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7 Tips for Overcoming Perfectionism and Getting More Done

By: Patti Johnson



A very busy schedule and perfectionism are a deadly combination. A “friend of mine” has this problem from time to time. There just isn’t enough time to do everything and do it perfectly. Learning to get past this hurdle is a skill that I have watched just a few people master.

Last year Tina Fey released “Bossypants” and it’s one of my favorites. In it, she confesses to some of her own challenges with perfectionism. (And, just among friends here, the title hits a little too close to home for me.) There are many great quotes and stories, but one of my favorites is a line from Lorne Michaels that really makes this point:
“The show doesn’t go on because it’s ready.
The show goes on because it is 11:30.”
A classic. We all have our own 11:30’s whether we recognize them or not.  The show is going on with or without us.
The truth is the volume of issues and work we all have to manage is very high. Bashing multi-tasking is en vogue these days. I don’t know about you all, but sometimes it just has to be done. It takes some serious skill to zip back and forth between the issues of the day, be attentive and listen—and know when to say, “We’re finished.”
I applaud those who effortlessly glide through a high volume of issues, yet make sure the important ones are addressed successfully. It is an amazing skill that when mastered can make a huge difference in your life.
Here are some habits that can help you manage your perfectionism, but still get stuff done:
  • Think of email like Twitter. Short email responses with maybe 2–3 sentences. No extra side information or background rationale, just “Yes – great. Please let me know when you wrap up. Thanks for the helpful insights.” Boom. Done. Go.
  • Treat your schedule as gold. Manage time very carefully. Emails v. meetings, quick discussion v. presentations, only set meetings when it takes a group—not for updates.  Treat your time like it is a precious resource in limited supply, because it is.
  • Delegate with intent. Know how to turn over simple items to others and let them run with it, as well as giving more critical items to a trusted team member while staying close. And please say exactly what you expect. This little step can save you and others a whole lot of time and increase chances of getting what is needed.
  • Practice saying no with grace. “I’m so supportive of what you are trying to do, but I can’t be involved this year. Let me recommend someone who I think would be a great contributor.” You can do this.
  • Keep things simple. Always ask, “What is needed to move this forward?” Is it a simple answer, a discussion, or a connection to someone who can help? Sometimes our answer is not based on the real need, but on our own internal tapes from where we used to work, our old boss’s expectations or just what we like to do. (Have you ever spent an afternoon working on an analysis when a quick summary would have worked, just because it was interesting? I thought so—me too.)
  • Grab little pockets of time. One of the busiest people I know is the quickest responder. She’s a master at short emails and sending a fast answer when you know she is about to be interviewed or go into an important meeting. She uses a short pocket of available time and it’s off her list. And you have what you need.
  • Decide if it’s 60% or 100%. There are some situations when it needs to be 100%. Client recommendations, legal matters, quality metrics, or issues of character—all 100%. But what about the rest? Some situations don’t require it and sometimes we just aren’t equipped to deliver 100%.
I had a conversation last week with a leader who has had an amazing impact on the community through a charity she heads up. She explained that at first, she just didn’t know enough to do everything at 100%. Her comment has stuck with me, “I finally decided that my 60% could make all the difference and it was enough. I just kept going.”
After writing this, I’ve decided to listen to “Bossy Pants” again on an upcoming road trip. I could use a good laugh and some reminders like:  “It will never be perfect, but perfect is overrated. Perfect is boring on live TV.” Even though most of us don’t have to deal with live TV, perfect may be overrated after all.
Published: June 11, 2013

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Patti Johnson

Patti Johnson is a career & workplace expert and the CEO of PeopleResults, a change and human resources consulting firm she founded in 2004. Her team advises clients such as PepsiCo, Microsoft, 7-Eleven, Accenture, Frito-Lay and many others on creating positive change in their leaders and organizations. Patti has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, NBC and Working Mother. She was selected as an ongoing contributor for SUCCESS magazine and has been a frequent guest on Fox Good Day. She is also an instructor for SMU Executive Education and a keynote speaker on “Leading Change.”

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