For years I thought that I was doing well in my career because I worked so hard and held myself to such high standards. Then I realised that those strategies were actually perfectionism in disguise and were causing as much harm as they were good.
I coach a lot of high achieving women, at all levels and perfectionism in its various guises, crops up all the time. If you struggle with overworking, trying to be in control of everything in your life, procrastinating and fear of failure, you might be a perfectionist.
There are many definitions but essentially, people who experience perfectionism are very focused on how things should be done and feel that they need to perform perfectly every time with nothing short of this being acceptable.
I love this quote from Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way:
“Perfectionism is not a quest for the best, it is a pursuit of the worst in ourselves. The part that tells us that nothing we do will ever be good enough.”
Here are 6 practical strategies you can start using today to help you become successful in a sustainable way. You can keep your high standards without breaking yourself in the process.
Are you applying your full effort and critical eye to everything you’re taking on? You don’t need to.
For example, an email to a colleague doesn’t need to be perfect or proof-read five times.
Use your time and capacity wisely - spending too much effort on the things that don’t need it means you don’t have time for the more important things that do and you’re constantly exhausted.
Start by being aware of this tendency and identify some tasks each day that don’t need a 10/10 effort.
Your version of good might be somebody else’s version of excellent. Look at a project realistically and decide (ideally with your team) what an excellent outcome really is and if that’s a standard you’re all happy with. This means you avoid setting any unattainable standards for your team and don’t personally overpromise and burn yourself out trying to deliver.
“Done is better than perfect” or “focus on good enough” are two helpful mantras for perfectionists. These especially apply if you procrastinate starting something new or you find it hard to make bigger decisions. This is holding you back and coming from a place of fear.
Remember that the quality of your work doesn’t reflect your value as a person.
It’s much better to take action, even messy action, then get feedback, review and iterate.
Take inspiration from software companies. They release their minimum viable product, get feedback, fix bugs and constantly improve and upgrade.
If you get stuck in overthinking and procrastination, commit to taking a small step forward and a growth mindset.
If you know that you always push yourself too far when setting a deadline, target or KPI, think about reducing it by 20%. If that feels uncomfortable, start with 10%!
If you’re a person who always takes on too many tasks or responsibilities, look at reducing those using this method. Work to realistic targets and when you meet them, look at anything extra you achieve as a bonus.
Rethink failure so it’s no longer a negative for you and practice failing.
You can do this in a fun way by embracing a beginner’s mindset. Start by trying things you’ve never done before or you’re not very good at. Not being successful at everything or needing to be in control will expand your comfort zone.
Don’t beat yourself up if you do struggle with perfectionism. Perhaps try one or two of these strategies this week and focus on not pushing yourself quite so hard.
You can listen to the full podcast episode here
Not sure whether you’re a perfectionist or a high achiever? In another episode, I share how you can identify and reflect on any unhelpful patterns you may have around perfectionism so that you can stop holding yourself to such impossibly high standards.
For more articles on the issues that impact women leaders at work follow Carla Miller on LinkedIn
Find out about the various ways Carla works with women leaders and organisations on her website www.carlamillertraining.com