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perfectionist at work

Smart Strategies to Be Less of a Perfectionist at Work


Are you a perfectionist at work? How is this working out for you?


Striving for excellence in itself is a good thing because it allows you to push your boundaries. However, a perfectionist at work can find herself regularly struggling with deadlines and conflicting work tasks. And in the process often limits her career unknowingly.


I can relate to this because I would have described myself as a perfectionist at work in my earlier career. Initially, I thought that this was the way to go. Instead, I received feedback from my management and colleagues on project delivery lateness and poor task management, despite the quality of the work's detail.


The feedback was frank but clear. Something had to change. But what?


I started adopting it and have received great feedback on work quality and task efficiency. To help you achieve the same I will share here my top reasons for ditching the perfectionist at work in yourself.


At that point, I started to observe the work behaviors of people who got great feedback in the areas I lacked. These people were often already in management positions or on the way there. Here is what I learned: They understand the minimum level of quality expected by people who judge the work, deliver that promptly and then move on to the next task. I like to call this "the art of good enough".

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5 Good Habits to Be Less of a Perfectionist at Work

overcoming perfectionism


1. Perfection Lies in the Eye of the Beholder

This is an important one. What you consider great work might not be perceived by others like that. Even worse, while you work away on your “perfect” delivery and don’t get feedback on it you might deliver something that misses the work brief.


Before you start any piece of work, determine who the audience will be. This will give you several important clues: type of content required and format.


An assignment for a working group level, for example, could have plenty of technical detail and easily can be a work in progress piece that gets refined over time. On the other hand, a piece of work for your director will need to contain the most significant information and a compact format.


2. Big Picture Thinking

Not every work assignment should have the same importance to you. Therefore, each assignment needs to be looked at in this light before starting.


Big picture thinking here is about the work’s context. Will your work be used to drive a major business decision? Is it only optional? Does it support the direction given by your management?


Thinking about questions like this will help you to prioritize your workload and put some perspective. For example, your colleague asks you for some information which is nice to have. While you are working away on this, you are asked to prepare a summary your management will use to decide on a project. The latter is more important in your and your workplace’s big picture and should go to the top of your pile instantly.


3. Plan in Feedback

Nothing is worse than working hard on something until the last minute possible, to be told that the work missed the point of the assignment. Especially when it is for your management.


I see this happen fairly regularly when someone is a perfectionist at work, and truth be told, I have been there myself. Gladly for me, this experience kick-started a major learning curve. Missing the mark with your work can happen, even if you are sure that you fully understand your audience and you know the work’s context. There is only one thing to do here: Ask for feedback… regularly and in good time!


Having some years of experience under my belt, I even think not asking for feedback on important work assignments for my boss, is a big no-no. So, therefore, I always plan for at least one revision I send out to my management to ensure the right level of content and alignment. If that’s not the case, I get specific feedback and have a few more days to adjust.


4. Let the World See Your Ideas

The best work doesn’t matter if no one sees it. This isn’t just true for the end product; it is also true for the process of presenting.


You should ensure that:

  • the work is delivered on time
  • in the right format
  • your target audience will be present and engaged when you present your work.


In your strive for perfection, you might get stuck on missing detailed information and feel uncomfortable showing it to others. Even worse, you are jeopardizing the delivery. Set yourself deadlines in advance of the business deadline by which you will stop working on making it “better” and focus only on the delivery.



5. Set Realistic Goals and Targets

The consideration of the first 4 items were strategic behaviors to use your time and efforts efficiently. In this process, they also provide realism of the task.


However, people who are a perfectionist at work have unrealistic expectations of themselves. I strongly recommend always thinking about what the most basic version of the work would be with which you get away. Focus on delivering this first. Once this is done, maybe add a little; however, in case you are running out of time, just move on. You will recognize over time that “good enough” is often all that is needed.


While on this I also recognized that perfectionist people have often unrealistic expectations of others’ expectations and reactions. I am sure that most people will be more than happy with your “good enough” version, especially when it comes to management. Managers are exposed to many topics at the same time and it is essential to them to have only significant information. Your perfect version would most likely swamp them.


Final Thoughts

Changing is a process that takes time. So if your perfectionism at work doesn’t disappear overnight, don’t stress over it. The above behaviors will help you to get there.


You can do this

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