Perfectionism is tricky. It seems like a virtue and a point of honor, but taken to extremes, it's a paralyzing trap. Perfectionists endlessly berate themselves, judging their work with one of two grades—Perfect or Complete Disaster. Here are a few strategies to help even the most perfect perfectionist find some middle ground.

  • Ask yourself who your inner critic is. Usually, it's someone from your past: a harsh parent, teacher, coach, or sibling. Recognize that this voice is probably no longer relevant, and ignore it. Pay attention to people who understand the work you're doing and have a hand in evaluating it.
  • Practice doing one thing less than perfectly. Start with something that your rational mind knows doesn't need to be 100 percent—and allow yourself to do a so-so job. Your "good but not great" might be someone's idea of excellent.
  • Take a break. When you work on something for too long, you reach the point of diminishing returns. You spend hours getting almost nothing done, fixing things that weren't broken or second-guessing your first, best impulses. Notice when you're reaching that point, and force yourself to back away. You'll save yourself from futile effort and time spent redoing work done in a fog of poor judgment.
  • Get a second opinion. Hearing from one or two people you respect will give you the perspective you need.
  • Learn that a deadline is a beautiful thing. If one isn't handed to you, impose it on yourself. Focus on completion. Something done imperfectly but on time is often better than something done exquisitely but late.
  • Delegate details you obsess over. If you're struggling with a task that someone else can do faster, better, or well enough, let it go. Know your limits. Sane and productive beats impeccable and self-flagellating any day.
  • Limit the number of revisions you grant yourself. Computers make it far too easy to keep changing your work. Track yourself for a week to see how many times you tweak documents. If it's normally seven, scale back to six, then five, or four. Once you hit your targeted number, stop.
  • Recognize degrees of excellence. We all strive for a Perfect 10—when everything goes smoothly and you feel great about your work. But it's unrealistic to reach it with every project. As long as you hit at least a seven, you should feel good about your work.


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