How to Overcome Perfectionism and Get More Done

Perfectionism is insecurity masquerading as standards. You resort to perfectionism because you don’t want others to judge your ability. By continually postponing and restarting until something is “perfect” is a form of procrastination, a way of avoiding something you fear.

Perfectionism is one of the reasons why you never reach your potential or achieve your dreams. Have high standards, of course. Aim for excellence, absolutely. But an irrational obsession over details is not helpful and shackles your ability.

Here’s how to break free.

Manage your mindset

  1. Decide what you’re about. If you’re a writer, write. If you’re an entrepreneur, start your business. If you’re an artist, create art. Commit to the action that defines the role you have given yourself.
  2. Be open to growing. Part of being a person of value is a willingness to learn and improve. If you’re not failing, if you’re not making mistakes, you’re playing too small a game. Successful people fail repeatedly.
  3. Be good enough. You don’t have to know everything, do everything, excel at everything. Learn only what you need to reach your greater goal.
  4. Admire the courage to execute. The people who win in life are those who act, not just talk. People who take action are rare and are to be admired. Be a person of action, not just someone who talks a good game. There are too many talkers.
  5. Value the process more than the outcome. The value of a goal is not the goal itself but the person you become in pursuit of that goal.
  6. Play a bigger game. Set your eyes on the bigger prize. Win the war, not just the battle. If you’re building an empire, you don’t worry about the tacks.

Overcome procrastination

  1. Work for five minutes. Just work for five minutes a day. After five minutes, you can continue if you want or you can stop. That’s it. A surprising thing happens…
  2. Always be starting. Forget about finishing. Just concentrate on continually starting. Do that, and the end will take care of itself.
  3. Complete a small task within an hour of waking up. How you start determines your direction for the day. Every day is a new beginning if you know how to use it. Don’t squander the opportunity.
  4. Do one more thing. Before going out to socialise, get in the habit of doing one more thing. (This is taking advantage of the reward centre in your brain – it’s easier to do something if you know there is a reward at the end of it). It will make the socialising more enjoyable, too.
  5. Everything starts out small. You may lack motivation to do the work because you are disheartened by the gap between where you are and where you want to be. That’s natural. But everything great started out as something small. Here’s the good news: today, your project is the worst it will ever be.

Accept imperfection

You can’t build a reputation on what you’re going to do. – Henry Ford

  1. Perfection is overrated. Humans are not perfect nor should we be. Compare a Van Gogh with a hyper-realistic, still-life painting. Which one speaks more to you? Which one offers more to the world? Be imperfectly human.
  2. Iterate. Writers have an expression, “There is no such thing as writing, only rewriting”. And it’s true of all activities. Your first attempt may be rough around the edges but you edit, you improve, you re-do. You creep up on excellence. And when it’s good enough, you ship.
  3. Autodidactism is the future. That’s a fancy term for self-learning. You can be what you want to be if you’re willing to put in the work and learn. There was a time when you had to have the right qualifications, experience and contacts before you could be an artist, a programmer, a marketer, a trader, a journalist, a video producer, a musician, an author… Now all you need is a website and to put your work out there. And if it’s good enough, people will seek you out; and if it’s not good enough, you work at it. You live in a wondrous time where you do not need other’s permission to do what you want. Just start.
  4. You only need 33%. A third of people will love what you do; a third will hate it (and you…), and a third won’t care. That means, before you even start, about 66% of people won’t be your fans. So don’t be shocked when your work is not valued – that’s pretty normal – it’s not you, it’s them. You don’t need them to be. You just need to get your work into the hands of the people who value it and who love it.
  5. Learn from failure. Human progress is all about learning from your mistakes. It’s more admirable to own your failures and ask yourself how you can use them to improve. That’s a mark of integrity and an admirable trait in a human being. Find the learning opportunity and come back stronger.

Define your own success

The higher up you go, the more mistakes you’re allowed. Right at the top, if you make enough of them, it’s considered to be your style. – Fred Astaire

  1. Forget society’s standards. Society is made up of people who have no more of a clue than you. Everyone is bluffing. You are your own person with your own talents and vision. Don’t just hand them over to a machine that does not value your potential and which is in no position to pass final judgement. Besides not hurting others, you can make your own path in the world.
  2. Don’t let others decide what’s important for you. What does society say is important? A nice big house with Corian worktops, a Mercedes S-Class coupe in the garage, holidays in Tuscany, a glamorous career in the City… These are arbitrary values projected onto us and many fall for the trick and willingly jump onto the hamster wheel of 9-to-5. And for what? To buy things you don’t need, with money you don’t have, to impress people you don’t know.
  3. Before you start sprinting, make sure you’re on the right track for you. There is nothing wrong with ambition. There is nothing wrong with wanting material things. There is nothing wrong with wanting the corner cubicle. Just make sure it’s what you really want. You can spend a life time pursuing the wrong thing and when you realise, it may be too late.
  4. Determine what is really important to you. Take a piece of paper and list everything you value, everything you want, everything you’re pursuing. Now take two items and pit them against each other: which is more important, A or B? Eliminate the loser. Then take another two items and do the same. Repeat the process until you are down to your top three items. Those are the things that are important in your life. Go after these and forget everything else.

Finish what you start

  1. Time is finite. Learn to say no to things you really don’t want to do. You’re being asked to give up a part of your life – make sure it’s worth it. Be selfish with your time. Make your goals your priority. 
  2. Finish it and move on. Don’t dwell. Do things to the best of your ability then move on. If mistakes were made, learn from them and do better next time.
  3. Don’t multitask. Multitasking is a symptom of modern life. We are rarely present as we go about our day. Mutlitasking just means you end up doing more stuff, badly. Focus on one thing at a time. You’ll get more done, more quickly. If you’re at the gym, be at the gym. If you’re with your loved ones, be with your loved ones.
  4. The world belongs to finishers. You can’t create success on the back of unfinished work. You need to commit and see things to the end. If it’s too difficult, you probably need to review the goals you’ve set yourself. If you’re not enjoying the process at all, you’re doing it wrong. (Yes, you can have bad days but if every time you have to do the work it seems like a fight to the death, it’s probably time to find something else).
  5. Beware Parkinson’s law. “Work expands to fill the time allocated to it”. Set yourself tight deadlines and work at speed to complete it. Time is a precious resource that you can never replace, don’t squander it.

Boost your productivity

  1. Achieve one thing each day. It doesn’t have to be huge – just something that will take you a step closer to your goal. You have the same amount of time as the most successful person you can think of. Take action.
  2. Use the next five minutes wisely. Ask yourself, “What can I do in the next five minutes to bring me closer to my goal?”
  3. You don’t need motivation. If you can only perform when you’re motivated you’re not going to get much done in life. Motivation appears after you’ve started the work. Be professional. Don’t make your taking action depend on your mood.
  4. People value your output. Don’t sell yourself short. You have fans out there – you just need them to know about you. You may not have found them yet but you never will if you don’t learn to pull the trigger and start creating.
  5. Set a daily goal the night before. Each night before bed, decide the one thing  you need to do tomorrow to help you progress towards your goal. That’s your must-do activity – just one – that you will concentrate on tomorrow. Nothing else matters until it’s done.

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