How to stop perfectionism from driving you and your co-workers crazy
Sometimes, being the best can bring out the worst in all of us.
You are always the first person in the office and the last one to leave. You don’t just double-check your work. You double-check your teammates too—because you want everything you touch to be perfect.
But here’s the thing: It will never be perfect. There will always be room for improvement. One typo in an email, a misspelled tweet from your company’s account, or a slightly awkward presentation won’t be the end of the world (or your career). Striving for perfection can have negative effects on your job performance, so your career and state of mind might improve if you cut yourself some slack.
“Perfectionism at work can cause you to have time management issues, difficulty completing tasks and an inability to start things,” says Kimberly Hershenson, a New York–based clinical social worker. “This can lead to resentment from co-workers and increased anxiety and stress in your work environment,”
Set realistic expectations
You’ll constantly be disappointed in yourself, and likely other people, if the expectation you set is perfection, so stop now.
Start by taking inventory of your perfectionism, suggests Meredith Cook Riddick, Texas-based therapist. Identify where your need to succeed is helpful to you, and where it stands in your way.
Some pros might be that you catch mistakes, are organized, and have a strong work ethic. Some cons might be that you are exhausted, annoying to colleagues, and always stressed out.
Riddick says you can change your behavior by adjusting your expectations for one project. You may determine that it’s not realistic to finish a month’s worth of work in two days, send fifty “perfect” sales pitches a week, or whatever is applicable to your industry. Focus on one task that you can comfortably scale back.
“If you go into a project with more realistic expectations, the results may surprise you,” says Cook. Side effects may include decreased stress, clearer thinking, more focus and, as a result, higher quality work and a happier workday. “It may just be the reward you need to continue reducing debilitating perfectionism in the workplace,” she adds.
"A perfectionistic mindset assumes that I need to avoid failure at all costs," says Nate Page, a Minnesota-based psychologist at Carleton College. Instead of viewing something as "failure" or a "mistake," try to see it as a learning opportunity. “A growth mindset assumes that not only are failures a necessary part of growth, they’re a desirable part of growth."
The next time something doesn’t work—be it a business pitch that wasn’t accepted, a sales target you didn’t reach, or a performance review you didn’t ace—ask for feedback, take stock of what you could have done better, and use those stumbles as learning opportunities to do better next time.
"The more you embrace failure, the more you can grow and develop and have the type of success you want," says Page.
Create “good enough” deadlines for yourself
It might be uncomfortable for you, but don’t allow yourself to check something “one last time.” Set deadlines that let you move on so you don’t get stuck trying to perfect one project at the expense of another.
“Perfectionism can cause you to waste valuable time and can cause you to tread water at work while your peers move in the right direction,” says Dr. Laurel Steinberg, a New York-based psychotherapist and professor of psychology at Columbia University.
Steinberg recommends that you determine how long a project will take to complete. “Aim for efficiency and to finish in 5% less time than you initially allocated for the task, and don’t let yourself go over by more than 10%,” she says.
You might not be able to remove all distractions (especially in an open office) but limit the ones you have control over (like taking a quick break to scroll through your Instagram feed). And if you fail to meet those deadlines the first time, no worries. Practice makes perfect.