How to Manage Perfectionism

UPDATED: August 27, 2019
PUBLISHED: August 21, 2019

Have you ever read a job listing that describes a search for a perfectionist? The hiring company must surely have the best intentions: It wants someone who will work hard to get the job done right. But if it truly demands perfection, unfortunately, it risks ever getting the job done at all.

Perfectionism is one of those sneaky things that can either propel you into serious action or paralyze your ability to accomplish even the most basic tasks. Often, those who struggle with perfectionism have issues giving up control. In them lies a deeply rooted fear of failure. Flying in the face of logic, unhealthy perfectionists believe that if they account for every what if, they can ensure that whatever task sits in front of them becomes fail-proof. Or they spend so much time planning and researching the task that they never start in the first place.

Related: 9 Reasons Perfectionism Is a Bad Thing

Below are some tips for refocusing your perfectionist tendencies toward better avenues:

1. Accept the outcome.

If you’re struggling with the thought of submitting a task that you feel is less than 100 percent, create a list of the worst-case scenarios. Will you lose your business? Will your reputation be ruined? Will you go broke? Probably not. But will ruminating about this project keep you from other important work? Absolutely. This fearful and obsessive questioning can be crippling.

2. Shift your perspective.

The positive side of perfectionism is the idea that you possess a motivation and level of detailed attention that is unmatched by many. The trouble happens, though, when you get so caught up in the details that you fail to see what you’re really trying to create. Show yourself some compassion and understand that perfectionism is neither a dirty word nor a medal-worthy attribute.

Perfectionism is one of those sneaky things that can either propel you into serious action or paralyze your ability to accomplish even the most basic tasks.

3. Dedication vs. obsession.

Entrepreneurs, especially new ones, have a deep desire to offer their product or service to the world just as they imagine it. This type of vision and dedication likely contributed to them choosing this path. That’s a gift. But don’t conflate the bad with the good. Being dedicated and thorough is not the same as being obsessive and ruminating.

4. Channel your energy wisely.

Getting something done is often more valuable than getting something just right. What is the point of being a perfectionist, after all, if your perfect work never sees the light of day? Some entrepreneurs might have trouble letting go of a project, moving far past the point of diminishing returns. What other tasks require your attention that have been ignored while you tinker with and obsess about a task that should have been done days ago?

5. Give up control.

One strategy for recovering perfectionists is to purposefully cede tasks that once paralyzed them. If you already have a team in place, this should be a smooth transition. You hired them because they already possess the knowledge and skills necessary to help your business succeed. Let them do their jobs, but also understand that mistakes are going to be made.

manage perfectionism

Related: The Secret to Ending Perfection Paralysis

Julie BurtonJulie Burton

Founder and CEO of ModernWell, Minnesota

As an entrepreneur, I believe that being honest about my struggles with perfectionism has been instrumental in the creation and growth of ModernWell. Although perfectionism can mask itself as “hardworking,” “detail-oriented” and “holding high standards”—which are all important—the negative aspects of perfectionism can take a person and a company down.

The feeling of treading in unknown waters and needing to make your decisions using both knowledge and intuition—often without any real certainty—can be excruciating for anyone. I remember so many times being in tears to my husband and saying, “I don’t know what I am doing. This is all so scary and confusing.” And he, who has run a company for the past three decades, would reply with a few variations of this message, “Welcome to the world of running a business. I feel that way every single day.”

Here’s my advice:
  1. Read every book by Brené Brown.
  2. Create an advisory board of people who will challenge you, help you develop your confidence in your leadership and offer trustworthy counsel.
  3. Create a safe environment for you and your team members to share feedback. Ask for help from team members when you are stuck.
  4. Be OK with delegating. Everything may not be done exactly how you would do it, but that doesn’t mean things won’t be done well. Be clear in your expectations with your team and also understand that no one, including you, is perfect.
  5. Be compassionate with yourself and others. Perfectionism has a hard time living when compassion enters the picture. Embrace the human condition, which is most definitely imperfect.

Lance J. RobinsonLance J. Robinson

Owner and Primary Attorney, Louisiana

As an attorney who started his own small law firm, it was easy to feel the need to be a perfectionist. I wanted to help my clients every way I could, both as their lawyer and as a business owner. Although striving to be perfect can be a good thing, it can also stand in the way of your success.

Being a perfectionist can be stressful, both personally and professionally. If you spend all of your time and energy on perfecting your work, your personal life is bound to suffer. You may also spend too much time perfecting work that is already finished, which can slow you down and keep you from completing other important tasks. When absolute perfection is your goal, you will hesitate to take any risks.

To get over this, you need to find a happy medium. For me, this means making sure my skills stay sharp, trusting in my experience and expertise, and working hard to do my best. You will find that when you stay up-to-date in your field and focus on helping your clients, you don’t have to stress over being perfect.

Ketan KapoorKetan Kapoor

Co-Founder of Mercer Mettl, Gurugram, India

Trying to be perfect has often held me back. The first model of Mettl for cognitive and psychometric assessments took time because we weren’t sure it was perfectly ready to be launched and accepted into the market.

We worked hard to bring assessments into the market and while planning content for our marketing initiatives, I still wasn’t sure if that hard-earned data was ready. I kept delaying. That content eventually helped us in an unprecedented way. Today, those assessments look very different from the ones we started with. They have been calibrated time and again to suit customer demands.

It taught me a powerful lesson: Success happens in the madness. Not when everything’s under control and perfect.

Chasing perfection is great as long as you know where to draw the line and balance it with efficiency. A good measure of balance is to do the best work you can, but to expect the learning curve that comes with failure and mistakes. If you continue to chase perfection, you’ll never fail. But you’ll also never start.

If you already have a team in place, this should be a smooth transition.

Related: From a Recovering Perfectionist: Stop Saying ‘Wasting Time’

This article originally appeared in the September/October 2019 issue of SUCCESS magazine