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The Tyranny of Perfection
When getting it right is the guiding force
It’s not easy being perfect.
Being haunted by a typo in a social media post.
That tightening in your chest when someone wants to look at your work before you’ve had a chance to proof it.
Lying awake at 2am with that time you misspoke playing on a repeating loop in your brain.
The struggle is real.
Perfectionism is a strength, but it can be overdone or misapplied. Even with decades of professional experience, I find that the times I have been “less than perfect” still rattle around and smack me with the times I’ve messed up.
But even perfectionists need to keep going. Some things that may help include:
Self-talk. “No one else even noticed” or “No one else actually remembers” are good places to start, if they are likely to be true. And in most cases, they ARE likely to be true.
Make the fix. Rather than having the imperfection continue to bother you, take the time (when the time is available) and fix it. That tiny, accidental drip of wall paint onto the baseboard you keep seeing when you sit in that chair may require a bit of effort to scrape and repaint, but it’s an investment in peace of mind.
Use the less-than-perfect outcome as data to improve your process for future activities. One typo in a tweet (which no one else probably cares about or remembers) may be the catalyst for a “read it through twice before hitting send” policy you use going forward.
Basically, if you are a “control freak,” make sure you keep it under control.
As leaders, we can help the perfectionists with whom we work to find strategies that are effective for them.
Consider offering a “double deadline” for things that they need to submit. “I’d like it by Tuesday at 5pm, but I need it by 11am on Wednesday, because I need to go through it before my scheduled call with the client that afternoon.”
Let your people know when the project needs the “Ford versus Ferrari” mindset—if you need something that is basic and reliable, you don’t want people wasting time and effort to polish their work into something overly fancy and expensive.
Help them set their time for specific tasks (with time to do quality-control added on) so they don’t blow your budgets or deadlines. You might even mention that “Three hours is about the perfect amount of time to spend on this part” to trigger their time-sensitivity. And validate them by giving them the tasks that require perfection or near-perfection, then praising their successes.