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4 ways to curb your perfectionist streak

Matthew Franceschini
May 1, 2013

As much as we’d like to think otherwise, the reality is that there are times in all our lives when we put off finishing something until the last possible minute. Maybe it’s a particularly tedious report or even a series of seemingly insignificant tasks that just don’t pique our interest.

There are many reasons why we do this; the task is perceived as too small, too hard or simply too boring. In some cases, however, the root of the issue could lie not in laziness, but in our quest for perfection.

Being a perfectionist is not uncommon and, in many ways, can be driver of success. As a project contractor (referred to as an independent professional or IPro by Entity Solutions), your well-honed skill set and high level of expertise is what makes you an attractive candidate. With great power, however, comes great responsibility, and sometimes the high standards you expect of your own performance means work that is any less than perfect has potential to be seen as a failure in your eyes.

For those who feel less than flawless work is not an option, the need for perfection can at times lead to procrastination or prolonging a task well beyond the length of time necessary in an effort to create a masterpiece. Not only does this place pressure on reaching deadlines, perfectionists can be their own worst enemies, feeling less than stellar performance is a direct reflection of their success as an individual. In addition to causing troubles at work, self-doubt and criticism over your abilities can lead to stress, anxiety and low self-worth.

I think it’s fair to assume nobody wants to feel this way. So how can you overcome your perfectionist streak whilst still maintaining excellence?

1. Work when you work best
We all have different times of the day when we work at our optimum. One of the biggest benefits I hear from clients working as an IPro is the flexibility such an engagement avails. While not available to all IPros, the ability to work when and where you want is often an option. If given the choice, there is no need to chain yourself to your desk from 9-5 and attempt to force productivity. Make the most of the hours in which you are productive, be it morning, noon or late at night, and use your sluggish periods to take a break or catch up on work that doesn’t require a lot of brain power.

2. Break it down
There is nothing more daunting than staring at an overflowing to-do list and having no idea where to start. While it’s good to be ambitious, a high level to-do list with goals that are unrealistic can ultimately lead to procrastination.

Rather than putting vague and intimidating items such as ‘finish research project’ on your daily task list, break your projects down into smaller, more achievable goals such as ‘finish introduction by 3pm today,’ making planning for and meeting goals much more achievable. Timing is everything, so where possible try to pre-empt the duration required to complete each step and move onto the next when that time is up.

3. Focus on your priorities
Most of us look at our to-do list, determine which tasks we can tick off quickly and push the most important, and typically more time consuming, ones to last. Though it’s nice to achieve a quick win, focus on the priorities of your tasks and plan to accomplish them in order of importance and urgency. Failing to prioritise exposes you to the risk of exhausting your optimum performance time on the menial things, leaving very little time and energy to focus on the most important or urgent tasks.

If you are stressing out over how to craft an impeccable email instead of working on an important milestone fundamental to a project’s success, you are not using your time effectively. Accomplishment is not necessarily found by ticking 10 small items off a list if the most important task has been left untouched. Key to reaching your optimum is prioritising your tasks based on what is the most important and allocating your time and energy accordingly.

4. Reach out
If a particular project has got you stuck and you feel that your work is suffering as a result, there’s no shame in seeking a second opinion. Ask a colleague or your manager to take a look at your progress. They may be able to offer a fresh perspective or affirm that you are on the right track.

Ultimately, it’s important to remember that although excellence is possible, perfection is not. To prevent the stress, procrastination and negativity associated with being a perfectionist, be realistic about your abilities and goals and aim to do your best, not the best.

Matthew Franceschini
Matthew Franceschini is a co-founder and the CEO of Entity Solutions, a contractor management agency. He has more than 10 years’ experience working in the contract workforce management industry. He holds a Bachelor of Economics and is also the Vice President of Independent Contractors of Australia.
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