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Perfectionism & Time Management: Being “Too Good” Can Wreak Havoc on Your Time Management

You remember what a tragic flaw is, don’t you? (Remember Billy Budd from your high school literature class? Hamlet? Okay, how about Walter White?) A tragic flaw is a good characteristic that, when taken to an extreme, has tragic consequences.

If you’re prone to perfectionism (a good characteristic) and you don’t do something to rein it in (i.e., you’re taking it to the extreme), I can promise you, the tragic consequences are coming.

Perfectionists tend to only think about the first part of that definition — the “good characteristic” part. For them, the label is a badge of honor. They’re overachievers, demanding flawlessness in everything —their appearance, their relationships and,above all else, their work.

If you’re not grading diamonds or building nuclear weapons,
you might want to ease up on the perfectionism.

Perfectionists want everything (and I mean everything) to be, well, perfect. So they put 100% into every task, unable to set it aside until it’s flawless. VVS1 will not do. Not even IF. It’s got to be FL all the way.

On the surface (especially to employers), these sound like amazing traits to have on your team. Do everything right and don’t stop until it’s perfect? Yes, please!

Certainly, perfectionism has its benefits. It can be a huge motivator to achieving great results. Attention to detail, thorough research, and intense focus on tasks often lead to the highest quality outcomes.

But when that drive to perfection results in missed deadlines, incomplete tasks, and unrealistic expectations, your work will suffer. That’s when the “tragic” part becomes evident.

Perfectionism gone bad

Psychology Today describes perfectionists as people who “often get hung up on meaningless details and spend more time on projects than is necessary.” The end result of this single-minded focus: reduced productivity.

Procrastination is another negative outcome of perfectionism. When a project has few defined parameters and a hard end-date, a perfectionist can find him or herself in analysis paralysis — that no-man’s land where over-complicating a situation can lead to a black hole of indecision.

Wanting to do your best is an admirable quality, and there are some situations (of the life-or-death variety) where cutting corners is not an option. But are you wasting time and resources by attempting to achieve perfection in your day-to-day tasks? Are you hindering the productivity of your team by creating a bottleneck?

Most likely, the answer to both questions is yes, at least sometimes. Which means that at the heart of the issue lies a time management problem.

While having high standards is paramount to success, having unrealistic expectations of yourself and your co-workers can negatively impact your relationships, your self-esteem, and your career.

So, are you a perfectionist?

  • Does every project — no matter how big or small — get equal attention and treated with the same sense of urgency?
  • Are you frequently stymied by analysis paralysis, using much of your project’s time to weigh many options before taking action?
  • Do you often feel frustrated that you don’t have enough time to finish your work?

Other tell-tale signs:

  • Focusing on the outcome, not the journey
  • Noticing the small imperfections in your work and others’, rather than the overall result
  • Not wanting to participate in something that you do not excel at
  • Difficulty delegating tasks to others for fear they might not be done correctly

If you recognize these traits in yourself, you have a tendency toward perfectionism. But there are ways to balance your need for excellence with your limitations in terms of time and resources.

7 Time Management Tips for Perfectionists

Because perfectionists are often hindered by self-doubt or exceptionally high standards, they miss deadlines. But following these tips can help you keep your work on track, and your organization’s goals in focus:

  1. Despite your instincts, assign an urgency and a priority to each task. All tasks are not created equal. It’s in your DNA to put forth your best effort for every project. But not all projects require the same level of intensity.
  2. Get a second opinion. If you’re not sure how to prioritize your projects, ask your team lead or manager. Everything may feel like it’s a high-value project, but there could be some items that need to move ahead of others on your to-do list.
  3. Get started. A close cousin to perfectionism is procrastination. If you feel like you can’t start a project until you have the perfect solution, just dive in anyway. Wanting to get things right is admirable, but not when it’s done at the expense of deadlines. If it happens often enough, it can damage your reputation, and potentially your job security. So even if you don’t have all the details to start on a project, start on whatever component you can start on while you wait for the missing info to trickle in.
  4. Bottom Line – Set limits. If you have a tendency to work and re-work a task past its deadline, set a time limit for yourself. Timers can be effective tools for managing time spent on a project. When the timer goes off, move on to something else. And when the deadline is approaching, hand your work off to someone else for a quick run-through to get another perspective on its quality.
  5. Be realistic. Everything can’t be perfect. Don’t give up, though! Nobody likes to make mistakes, but just because something can’t be the very best doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing.
  6. Cut people some slack. Watch out for an overly critical attitude toward those you work with. Not only can it alienate your colleagues, but it can also affect your chances at advancement if you are seen as hard to work with.
  7. Remember the big picture. If you’re having trouble wrapping up a project because it’s not quite perfect yet, ask yourself: How will additional work affect the outcome? Will the end result be vastly improved? Will the project be late? Will I upset my managers? If your perfectionism is ultimately hurting rather than helping the project, you’ll need to adjust your behavior.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to do a good job. They key is knowing when “good” is “good enough.” You must learn to balance your own expectations of your work with the expectations of your leadership team. Save perfection for the projects where it’s going to be valued by all involved.

Identifying those behaviors that hamper your output is a solid first step in understanding how they impact your work life and personal relationships. Being self-aware and open to adjusting your thought processes makes it easier for you to improve your time management skills, thereby improving your productivity.

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