In today’s rapidly changing world, we are in constant search of instruments and techniques that would make us more productive. We understand: do more, better, and faster if you want to succeed in business and life.

Productivity influences our self-esteem.

We believe: the more productive we are, the more others will respect us and consider us professionals, able to balance work and life and, for all that, stay sane and happy. So we crave for stellar productivity. We want to join those “perfect” people, who’ve conquered the digital business world, mastered the art of time management and discovered the “in perpetuum” of energy in ourselves.

But the devil is in the detail. In chase of superduper productivity for stellar business management, we sometimes miss another attribute that, if left unattended, can nip all endeavors in the bud.

Perfectionism.

When I decided to write this article and thought on its working title, the first coming to my mind was “Why Perfectionism Is a F**king Evil.” Such a connotation occurs due to my negative experience with this personality trait. Now I understand that excessive perfectionism was the reason for giving up my business idea and startup launch: I compared myself to competitors rather than the yesterday me, which made me lose motivation at long last.

Now I’m looking for it again, combining the process with the research of perfectionism and its direct influence on our overall productivity.

What’s Wrong With Perfectionism for Productivity?

I must confess that every time I face a new feature or phenomenon — I go to Wikipedia and read a very first paragraph to understand if I need this new knowledge, actually. And that’s what the encyclopedia said about perfectionism:

“A personality trait characterized by a person’s striving for flawlessness and setting high-performance standards, accompanied by critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others’ evaluations.”

Such a definition doesn’t explain if perfectionism is good or bad, but we can’t blame Wikipedia here. Psychology itself has no uniform response to this question.

In his book The Psychopath Test, Jon Ronson says that DSM provides so washy criteria today that every person can find about ten mental disorders during self-diagnosis. The same story is with perfectionism: one can judge about its harmfulness only by its concentration in a human body and how much it affects that body’s functioning.

In other words, perfectionism can be healthy and unhealthy.

Everything is more or less clear with unhealthy perfectionism: it can either bring you to a mental disorder or is the symptom of that disorder. Or, it can take a more complex form and combine both. Perfectionists are more vulnerable to depression, anxiety, and insomnia.

But we often use perfectionism when describing a hardworking and ambitious person, striving for self-growth and success. Here perfectionism serves as a virtue. “I’m a perfectionist!” we say proudly, forgetting about a hidden feeling of dissatisfaction that follows perfectionists in footsteps. As a result, we grow the habit of looking for gaps in our work because we consider perfectionism a must-have for personal and professional development.

But what we really do is killing our productivity at its very source.

Yes, perfectionism itself can be the effective instrument for digital productivity growth; but its mechanisms are toxic: in plain English, a perfectionist bullies himself and experiences stress. For a person with an unstable psyche, this can lead to disease.

Somatics is here too: there are, as a minimum, 20 ways stress can affect our bodies, including heartburn and high blood pressure. For those with stronger nerves, constant stress doesn’t do any good either: guilt feeling for own imperfection disappoints, makes unhappy, and slows us down.

The problem with perfectionism is that it’s difficult to control. Good things come in small packages, and if you allow perfectionism to get the better of you — you’ll lose a war for success. Your positive self-image is scientifically proven to influence productivity. If you want to live a full, happy life — make sure your perfectionism is healthy.

Nine warning signs that your perfectionism is not healthy.

1. You are Always Unhappy with the Result of Your Work

The difference between a desire to do business well, putting the most efforts to succeed, and perfectionism lies in your striving for the artificial ideal. We all know that it is impossible to reach the ideal (it does not exist), but there’s a world of difference between knowing something and using this knowledge in practice.

Perfectionists often face the situation: no matter how hard they try and no matter how creative they are, they feel they could do it better or faster. Other times, they understand they did everything great but blame themselves anyway: “I had to spend so much to do this!” For perfectionists, “ideal” businessmen are those doing tons of tasks fast and with minimum efforts.

Sounds familiar?

Stop it. Productive doesn’t mean “Jack of all trades.” Don’t devalue your experience and don’t be afraid to admit you’ve done a great job.

2. You Value Others’ Opinion Above Your Own

One way or another, we think about what to do or how to behave if we want to look good in the eyes of competitors. You’ll hardly find a person who would 100% screw a public opinion. But again, there’s a world of difference between thinking of others but yet respect own desires and valuing their opinion above your own.

Is any of these thoughts yours?

  • “Okay, I’ll work extra hours tomorrow. Everyone is waiting for me to do this, right?”
  • “I need to check this document one more time — funds won’t come to those mistaking.”
  • “I need this yet another tech to try: it’ll make me look more active, smart, and up-to-date.”

Thinking like this, you move closer to the moment when you don’t understand which decisions are yours and which are made just because “this is the way the things are done.”

If you see that you sacrifice own comfort and well-being for what other people think about you, it’s time to stop and wonder if your excessive perfectionism is worth it.

3. You are Afraid of Imperfect Results, so You Can’t Start Acting

Some call perfectionism among the top reasons for procrastination: sometimes we fear failure so much that we put off doing work until it is too late. And while some experts disagree with this statement, many of us are familiar with it: the paralyzing feeling that nothing will work and the fear of a big project.

As far as you understand, such a situation is self-defeating:

The longer you postpone, the more you risk to take it at the eleventh hour and sacrifice the quality because of short deadlines. Just remember that doing something “imperfectly” is anyway better than doing nothing at all.

4. You Do Everything Longer than You Could

This feature seems to have nothing to do with perfectionism, but still…

People who are prone to perfectionism often place high demands on themselves and everything they do. And it happens to lead to the opposite results: instead of doing it well, a person re-checks everything over and over again, tries hard to fix every minor bug, and eventually spends longer time on a task.

And what do we have as a result?

Productivity suffers, you are in stress, the impostor syndrome sneaks up on you… It can be difficult to let the situation go. Just try to understand: your departure from perfectionism doesn’t mean you’ll do your job bad. Sometimes it’s enough to do it passable rather than correct it time and again.

5. Every Mistake Seems the End of the World

No matter how hard we try, mistakes are still waiting for us in business, relationships, and other areas of life. Yes, we hardly get pleasure from them, but we know: a valuable experience comes along with failures. The main thing is to understand what went wrong and learn from it.

The problem is that the brain of perfectionists doesn’t think so.

They perceive every little mistake as yet more proof that they are “imperfect.” They may dwell on that mere defeat, think of it over and over again wondering how wrong they were and what they could do to change or save the situation. As far as you understand, such an approach doesn’t lead to digital productivity and stepping stone to success but self-torture and depression.

It’s okay to do a gap analysis for avoiding the same traps in the future, but don’t sacrifice your time for mully-grubbing. You cannot change the past, so why cry over spilled milk?

6. You are Afraid of Discussing Your Failures

Besides the fear of failure and anxiety about what others think of you, perfectionism brings another fear:

You don’t want to tell others about your business problems and worries. And though it may seem insignificant first (“My problems are my problems, why to discuss them with others?”), you risk losing constructive feedback and help we all need from time to time, and especially when going through dark times.

Others can help you test the waters from a different perspective, see the details you would probably miss yourself, take a look at the situation from a different angle, and come up with the best possible solution faster and with least loss.

7. You Expect Others to Be Perfect

Perfectionists are strict with themselves. But they often make the same strict demands to others, as well. As a result, business communication and relations suffer: far from everyone will agree to make peace with restrictions and bounds just to meet the expectations of others.

So, it’s time to think of managing your perfectionism if:

  • you consider your business flimsy just because it doesn’t look like an ideal picture in your head;
  • you consider surrounding people good, all in all, but you think “they could be better if they did this or that.”

The mere fact a person doesn’t fit into your certain expectations doesn’t make him bad. It makes him real.

8. When Someone Gives Credit to You, You Think They are Wrong

If you disagree with people every time they give you credit, thinking they are wrong and you did nothing special to deserve it, here’s the bad news for you:

Big chances are, you’ve lost yourself in the endless race for being ideal.

When was the last time you rejoice over a sincere compliment from a nice person? Don’t underestimate your work, skills, and goals on the way to success. Don’t compare your achievements with those of neighbors, Facebook friends, or minor competitors. Compare yourself with yesterday you, and work on better, more productive you.

9. You Overextend Yourself

This one is not about perfectionists only. It often happens to most people who can’t organize time: they seek to assign tons of tasks, do more in less time, but then miss deadlines and damn the whole world. However, excessive perfectionism may play a cruel joke here as well:

It happens when you think you can do everything and even more, faster and better, and then find yourself buried under the mountain of unfinished tasks in your midnight office.

There’s nothing wrong with your desire to grow professionally and be more productive, as long as it doesn’t prevent you from the comfort and work-life balance.

“Okay, So What Can I Do?” You Ask

Practice useful criticism and analyze your business results in view of yesterday you rather than delusive ideals. Stay ambitious and work on self-development, but change approach a little.

Let’s take the Jiro Dreams of Sushi documentary by way of example:

An 85-year-old sushi master has been cooking it for his whole life, and it comes as no surprise that his sushi is the best and most delicious in the world. But this fact doesn’t prevent Jiro from self-growth and mastering his skills again and again. Instead of the “it’s never enough” formula, he chooses the “it’s enough for today” approach.

The author of The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown approves it. She investigates vulnerability and explains perfectionism as the unwillingness to accept ourselves for what we are:

“Perfectionism is not about striving for excellence or healthy striving,” she says. “It’s the ultimate fear, a way of thinking and feeling that says this: ‘If I look perfect, do it perfectly, work perfect and live perfect, I can avoid or minimize shame, blame, and judgment.’”

So, stop it.

Besides, the popular 10,000 Hours theory claims that if you don’t lie on a sofa all day long — but, you work — regularly and consistently, with no waiting for inspiration — success will come. You must admit that it is better to learn and grow in an emotionally comfortable environment. And remember:

Tons of tasks don’t determine your value, a missed deadline doesn’t make your friends stop loving you, and “something” is often better than “nothing.”

Lesley Vos

Lesley is a seasoned web writer, specializing in sales copywriting and storytelling. Currently blogging at Bid4Papers, she also contributes to publications on business, marketing, and self-growth. Follow @LesleyVos on Twitter to see more works of hers.