Harvard Business Review

Don’t Let Perfection Be the Enemy of Productivity

Summary.   Perfectionism is often driven by striving for excellence, but it can be self-sabotaging. There are three big mistakes that tend to kill perfectionists’ productivity. First, they are often unable to designate any decision as unimportant which prevents them from quick action or delegation. Second, they feel morally obligated to overdeliver. Third, they rigidly cling to habits that might no longer be serving them. Awareness is the first step in overcoming these problems. Perfectionists can also develop heuristics, such as “if I have thought about this choice three times, I will make a call and get on with it,” picking areas in which to over-deliver and areas in which meeting expectations is okay, and reviewing commitments to make sure they are still of use. 

Productivity isn’t about getting more done. It’s about what you get done. Three aspects of perfectionism can interfere with your ability to prioritize the most important tasks.

1. You’re reluctant to designate decisions as “unimportant.”

There’s an argument that, for unimportant decisions, you should either decide quickly or outsource the decision. 

But perfectionists have a hard time designating decisions as unimportant. They like to be in control of everything. Why? Because imperfections bother them more than they do other people. If something goes wrong, perfectionists might feel explosive frustration or a niggling sense of irritation that’s hard to ignore, and they don’t want to take that risk.

Sometimes, perfectionists are so accustomed to micromanaging that it doesn’t even occur to them that any decision is unimportant. They’re blind to it. They habitually and automatically classify everything as worthy of their full effort.

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