We all like to do our best, but there comes a time when the need to do or be perfect becomes a problem. There’s a reason why so many articles and self-help books describe perfectionism as a curse – not only can it encourage you to be highly self-critical, but it can also hold you back.
And while it may not seem like it, perfectionism can be pretty problematic when it comes to your productivity levels, too.
You might think wanting everything to be perfect would drive you to achieve more, but the opposite is actually true – when you want to make things ‘just right’, the stress and pressure of your high standards can take their toll.
“Perfectionism creates procrastination,” explains Grace Marshall, a productivity expert at Think Productive and author of How To Be REALLY Productive.
“It can stop us from starting because we think, ‘This really needs to be good and I don’t have time to do it justice right now’ and can stop us from finishing, because we spend way more time than needed editing, tweaking, perfecting and adding minute improvements.”
She continues: “Perfectionism can stunt our growth, too – whether it’s our own mistakes we beat ourselves up with, because we shy away from taking further risks or overwork ourselves to make sure we never mess up again – our perfectionism boss can lead us to become over-critical, dampening our overall mood and morale.
“The problem with perfectionism is that it always has you focusing on what’s wrong – it takes our focus away from what’s good.”
It’s for this reason, Marshall suggests, that it’s time to adopt an ‘anti-perfection’ approach to productivity – rejecting the idea that everything should be perfect in favour of the belief that it’s OK for things to not go according to plan. Not only does this relieve the stress and pressure caused by the belief that everything needs to be ‘just right’, but it can also make the working process feel more satisfying and positive.
“Applying an anti-perfection approach to our work means we can see mistakes, curveballs and things that don’t go to plan as opportunities to learn, innovate or pivot, rather than a sign that it’s all gone wrong or something’s wrong with us,” Marshall explains.
While becoming an anti-perfectionist may take time (especially if you’re a chronic perfectionist), there are some easy things you can do to shift your perspective. So, to give you a helping hand, we asked Marshall to share her top tips for adopting an anti-perfectionist approach. Here’s what she had to say.
How to adopt an ‘anti-perfection’ approach at work
Focus on progress, not perfection
Perfection is an almost impossible standard to reach – and seeing it as the be-all and end-all will only open you up to disappointment. Instead, Marshall suggests, try to shift your focus towards progress and what you can do to move forwards.
“If you’re working on something – developing, learning – it’s a work in progress,” she says. “Give yourself credit for that – ‘ing’ words help with this: ‘I’m learning to… working on… figuring out… growing in…’.”
Set yourself limits
A very practical way to stop your inner-perfectionist taking over is to set strict limits for the amount of time or effort you’re allowed to spend on a piece of work – simply pop a timer on your phone or limit the amount of redrafts you’re allowed to write.
Remind yourself you’re human – not a superhero
It may seem obvious, but reminding yourself that it’s OK to mess up can make a big difference to your mindset.
“A superhero has to be perfect, and save everyone all the time,” Marshall says. “But as human beings we have limits, we’re not perfect, and we make mistakes.”
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She continues: “There is beauty in imperfection – sometimes our best discoveries come from our mistakes, and some of our best connections and relationships can come from the fact that we can’t do everything ourselves.”
Write a ta-da list
Instead of focusing on everything you still have left to do, try writing down everything you’ve achieved that day or week – it’ll help you to celebrate yourself and your work.
Support your friends and family
Your anti-perfection approach doesn’t just have to apply to your work – you can remind those around you that it’s OK to not be perfect, too. “When a colleague makes a mistake or a friend messes up, be the one who says, ‘Hey, you’re human’ and offers help and presence rather than judgement,” Marshall says.
Progress, not perfection is one of the many tips Marshall shared as part of the BT Skills for Tomorrow programme – a fantastic resource for helping to boost the skills and confidence needed to thrive in a digital world, including productivity. Check it out for more top tips on being more productive, alongside other courses, webinars and advice available for free through BT Skills for Tomorrow.
If adapting to the new world of work is taking its toll on your mental health, you’re not alone. From the isolation of being separated from colleagues while working from home and the stress of relying on technology to struggles with concentration, confidence and setting boundaries, there are a number of reasons why you might find this time particularly challenging.
So, what can we do about it? We’ve got a plan.
Stylist’s Work It Out series aims to give you the tools and resources you need to take care of your mental health at work. From completing your Work 5 A Day to dealing with issues including anxiety, loneliness and stress, we’ll be exploring all aspects of work-related wellbeing, whether you’re working from home, adopting a hybrid arrangement or planning on going back to the office full-time.
As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and women’s issues. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time. You can find her on Twitter at @laurenjanegeall.