Updated: Apr 1
You just finished finalizing a report for work. Instead of checking off the completed task, you obsess over whether you should have inserted a pie chart instead of a line graph. Maybe the cover page could have been better streamlined. You should have used a different font, a more unique page layout, or condensed the report from 11 to 10 pages.
I know what you're thinking, there's nothing wrong with striving for excellence on the job. And, you'd be right. The only problem is the constant second-guessing bleeds into your home life, too! You wonder if the folds of your laundry are neat enough. Maybe you should have selected a lighter shade of lipstick for your family Facetime call. You could have worn a more conservative shirt. Perhaps you should have prepared a healthier meal for dinner, spent an extra 15 minutes with the kids before bed, or woken up a little bit earlier. Minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day, the self-invectives pile up into a long list of things you could have done better.
Sound familiar? It should. Feelings of frustration and shame have become a normal part of our everyday routine. And, to be honest, it can often seem harmless enough. But, the truth is that the quest for perfectionism is a dangerous one. At a minimum, perfectionism can cause us to procrastinate and delay important tasks. At its worst, perfectionism engenders stress, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorders, or worse!
5 Productivity Hacks
Create healthy boundaries.
Be honest with yourself. Are your ambitions realistic? Or, are they completely unattainable? According to the Pareto Principle (aka the 80/20 rule), 80% of our results will come from 20% of our efforts. In other words, 20% of our time produces 80% of the results. Remembering this should help us to keep things in perspective. If we keep holding ourselves (and others) to impossible or irrational standards, nothing will ever be accomplished (or will be accomplished poorly). Overinvesting in every area of our life will not produce heightened levels of success. In fact, the converse is true. There are diminishing returns for every task. For example, spending 12 hours on an eight-hour task does not produce better results. In fact, the quality of the work will diminish exceedingly for every extra hour you waste on redundancies that could have been allocated to other responsibilities. So, get real honest with yourself and others. If necessary, create hard-deadlines: dedicate X hours to rewriting your business proposal. When the time you've blocked runs out, move onto the next task.
Think like an athlete.
Setbacks are not only common, they are an essential part of life. Performance has become so ingrained into our identity that we no longer see errors as an option. However, athletes see failures as a launching pad for success. Each mistake, if we let it, can propel us forward to something better. How? Instead of merely archiving every failure we've ever had and revisiting them repeatedly, which often leads to shame, we need to use it as an opportunity to reflect and learn from the experience. Don't just focus on what you can do better. Consider how the experience will make you more prepared in the future and how you can use the valuable insights from what happened to move closer to your goals.
Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Uncertainty is unavoidable. If we constantly seek to control every minute aspect of our lives, we will live in a constant state of disappointment and despair. We must retrain our brains to stop seeing tasks as a mere test of our abilities. Usually, the consequences aren't as extreme as we make them out to be. To decrease your level of discomfort, ask yourself what the worst-case scenario might be. When you expect the best but prepare for the worst, you create a safety net while also reframing the fear of the unknown into an enjoyable exploration of life.
Practice failing. (A lot!)
When you learn a new skill, you build self-compassion, patience, and a greater tolerance for imperfect action. None of us are perfect. The sooner we accept this, the easier it will be to enjoy life. So, learn a second language. Start a new hobby. The more we fail, the more we accept our imperfection and release ourselves from being tied to unrealistic expectations or outcomes. Rejoice in where you are, not where you want to be.
Comparison is toxic. It usually generates feelings of inadequacy or envy. What works for others may not work for us. Heck, what worked for us yesterday may not work for us today! So, remove yourself from the competition. Celebrate your victories, small wins, and mistakes. Each of them teaches us something different about ourselves. Life can be arduous. Don't make it any more difficult than it needs to be. Surround yourself with people who understand and support you.