Three Questions to Curb Perfectionism
Like many of you, I'm a recovering perfectionist. It pains me to share work before I am 1000% confident it is ready to be seen by another human. For years, I lived with real discomfort when work had to be 'handed in' (given to a client, shared with a colleague, signed off) and I wasn't absolutely done with it. I found it hard to share an unpolished draft of something - even with people I trusted and admired. Many of my clients have shared that they also struggle with nagging perfectionism. Now, I share things that are very drafty with much less anxiety. What changed?
First, I started to see the cost of the behaviour. My tendency to spend hours moving the dial from 9.4 to 9.6 cost me precious time and left me grumpy. It was easy to recognize that I needed to stop tweaking a memo or plan or sketchnotes (or graphic facilitation charts or lecture notes or . . . ) What has been hard is actually stopping.
I'm not all the way there. But I'm getting better. Here are the three questions I have developed to curb my perfectionism:
Question One: 'What is the goal?'
If the goal is concrete then the end zone is defined. If an absolutely pristine document is needed, then be comfortable spending the extra time and energy to get it there. If 'Good Enough' is the goal, then be satisfied earlier and walk away knowing you met your goal.
Question Two: 'Was this your best work today?'
If I gave my best on that day, in that context, with the time and resources I had, then I am satisfied. Notice the question isn't, 'Was this your best work?' The latter question implies that we should be at our superhuman bests EVERY SINGLE TIME we make, write, or create. And since that is impossible, the very question sets us up for a sense of failure and undermines our confidence to be human rather than superhuman.
Question Three: 'What are the costs and benefits of that extra 2%?'
The benefits are often obvious - a slightly better product and increase in our comfort about sharing the work, a greater likelihood of avoid discomfort. While those are worthy goals, the costs are real too. The additional time spent on the 2% is taken from something - and, in my case, those somethings were, increasingly, more impactful work or activities with young family. I was also starting to worry that I was modelling for my kids that there wasn't a Good Enough and that everything needed to be improved upon. That wasn't a flag I felt comfortable carrying.
So I stopped . . . or I'm stopping . . . well, I'm doing it less, catching myself more, and living with the discomfort more readily.
Leave me a note below to let me know what you are doing to curb your perfectionism.