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How to Stop Being a Perfectionist

Author: Jack Telford

There are seemingly endless quotes on how damaging it is to be a perfectionist, and for very good reason. Here I’ll explore why foregoing our very best effort can be such a challenge, as well as giving some actionable steps for getting around this limiting trait.

“The best is the enemy of the good”


We’re Brought up to be Perfectionists

When you have a vision for how something should be, getting it right seems obvious. Compromising is lazy; why do something to less than the best of your ability?

So we’re taught at school and it doesn’t do much harm. When you’re writing an essay or learning to play the Exorcist on the piano, it’s worth taking the time to get things right. Our work will be judged solely on its quality, so finessing every paragraph and taking care with every note is worth it. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case at work.

Perfect Can Get In the Way at Work

The problem is that most of us aren’t judged on how “good” what we do is in our working life, instead on how effective it is. Yes we need to get things right, but if that means less time to get more – or more important – things done, then we are getting it wrong.

Navigating this shift from academia to work, from perfect to effective, is hard.

Leaders are Rarely Perfectionists

What makes effective people so effective is that they know what’s worth doing and how long it’s worth doing it for. They’re disciplined and stick to this.

They put what’s important over what’s in front of them, making time where others may struggle to.

So how can we get into this more productive mindset?

5 Ways to Curb Your Perfectionism

Distinguish Important from Urgent

It’s very easy to confuse what’s thrown in our faces on a daily basis with what’s going to have the most impact. One actionable way to prioritise tasks effectively is with the Eisenhower matrix. Break tasks down into the 4 right hand quadrants, numbered in descending order of importance. The key takeaway; important trumps urgent so should be of a higher priority. Don’t spend ages making low priority work perfect, you’ll free up time for what is important.

Don’t Let Emails Get You Off Track

Emails can be dangerous. Ever received an “urgent” task from a panicking client or colleague and knocked an entire day out of kilter? A way around this is avoiding emails until your prioritised tasks are collated for the day. Only add tasks from your emails afterwards – and into the same format. That way they’re not given any precedence unless they’re more important than your other jobs. High importance: invest your time. Urgent but not important: get it out the way quickly.

Don’t Expect “Your Perfect” from Your Team

Give 5 people the same task and you’ll get 5 different outcomes, all of which could be perfectly suitable. The perfectionist in you says: “I would’ve done this instead”.

Train yourself to ignore this impulse. If work meets the required outcomes it’s good enough. Enforcing your way of working will leave your team exhausted and uninspired. Let them them find their own way for everyone’s benefit.

Keep Data Simple

When you need data, work out the desired outcome then the simplest way to get there. It’s temping to think more data means better outcomes. Not necessarily. Take keyword research. If you want to know which terms to target, a sensible process is to find and categorise terms, then pull search volumes & use KW difficulty to estimate competitiveness. This does the job you need it to do – so stop. It can be tempting to layer in a myriad of other data points. If they aren’t strictly necessary for the outcome you need, save your time and bin them.

Remember the 80:20 Rule

There are so many areas of life where the 80:20 rule applies. The basic premise is that 20% of inputs (in this case work) drive 80% of outputs. The key takeaway: you can get the majority of most jobs done quickly. From there, though, you could spend four times as long and get minimal extra value. Try to smash out tasks quickly to a decent level, then hand over the imperfect piece for review. Take the feedback and amend it. Chances are it’s perfectly good at this point. On to the next task.

I hope you’ve found this an interesting read. Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below. Or if you’re hungry for more, take a browse through our main categories here.

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Behind the Site

I’m Jack Telford, an Owned Strategy Director at Publicis Media. I’ve been in the SEO industry for the last 6 years and love the collaborative nature of the space. This site is my little contribution to the community.

Got any Good Ideas?

Always looking for new contributors to the site – and for feedback too. Feel free to get in touch if you’re interested in writing or have anything to share.

London, SW4 (or I will be again after lockdown)

About 100 SEO Ideas

The place to explore quick, easily digestible SEO and wider marketing tips and techniques. Sharing knowledge from professionals across the field, we aim to help each other achieve greater success.


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