Here are 12 tips to help you get unstuck from your perfectionism when it shows up, slows you down, is annoying, or sucks you into its vortex.
There are no easy-peasy solutions to “overcome” perfectionism (I don’t believe in overcoming perfectionism as I’ve written about here), but there are numerous strategies that can be helpful. Here are a few:
1. Use Toggl to track time
As perfectionists, we tend to over-spend time on tasks and projects. Toggl is easy to use and helps you see how much time you’re actually dedicating to specific projects (i.e., prepping a presentation, planning your teaching, completing a report etc). It has been very eye opening (and sometimes disheartening) to see the actual time I’m dedicating to a project versus the time I expected to spend. Seeing the data has motivated me to get more firm with myself about time-limits. Find it here: https://toggl.com/
2. Go for “Done is better than perfect”
You’ve probably heard the expression “done is better than perfect” or “go for 80%”. If not, the gist is that instead of striving for A+ (and taking way too long/ putting yourself under immense pressure), you recognize that your B work is of value and, in doing so, you “release it”–by that, I mean you submit it, or share it, or return it, as the case may be. Another human (or more) sees it and benefits from your work.
3. Focus on meaning over perfection
As an extension of the above, you can get unstuck from perfectionism when you focus on the meaning behind what you’re doing for a given project and consider your “why”. For example, you might be writing a monthly report and spending excessive amounts of time reviewing data to ensure ‘completeness’, instead of remembering that the purpose is to capture highlights and represent the scope of your work to an interested, but non-expert audience. When you tap into the meaning, you will probably also connect more with how your ideas/work/contributions can be of value to others.
4. Ask “who?” before “how?”
I am really into this approach which advocates that, when faced with a challenge, think about who can help you instead of resorting only to “how can I figure this out?”. Want to know more? Look up the book “Who not how,” by Dan Sullivan and Dr. Benjamin Hardy or find a podcast in which they have been interviewed.
5. Don’t rely on motivation. Focus on process and systems.
Motivation is “slippery” — I picture it as a gooey blob that I can’t quite get a grip on. Since it wavers, I don’t recommend relying on motivation when your perfectionist characteristics (e.g., excessively high standards, desire to control, etc) have you stuck. Instead, I recommend focussing on processes and systems; these are the ways that you can build in consistency and desired results. To find out more, look up the work of James Clear or read Atomic Habits: https://jamesclear.com/atomic-habits
6. Show yourself some self-compassion!
I love this short self-compassion exercise when I’m feeling stressed or being down on myself. It consists of putting your hand on your heart and sending yourself some kindness: Hand on Heart Anxiety Reduction Technique
7. Notice whether you’re getting stuck in “being the good student?”
Tara Mohr, author of Playing Big, points out that we often get stuck in being the “good student”. That is, we seek another training, or more information, or an additional certification because we don’t feel ready to do the work. she prompts us to question this felt need. There’s a great chapter on this in her book.
8. Process your email–don’t just check it.
When you’re avoiding a difficult task (or any task), you’ll probably be tempted to check your email more often (I generally work offline to avoid the temptation!). If you’re going to go into your email for a break from hard work, then do so with intention; that is, don’t just skim it and tell yourself you’ll come back to it later, but make a conscious decision to process a certain number of messages or spend X minutes processing (I usually set a timer for this). To learn more about the difference, read “Stop Checking Email, Process it Instead”
9. Set up a co-working session
It’s incredible how working in the presence of someone, online or in person, can boost your energy. I love using FocusMate when I need a boost of energy and accountability to get unstuck.
10. Talk to yourself in the 3rd person
Talking to yourself in the third person, when you’re feeling stressed and stuck, can help improve your self-confidence and wellness. To learn more read Chatter by Dr. Ethan Cross or see this short video where he explains.
11. Recall your strengths
I know, I know: When you’re feeling down or in despair, it is really hard to appreciate or recognize your strengths. But, I guarantee they are there. Take 1 minute and list a few that can help you in this moment of stuckness. Apply them. If you want to find out more about your strengths, the CliftonStrengths Assessment is one of many tools you can use.
In order to have a clear mind, make good decisions, tap into your intuition, you (we) need to be rested. I explore this topic and provide strategies in “Why is it so hard to rest?“, an article I wrote for the Qualitative Researchers Consultant Association.