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The art of ceasing to be perfect

Perfectionist is a word that is often used as a good thing, but my experience is that the biggest perfectionist are those who also get the least done because nothing will ever be good enough for them. If you want to be a bit mean, you can also call perfectionists cowards because many use the word perfectionist about themselves to really hide the fact that they don't dare to complete a task. Why? Because they are afraid to let other people judge their work. They would rather continue working until someone rips the work out of their hands. I do, of course, feel bad for those people.

I stopped being a perfectionist myself when I understood a simple principle:

There is a line when, if crossed, any extra work you perform on your task will no longer be noticeable to the outside world and all you’re really doing is wasting your time.

The trick is, of course, to find that line. Imagine for example that you’re making hamburgers to a bunch of teenage boys. They will never appreciate your cutting the tomatoes in a particularly pretty way or if the salad is eco-labeled. They devour the burger and just ask if there’s any more. They want to be fed. That's the only thing they want.

So the question is of course: Are your clients, or those you deliver to, teenage boys or gourmets? If you can find the balance, you won't have to spend that extra time doing more than you have to. This is also where you will find a large portion of your lost time.

The main problem for perfectionists is unrealistic expectations and goals. This leads to an enormous amount of preparation and safety checks at all levels. And besides, they usually also keep poor track of who receives their work and their specific requirements.

OK, let's look a little closer on how to become less perfect

Just do it!
Say that you are going to market your business. You work hard with the website, the business card, logo and the letterhead. Your brochure is always at the planning stage. You can sit for hours and study in great detail every little bit of it so you won't miss any important details. What you don't understand is that you’re also wasting a lot of valuable time. Just get it out there! Launch the website, send out the brochure - do it now! All the little things that need to be changed, you can do next time you revise it. No matter what you do, nothing will ever be perfect. Perfect is just a stupid, meaningless word. Everything you do is an ongoing process that is constantly improved and refined. Make sure to get it out there, get some constructive feedback and then make any changes next time around instead.

Say no to unreasonable demands
Most of us are good at setting goals and requirements that are impossible for ourselves to reach. Yes, you read that right. Because if you think a little, you never have the same strict requirements for others as you have for yourself. Therefore you need to practice on how to sometimes say no just to yourself. The thing is that the people you deliver to will generally be satisfied if you simply are as good as any other supplier. That's all it takes. Did you hear that? That really is all it takes.

Set reasonable goals
Surreal high standards go hand in hand with unrealistic goals. You can't expect yourself to do everything you do with the same level of quality. Making a plan for what needs to be done is the smartest thing for you to do. Then you can break down the project into smaller parts and create smaller goals that can actually be reached instead of striving for a huge stressful goal that lies far away in the future. For instance, developing a website for your business may feel like a gigantic task, but by breaking it down into smaller parts where you first make a plan for the website and complete that step, then focus on the content and complete that part, you will feel that the workload will become reasonable and much less stressful to do. All this stuff I’m sure you already know, but why not practice it as well? It works!

Find support
Look for people in your environment that you trust and who can help you assess what you have done and see if they think it's working or if maybe you have to work a little more to achieve the goals you have set. You will be surprised that their requirements will so often be far below your own.

Love your failures
I’m sure it hurts to image that? You HATE failures! But you also know that failure is a natural part of life. The problem with perfectionists is that they believe that failure means the end of everything.  I think it's funny that they do, because it's just so weird. Why would it be the end? It's quite the opposite. Finally I will learn what I did wrong and what I can do right next time. Wonderful. What if our collective mentality would allow people to fail a bit more often because it has proven, through all times, that failure often is a testament for “success”...

Consider a different solution
Perfection is defined as something that is free from errors. What does this mean to you? The thing is that the words we use to describe who we are and what we do really have a major impact on what we achieve. Are you with me? Good. How can you redefine the word “perfectionist” so that it suits you better? Why not try and think of yourself as perfect just as you are now? Imagine that you are great! The villain of the whole perfectionist drama is that it's often you who are the villain. No one demands more from you than you yourself. Remember that you are already great the way you are now!

I'll say it again - just do it. Do it now and give it your very best. No one can ask for anything else. Here is a sentence to copy and post whenever the thoughts of perfection strikes next:

“Better something good today than something perfect tomorrow!”

About the author

Stefan Ekberg has worked in marketing for small business for 20 years and has written around 30 books on how small business owners can market themselves with limited resources. . In 2012 Stefan was nominated as Entrepreneur of the Year in Stockholm.

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"The 5 minute marketer" - the book
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