How Perfectionism Destroys Your Productivity — & How to Overcome it

We’re too afraid to even try, for fear of exposing our vulnerabilities.

In a video where I explained the 80% rule for productivity, I noticed from the comments that the people who got the most from the message and advice were self-confessed perfectionists, a demographic which is, unfortunately, hardly a minority. We live in a society where failure is seen as a weakness, and anything less than perfect is seen as a failure: if your stomach isn’t totally flat, you’re fat; if you’re working for minimum wage in your twenties, your career is slacking; if your thighs touch, you’re not healthy; if your teeth aren’t blisteringly white, you’re unhygienic; if you didn’t get a first at university, you might as well have not bothered and saved getting into debt.

My perfectionism used to be inhibiting beyond reason: my work ethic was unhealthy, irrational and honestly, pretty dangerous.

Studies have shown that the higher the perfectionism of an individual, the more psychological disorders they are going to suffer from. It’s no exaggeration when scientists claim perfectionism is an epidemic that’s destroying people’s lives; even speaking from personal experience, it nearly killed me, several times. I define myself as a recovering perfectionist; whilst I have my moments of relapse, they’ve become few and far between since I began my journey as a freelancer and developed a passion for productivity and time management.

What’s this got to do with Productivity?

So, how precisely does perfectionism inhibit our productivity, besides the obvious procrastination related to a fear to start or submit. Well, largely because perfectionists focus on the results rather than the progress; they’re unwilling to take risks, try new things or innovate. Perfectionism is a safe alternative to growth and reaching our full potential. Many of us are prompted into falling down these perfectionist rabbit holes thanks to competitive work cultures, pride and fear of failure; but the truth of the matter is that we can’t change the game in our industry or take our careers to the next level without taking risks.

Start Small

Whilst the ultimate answer to overcoming perfectionism is to strive for 80% (the process of which I have already covered in another article), perfectionism is an intricate and complex mental culture that takes time to beat, which means you have to start small and work your way up.

Make it Bigger

Then, when it comes to bigger things such as work projects, start with a strategy and a skill-set which are good enough. Good enough is your lowest standard (which, all things considered, is pretty great: after all, there are many people who never motivate themselves to reach even that). You can adjust this standard later once you’ve established a submittable and solid project that is good enough.

Decouple Your Performance from your Self-Worth

The next and most important stage of overcoming perfectionism is learning how to decouple your performance from your sense of self-worth. If you’re anything like me this stage will be the least practical and most recurring issue to address, but it does get easier with time and practice. However, what you will have learned the hard way is that punishing yourself for failing to meet unrealistic expectations is brutally counterproductive, and berating yourself for your efforts only leads to chronic low self-esteem, a toxic self-image, misery and defeat to your life.

The Fake Deadline Tactic

Set parameters on projects and create fake deadlines. If your perfectionism makes it hard to start your projects and/or finish projects, you have to commit to working within time frames using the Pomodoro technique and by setting yourself fake deadlines.

Spoiler Alert: I’m Not the Ideal

I very nearly didn’t start my youtube channel because I was afraid of not being taken seriously because of my imperfect life. I don’t have my own minimalist apartment with my own office with white walls and wooden floors like all the other successful people I follow and admire. My rented apartment has dull cream walls and a dirty brown carpet which I hate. I don’t have a fancy coffee machine to that grinds my own beans, nor my own desk because we can’t fit one anywhere. In other words, I was afraid that my home would detract from the fact that I’m really awesome at what I do, that it would undermine the legitimacy of my hard work ethic, my organisation skills and productivity, and I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this way.

Focus on the Process

I may not have the picture perfect apartment, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love my home and it doesn’t mean I’m not successful: I’m just earlier in my journey than the people I look up to. I’m grateful for everything, from the roof over my head to my draughty thin windows that let freezing air into the apartment. When we focus on the process we appreciate the excitement of the journey, the progress we’ve made and our potential for growth. Focussing on the results makes us feel inferior to others, unsuccessful, inadequate and incapable. It makes us resent and feel ashamed of where we are rather than appreciative of what we have and excited for who we are growing into.

Writer | Author | Creator of The Personal Philosophy Project on YouTube

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store