 80% of results come from 20% of effort.
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