Being a perfectionist is hard. While there are some obvious benefits to being a perfectionist, i.e. always looking swanky (great word) and receiving high praise for everything you do, it’s difficult to constantly and consistently try to measure up to some self-invented standard of quality and efficiency that is often impossible to reach, in all areas of your life.
It’s usually those people that are afraid of being judged that have this affliction. We care too much what others think. Am I right? No, really, am I?
It probably stems from childhood. Maybe your parents compared you to other kids, forced you to compete, to win, to be the best. The school system alone is built on this premise. From a young age, we’re trained to make grades, be judged by our work or our athletic ability. Pass or fail. Win or lose. Make the grade. Be in the top percentile.
Maybe we associated that judgement with acceptance or worthiness of love. Maybe we never got enough praise in other areas of our life, unless we worked for it. Unless we earned it.
Some of us entered the loop and never left it. We may not have those same people or anyone really, telling us we need to do or be the best anymore, but it was so ingrained in us for so long, that we now berate ourselves the same way. We have become our own judge, jury and executioner.
Many people stop trying to achieve in life altogether because it is too difficult to constantly and consistently be held up by your own high standards and because fear of failure is too real, they drift through life. Never trying anything. Never reaching their full potential.
The problem with living this way is, nothing gets done. Nothing gets achieved. No action gets taken. You end up in a procrastination prison of your own making. Never giving yourself the chance to be more.
I know this, because I am a perfectionist. I know it holds me back in a lot of areas. And while I’m learning to let go more each day, it’s not an easy road.
Fear of not being perfect or doing things the perfect way is exhausting but here are some rules to overcoming the impossible and not giving up on life.
Rule 1: Identify when you are being a perfectionist aka I know you are but what am I?
I can spend days and days on a design for instance and not even realise I’m being a perfectionist about it. I don’t think about it, especially when I’m in the zone. It just feels like that’s normal, like that’s just how you do stuff and how long it takes.
It’s not until my bf, catches me in my loop, that I realise, oh yeah, I should move on from this now because it’s just not worth the time spent on it anymore and I haven’t slept or eaten a proper meal in days.
When you catch yourself trying to be a perfectionistic, stop. Put a limit on what you’re doing and call it quits. Move on to something else. Even just taking a break and walking away from it for a while, puts things in perspective. Somethings just get lost in the haze of reaching perfection. Prioritise your time and effort effectively.
Rule 2: Set yourself goals with time frames aka Be a goal digger
Speaking of prioritising time, here’s a more structured way to do this. Start with a list of long-term goals you want to achieve. Now break those long-term goals down into shorter-goals. Take one of those short-term goals and break those down even further until they are actionable tasks.
Start each day with three actionable tasks taken from your list, and work on them. Try to achieve at least one of those tasks from your list every day.
Add a time frame to all your goals, if you want to be even more effective. Before you start working on it i.e. still in big-picture view, allot yourself a reasonable amount of time to accomplish the task, then pick your three to work on. Set an alarm or a timer if you need to and you’ll be knocking out those tasks in no time.
This trick makes you prioritise time over perfectionism and is an effective way to keep yourself on track to progress.
Rule 3: Take action daily aka Everyday keep hus-tl-ing
The important here thing is, don’t stop hustling. Achieve something everyday, even if it’s something small. Don’t wait for the perfect circumstances, the perfect weather, the perfect timing, the perfect mood, etc. Just do things from your list. Don’t overwhelm yourself with big projects and huge goals.
Make sure that it’s something that works towards what you want in life. Crossing things off your list each day will also give you a small sense of accomplishment, regularly. Before you know it, you’re moving forward in life and achieving things that you’ve not had to put too much pressure on yourself to do.
Rule 4: Treat time like money aka Quantify your worth
Here’s a little trick that I like to use sometimes to make sure I’m not wasting time unnecessarily.
Imagine the project you’re working on is worth a ceiling figure of $400 / day. You don’t get paid any more than that no matter how much overtime you put into it. Essentially your time is worth $50 an hour for an 8 hour day.
All you need to do is accomplish the job, the task at hand, however each hour you work on it, you lose $50 per hour from that $400. Does that make sense? So, the more hours you work on it, the less money you earn.
It’s not a real world example, as far as I know, but it works for the perfectionist mind.
There are a few apps out there that will not just track your time, but how much you’re earning per hour. Great for freelancers. There are a ton of free ones out there, but it doesn’t have to be a fancy tracking piece of software. In fact, the most basic and simple, the better. You don’t want bells and whistles to distract you.
Normally, you just put in a cost per hour and the tracker will keep track of that for you. But for us perfectionists, the less time, the better. So, you start your day off with a daily earnings amount of how much you’re time is worth for the work day. So, in your app, reverse cash clock for example, you put in your days earning limit (eg. $400) and set it off. As time goes by, your earnings get less and less.
Alternatively, if you have an app like cash clock that just tracks the hourly rate, then you set how much your time is figuratively worth per hour, but put a negative sign in front of it (eg. -$50). Then the timer will count up how much money you’re losing per hour while you’re working on stuff.
It’s up to you whether you are more motivated by a negative price increasing or the final price decreasing. It’s essentially the same thing. You soon start to connect loss of time with loss of money and it will help you put more priority on getting things out there fast.
Rule 5: Reward yourself for doing your best aka Credit where credit’s due
Remember back in school when the teacher would give you a gold star when you did something well? Oooh, even better, scratch ‘n sniff stickers! Didn’t you feel so special.
Give yourself little rewards for achieving your small tasks or goals within the allocated time frames. Make the reward proportional to your task significance, not your effort (as non-perfectionists would). You’re trying to establish positive reinforcement for successfully finishing your tasks, not for how long you’ve taken on them.
If you haven’t met your deadline, don’t punish yourself and don’t persecute yourself for not achieving your standards. You did your best in the time allotted. Just move on. If you need a bit more time, then allow it, but only if absolutely necessary. Just make sure you’re keeping focus on the time, not on perfecting the task.
Rule 6: Enlist the help of a trusted friend aka When good is good enough
Sometimes it helps to have someone else that you trust to look over your work. As perfectionists, our minds have set up the standards we’re trying to reach, but others won’t have access to those strict criteria.
What seems just ok to you, might look amazing to someone else. When you get some positive feedback on your work, you might start accepting what you’ve done more.
We can be our own worst enemy at times. Having someone else’s perspective on our work might help us realise that we really are being too harsh on ourselves and what we’ve done is actually good.
Make sure it is someone you know and trust and maybe not a mentor that you idolise from a distance or a competitor. If the mentor, who didn’t know your struggles, gives you negative feedback, it could crush you and if it is your competition, well, they might just want to throw you off your game. Choose someone with no ulterior motives but whose feedback you’d respect.
Rule 7: Give yourself a break aka Chill the eff out and take a breather
No matter what work you’re doing, make sure to incorporate breaks throughout your day. They say working on anything for more than 90 minutes is too taxing for the brain anyway. Our brains need a rest in order to be more productive, but as perfectionists, we often don’t consider breaks.
We work all day, and maybe even throughout the night to get the job done. The work comes first, even before our own health sometimes. Before we know it, we’re burnt out.
Schedule your breaks, from your big-perspective view point i.e. before you start. Make sure you’re not working for more than an hour at a time and then break for at least 15-20 min. According to an article by Business Insider, science has actually determined this to be the most productive scenario for working efficiency. Think of it this way, you’ll get more effective work done, the more breaks you take.
I like to use the Pomodoro technique where you work for 25 min, then break for 5 min and repeat. After 4 loops of this, you’ve earned a longer break of 30 min. I have found my productivity skyrocket through using this, and I feel a lot more alert throughout the day. A free app like Tomato Timer works a treat.
It really depends on what you’re working on. If your work requires more design or written focus and it takes you too long to get back into the zone when you get back from a break, then use the first method. But if you’re a coder or quite easily get in and out of what you’re doing, then short blocks of work and short breaks might be more beneficial.
Rule 8: Never give up aka Never stop never stopping
Stick to the rules that we’ve mentioned here and you won’t feel like you’re trying to keep up with unspoken standards of the impossible. The focus is not relying on what your mind determines to be perfect. Once we do that, we start to lose faith and confidence in ourselves to keep it up.
Move forward by learning to rely more on external things. Not giving your mind the chance to judge. Following these patterns will give you a sense of accomplishment and keeping it up every day will help make it a habit.
Keep hustling. Don’t give up, keep going and before you know it, you’re living the life you’ve always wanted. You can do it!
Rule 9: Separate perfectionism from you aka You’re not what you do
Perfection is something that you do, not something you are. Don’t judge yourself by your work. Don’t judge who you are by what you do. Separate the two entities and you’ll find it easier to disconnect from your perfectionist tendencies.
If we believe we have to be perfect all the time, we’ll never change. We’ve already accepted that that’s how we are. Why would we believe we could change. The truth is, no one is perfect. Nothing is perfect.
In fact, there is more beauty in imperfection. Embrace your flaws, your shortcomings, your inadequacies. Accept who you are, warts and all. Welcome your differences because that’s what makes you unique.
And maybe you worry what other people think, but the truth is, no one cares. People are too busy trying to live their own lives and deal with their own insecurities, to care what you’re doing or how well you’re doing it. No one is going to appreciate how much time you put into anything so don’t waste your time or your life away trying to please everyone.
Rule 10: You are enough. Period.
At the very core of a perfectionist, we believe that we are never good enough. We are the judge, jury and executioner. We are our own worst enemy. Nowhere in the that equation do we talk about how much we love and respect ourselves. That’s because we probably don’t. If we did, we would cut ourselves some slack instead of being so damn hard on ourselves.
You are enough. Say it every day. Write it down. Read it. Look at it. Say it enough times, you’ll start to believe it. Practice more self love and more self respect. Only then, we will be able to overcome the tortured mind of perfectionism.
Being a perfectionist doesn’t have to be a burden on your life, or even leave you at a standstill. You just need to prioritise your time, health and self love over effort, put things in perspective and use simple goals, tricks and hacks of the brain and of your time to help you keep moving forward, without self judgement, towards your life goals.