How to stop being a perfectionist at work

Are you a perfectionist?  Do you work long hours, suffer from anxiety and never fully switch off? How exhausted are you from trying to be perfect at work?

Being a perfectionist makes you great at detail and delivering everything to a high quality. But it’s also a curse that means you find it hard to relax, hard to accept work that isn’t 100% perfect and can often spill over into your home life. Maybe it makes you a nightmare to live with!

Perfectionism can develop for a number of reasons.  Perhaps you were a child of a perfectionist, or it can stem from believing your self worth is determined by your achievements and therefore seeking praise and acceptance. It can also be motivated by a fear of failure – if everything is perfect then you can’t fail, you can’t be vulnerable. The problem is you can push yourself too much to keep achieving at this high standard.

Is there an alternative to perfectionism?

But does it have to be that way? If on a spectrum that spans 100% perfect at one end to completely winging it at the other, you find yourself clinging to being a perfectionist it may seem impossible to let that go. But is there a third way?

Many years ago I was struggling to balance my demanding career with motherhood, feeling like I wasn’t very good at either. I sought some help and worked with an excellent therapist who introduced me to the concepts of ‘good’ and ‘good enough’. This has stuck with me and has been a helpful guide to navigating some of life’s challenges.

These are important distinctions when thinking about your perfectionism. You can ask yourself ‘is this good enough?’. And good enough is not about delivering mediocre or low quality work. It’s just that not everything is worthy of or requires 100% of your time and energy.

A client I worked with recently was running herself ragged delivering everything at work, and at home, to perfect standards. She found ‘good enough’ revelatory and was able to identify certain, more routine, projects at work where she felt comfortable delivering ‘good enough’ work. This meant the difference in a piece of work taking her 30 mins instead of 2 hours. She also started applying this at home too, where she stopped spending half the weekend getting the family home looking perfect. This freed up time to spend with her family and gave herself some ‘me time’ which she was sorely missing. Once she began to embed this approach she found it much easier to start enjoying her work again which brought its own rewards. She broke the cycle.

How can you break the cycle?

  • Start small: Identify 2 pieces of work where you can challenge yourself to deliver ‘good enough’
  • Define ‘good enough’ for you: what does it look like?
  • Allow yourself to experiment: focus on learning from the experience and don’t worry about making a mistake

Want more helping managing perfectionism listen here to my free webinar How to Beat Imposter Syndrome and Boost Your Career Success or book a clarity call here.

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