Speed - doing things perfectly slows you down. Listen, I’m not advocating for sloppy or lazy output, but you can churn out high quality, almost perfect products at a faster rate if you’re not obsessed about every detail big or small. More tips on this later. Sometimes, speed needs to trump perfection. I think we all learned this when we had to quickly pivot around the unexpected pandemic.
Morale - if you are a perfectionist leader, you run the risk of being a micro-manager. Because let’s face it, if you want your work to be perfect, you likely want the work that reflects on you (your team’s work), to also be perfect. This can cause employees to be less apt to start a project out of fear of doing it incorrectly, which means they are also slowing down. If you spend a lot of time correcting or changing your employees’ work, with no regard for the magnitude or meaningfulness of the change, you’re sending a message that the team can count on you to catch and fix all of the mistakes. So ultimately, you end up with employees who are less confident, not empowered, and who lean on you more to get it done your way.
Burn Out - many perfectionists who are driven and hungry to succeed will make-up for their slowness by putting in extra time. This may sound admirable and like you’re a dedicated and hard worker, but burning the candle at both ends to keep your head above water over details that likely make no material difference will ultimately lead to burn out. Nobody wants that, because once you burn out, it’s incredibly difficult to reignite your fire.
How does a perfectionist slowly start letting go? I’ll tell you how I did.
Materiality - In the beginning, with every edit of my own work or someone else’s, I would stop and ask myself how material the change really was. In my case, it was usually a matter of aesthetics and personal preference. That is not material. Of course, if there are inaccuracies that influence the outcome, there’s no question, all work needs to be accurate.
What Are We Trying To Accomplish? - This is another question I ask myself often, for many reasons, but primarily because we can get so caught up in the details that we lose sight of why we’re doing something at all. After asking yourself this question, you’ll quickly start to see how perfectionistic tendencies can burn hours of your time and have no bearing on the outcome at all.
Re-evaluate Old Standards - I once had an employee, who I still hold in the highest regard, who put pressure on himself to reply to every email the same day. We had our fair share of crazy days, so he would spend hours at night away from his family getting back to people who invaded his inbox. Listen, I appreciate email communication, but it’s also the most passive form of communication. If somebody truly needs something right away or the same day, so much so that you feel the need to take away time from other things to get back to them, then they should have called. I know this is unpopular, but really. Do you have any self-imposed expectations that if eliminated, wouldn’t change much, but that sound them takes time away from more important things?
Letting go of the illusion of perfection is tough. Trust me, I get it. But it can also be liberating and professionally rewarding in ways you can’t even imagine. Again, I’m not advocating for sloppy or inaccurate work, but merely to check yourself when you’re going a little overboard. Remember, not all details are equal. Admitting you have a problem is the first step. From there, I hope that taking a pause and considering the benefits and risks, will help you release some of the self-imposed pressure and move forward more quickly. Good luck!
Amy Perkins is President of insideARM and The iA Institute and Chair of the uniquely engaging Women in Consumer & Commercial Finance event. She also hosted this amazing video series called #fiveinfive, interviewing dozens of women about what they've learned and who they admire. You can follow Amy on Linkedin.