Perfectionism: your business friend or your foe?

Perfectionism is the art of never being satisfied. But how can a perfectionist achieve success in business without jeopardising it?
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If you want to succeed in business, you have to make sure every task is done with meticulous precision. From a slight typo on your website to getting the very last customer complaint resolved, perfectionism goes hand-in-hand with success.

However, it’s easy to find yourself letting it become an obsession when it comes to what seems like “minor” details.

But anyone who’s ever been afflicted by perfectionism knows it can be a beast that threatens your mental health and causes significant losses in productivity at work, as well as personal relationships outside of work.

What is perfectionism?

The definition of perfectionism is a way to avoid imperfection and mistakes.

At its core, perfectionism is a form of fear. It’s an anxiety that drives you to get everything “just right”, and control your environment. The main component of perfectionists is self-doubt, and this mixed with high expectations, leads to anxiety and stress when situations don’t meet their requirements.

This can be anything from your house to your career, and it often starts by asking yourself the same questions over and over: “Did I do everything I could? Did I do everything to the best of my ability? Was my work good enough? Did I get everything done?”.

It’s a vicious cycle where the more you stress about getting everything perfect, the more anxious you become – it’s like a never-ending loop.

If your perfectionism (imagined criticism avoidance) causes you to work 30% above the required bar, you’re 30% less effective on every single task.

People who have perfectionism are always considering what could go wrong, what might happen and they are always striving for the best result.

Perfectionism in businesses

The problem with perfectionism is that it’s a tendency we’ve seen make business owners suffer greatly.

From the CEO to the office receptionist, perfectionism seems to be present in every corner of the business world.

Whether it’s jotting down every single mistake made at work, or adding an extra star to each client’s review, it can be hard to avoid when your heart starts racing when you complete your first task of the day.

The impact of perfectionism on your business

Perfectionism in the office can cause confusion, frustration and often conflict.

Why? Because perfectionists tend to like doing things their way, rather than following a pre-determined set of guidelines. Often they are over-confident of their work, and when things don’t go as planned, they start doing everything over again – even if it’s not necessary. For example, asking everyone how much work is left to do on a project before starting the task itself so you can be sure you’re covering all your bases.

Delayed decision making

Perfectionism in executives leads to decision-making being held up. Often, executives who are perfectionists get stuck analysing every single aspect of a project, and avoiding making an actual decision because they’re trying to “figure out” all the details before they decide what they want to do.

You start to beat yourself up over the smallest mistakes you make – even if it’s just forgetting your laptop charger at home. And when there’s so much negative stuff going on inside your brain, it’s hard to focus on getting stuff done in the office.

Executives are often high achievers so they tend to be particularly hard on themselves. They want things done quickly and they hate feeling as if they’ve made a mistake, so it’s no surprise that stress leads to depression and anxiety in perfectionists.

Done is better than perfect

The extreme focus on getting everything just right means you often lose sight of what the real goal is for your business.

What are the key tendencies of perfectionists?

Perfectionists are high achievers. They tend to work very hard and they like challenges. If they feel something is too easy, it’s taken a while or it doesn’t have the same quality as the rest of their work, perfectionists will doubt themselves.

  • Perfectionists focus on mistakes. They can see every single mistake in their work, and they focus on all the things that could have gone wrong. They’re always questioning themselves.
  • Perfectionists over-think everything in business, so they often think much too much about what other people might think of their work instead of focusing on what is important.
  • Perfectionists like things to be a certain way. They like everything to be perfect and when there’s any deviation from what they’ve planned out, they’re disappointed.
  • Perfectionists tend to be very hard on themselves. They set the bar high for themselves and their work because there’s so much self-doubt causing them anxiety – which leads to stress!

The impact of perfectionism

Perfectionism leads to micromanagement

When perfectionists are in charge of a project, they often have a hard time delegating tasks and trusting other people to get the job done.

They’re afraid that if they don’t do it themselves, it won’t be done correctly, and everything will fall downhill.

Micromanagers are always wondering what’s happening with their employees on the ground, how much work needs to be done by the end of the day and why things aren’t as perfect as they expected them to be. They ask questions like: “Did you understand my instructions?”, “Are you sure you got this?”, “Have you started working on this?” etc.

Micromanagement leads to reduced trust

This leads to a lack of trust in employees, and executives find themselves getting involved in every aspect of the work their employees are doing – even if it isn’t necessary.

This kind of behaviour creates resentment and stress for the employees who feel as if they’re not trusted to do a task on their own. On top of that, when people get stressed over perceived mistakes at work, it can lead to burnout. Certain personality types are particularly unhappy with being micromanaged, and it can lead to a huge amount of conflict.

Perfectionism causes stress and conflict

When perfectionists make a mistake, or other people don’t do what they were told perfectly the way they wanted it to be done – there’s a flood of negative emotions.

In business, these emotions can lead to conflict in the workplace and make people feel anxious or depressed. Mental health tends to suffer, and employees may start getting sick more often and for longer periods of time.

Also, perfectionists tend to be self-critical when they make mistakes, so sometimes, their anger and frustration come out as anger towards others. When people feel like they’re not doing good enough at work or are constantly under the microscope, they can get really stressed out – and that leads to burnout. The pressure builds up over time until it becomes unbearable, causing employees to quit.

Perfectionism leads to procrastination

It’s kind of ironic that perfectionists, who are pretty organised and like being on time for everything – are also very “lazy”.

They often procrastinate by seeing a project as too hard or committing to it, only to get distracted by more important tasks. This can lead to missed deadlines and lost opportunities in the long term – especially for multi-disciplinary teams.

People with a “type A” personality tend to do better in the long run when they’re less busy and less rushed. They can put meetings off until they have more time or put things off until tomorrow.

How to reduce perfectionist tendencies in business

For entrepreneurs, the most important thing to do is to take control of their time, instead of being controlled by it. That means prioritising tasks and committing to them – but not obsessing about them. Accepting that what is OK today doesn’t have to be forever. These unrealistic expectations tend to get in the way of progress.

Or, focus on results rather than processes. When a project is complete, celebrate it – don’t look for reasons to find fault and criticise yourself or your team.

How can you stop procrastinating and get more done? One way is to make time for “mini-goals”, or smaller tasks that have one single goal (e.g. “collect sales report by 3pm”). Doing something small is a great way to get people from procrastinating too much to getting productive again.

Healthy striving is another technique, which involves realising that we are not perfect, nor will we ever be. Instead of thinking about perfection, think about doing the best you can and then celebrating the fact that you did it.

Another important step for entrepreneurs is knowing what your end goal is – and the steps needed in order to achieve it – are.

Work with a business coach

Of course, the most effective method is working with a business coach who will help you to outline your goals, determine the right strategies and tactics, and identify how you can achieve just the right amount of work to achieve those goals. They will also look at the core reasons that you’re afraid to fail, such as a lack of confidence. This can lead to a huge positive impact on your life and work since you’ll be more relaxed and prepared to try new things.

Create more success

If you’re an entrepreneur, executive, business owner or freelancer who’s feeling lost in a maze, I would be happy to lend a hand.

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