5 Tips for Beating the Cycle of Perfectionism

Posted on September 10, 2014

This article is a re-post, originally written by Sara Duane-Gladdenon on September 9, 2014 at DesignM.ag

Have you ever met a designer or developer who wasn’t a perfectionist to some degree or another? It’s understandable that there are probably few of them, as the aim for perfection often differentiates the good designs from the great ones. Making sure that every element is “just so” can keep designers up at night, toiling away.

Being a perfectionist has its advantages. It can help you produce amazing works and dazzle clients. It can help you seal the deal with new customers. It can push you to new challenges and new creative heights.

Of course, perfectionism also has its drawbacks. While it’s a good thing to be somewhat of a perfectionist, too much of anything can be bad for you. Striving for perfection means you value quality, but the stress and fear of failing can be paralyzing, reducing your productivity and arresting your creative flow. Perfectionism is a time steeler, as hours can fly by while you’re immersed in the task at hand without even stopping to take a break. You can also feel frustrated, anxious or sad when you can’t reach the satisfaction that comes with a job well done – because you’re never done! Spending too much time in “perfectionist mode” can lead to depression, burnout and even illness, any one of which can cause you to make mistakes. Your productivity can also drop and you could miss deadlines, as you spend too much time on one project before you move on to the next.

Learning how to let go of a project can go a long way towards increasing productivity, creativity and job satisfaction. It can help free up your time to take on new work, while helping you to better accept feedback and criticism. Here are five tips to help you learn to let go of perfectionism so you can get on to the next project.

  1. Admit it to yourself. Recognize that you’re a perfectionist and know that details are your weakness. As G.I. Joe used to say, “knowing is half the battle.” It’s easy to say now, but when you’re working on a project, it can be more difficult to tell that you’ve spent too much time on something. You start rationalizing, saying to yourself “Just 5 more minutes and I’ll be done.” Admitting it now, when you’re reading this instead of working on something, will help you to identify the issue later when your tummy rumbles after skipping lunch or you have bleary eyes from working until 2 A.M.
  2. Step away from the project. Save your document, set aside the mouse and get away from your workstation. You are too close to your project and you need to take a step back to gain a new perspective, for at least a few hours if at all possible. Take a lunch break, sleep on it, run some errands – anything to get your mind away from the project at hand. If you’re on a tight deadline, take a short, brisk walk, get yourself a snack or chit chat with a coworker.  The point is to break up the thought pattern that is contributing to your minor (or major) obsession over your project.
  3. Get a fresh mindset. Prepare your mind to reapproach your project with a new attitude. What should that attitude be? “My time is precious, I can’t waste more of it on this project that is basically complete.” If it helps, create a list of other projects you can’t start until you’ve completed this one. Seeing what is ahead of you could change your attitude quickly. If you can get a fresh perspective, you may find you’re feeling less critical of your work and better able to complete what is left. Even better, you may just realize that it’s truly finished and you can’t possibly look at it for another minute.
  4. Avoid getting sucked in again. It can be tempting to fall right back in to working on your project. After all, making minor adjustments to something that is complete can be easier than trying to move on to the next project, knowing that when you do you’ll have to start from scratch.  If you already know that you’ve invested too much effort into the task at hand, don’t be afraid to cut yourself off. Let yourself imagine for a moment that your client or boss will love the work. Honestly, until you send it off to them for your approval, you will never know if they do.
  5. Modify your behavior. If you get stuck obsessing on perfecting one project, odds are you’ve gotten stuck before and will get stuck again. If knowing about the problem is half the battle, trying to reduce its impact on your life is the other half. Simply acknowledging that you’re a perfectionist can go a long way towards helping you keep your perfectionism in check. In the future, try to recognize sooner when you’re spending too much time on a project. Try to take more breaks so you can step away and come back to the project with a new mindset. Try not to get lost in the tiny details that aren’t as important to your client as they are to you.

There’s nothing wrong with being a perfectionist; it probably makes you really good at your job. It’s only when your perfectionism starts interfering with your work/life balance or other design projects that you might need to adjust your working style. Keeping these tips in mind can assist you to work through it and help you to become more efficient on future projects. With greater efficiency and increased productivity, you may find further job satisfaction, happiness and new-found creativity to dazzle even more clients.

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