is there such a thing as a “healthy perfectionist?”

I am a self-confessed perfectionist. I know I’m not alone in this – in fact most of my best friends are Type-A personalities with a little dose of neurosis.

I get worked up when pictures don’t hang perfectly straight. I read and reread things a million times over to make sure punctuation, grammar and spelling are flawless (that’s probably why I work in media relations). I will throw an entire craft project away if there’s a paint smear or a glue dribble. I will have a panic attack if I’m not at least five minutes early to a meeting and if I leave dinner in the oven for just a few too many minutes by accident I will consider the entire thing ruined.

Annoying isn’t it?

Not that I don’t usually push Mike’s buttons with my OCD tendencies – but last night I was extra neurotic and went on a cleaning spree at 11 o’clock at night. You know, when most people are turning in for the night to be well-rested for work the next day.

I started scrubbing the kitchen floor, cleaning the windows, vacuuming (my neighbors REALLY hate me now), dusting, redecorating, etc. You get the idea.

I spent the next hour cleaning myself into a frenzy and by the time I laid in bed, pleased with my tidy surroundings – my brain began short-circuiting about things I wanted to get done at work today, things I needed to do to prepare for my family’s visit this weekend, ways to be more productive, ways to be more effective… I began mentally writing ten different to-do lists simultaneously and before I knew it, my alarm clock went off and I realized I had barely slept at all.

Instead, I had spent the entire night thinking of ways to be the perfect employee, ways to be the perfect professional, ways to create the perfect career path, how to plan the perfect weekend with my family,  perfect ideas for the wedding.

I think aiming for perfection is both admirable and naive. You aim higher than most, set impressive goals, work incredibly hard – all to get the job done right (well…perfect).

But it’s important to draw a clear line between achieving personal excellence and becoming obsessive-neurotic to the point where we sabotage our own efforts.

I found a great post about this on Life Hack with a list of 8 ways to be healthy perfectionists at work (and even life in general). Here are some of my favorites:

  • Draw a line. We have the 80/20 rule (see #6 of 13 Strategies To Jumpstart Your Productivity) where 80% of output can be achieved in 20% of time spent. We can spend all our time getting the 100% in, or we can draw the line where we get majority of the output, and start on a new project. Obsessing over details is draining and tedious, and doesn’t help us accomplish much.
  • Be conscious of trade-offs. When we spend time and energy on something, we deny ourselves from spending the same time and energy on something else. There are tons of things we can do, and we need to be aware of the trade-offs involved, so we can better draw a line (#1).
  • Be okay with making mistakes. Part of the reason why we obsess over our work is because we want it to be mistake-free. However, trying to achieve 100% perfection is highly ineffective. If we’re busy perfecting this thing, we can’t get to other important things. Realize that making mistakes is a trade off we have to embrace. The more we open ourselves to making mistakes, the faster we can get down to learning from them, and the quicker we can grow.
  • Realize our concerns usually amount to nothing. It’s good to plan and prepare, but there comes a time when we should let things roll and deal with problems as they crop up. Being overly preemptive makes us live in an imaginary future vs. in the present. Adopt a “roll with the punches” attitude.

I end with this –

“Some of us (perfectionists, especially) fuss so much over making the ‘right’ choice, but in life, all that’s really needed is to make any’ good’ choice, believe in it, go through with it, and accept the consequences.”


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