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Is being a perfectionist at work a bad thing?

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Kerrie-Anne Chinn, Content & Editorial Manager
2016-11-16

Being a perfectionist at work may seem like a good thing – to others, you probably look like a person who gets things done and gets them done properly.

In the workplace, you most likely appear as efficient, confident and well organised, checking things off a perfectly written to-do list while always looking busy and in control. But can being a perfectionist at work be a bad thing? You might be surprised to learn that telling recruiters or interviewers you’re a perfectionist could actually be holding you back.

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Studies show that perfectionism is linked to depression, anxiety and a range of other mental health issues. You’ll also be at higher risk of burning out at work, so it’s vital to your wellbeing to get perfectionism under control.

Learning how to manage your perfectionist behaviour will prove positive for your productivity, self-confidence and working relationships. Let’s look at some steps you can take to start dealing with perfectionism at work.

Recognise that Your Perfectionism is Getting Out of Hand

The first step is recognising that your constant strive for perfection is causing you stress or issues at work. As bestselling author and president of TalentSmart, Dr Travis Bradberry, says “to defeat perfectionism, you have to learn to spot when it’s holding you back.

Most perfectionists hide themselves behind hard work, appearing constantly busy and always in motion. While this may look super productive, the need to do everything perfectly can actually have a negative impact on productivity – spending so much time on making each task perfect, means less things are actually delivered and achieved.

When you let go of this need to be perfect and get your tendencies under better control, you’ll find you can actually work less while getting more done.

Embrace Feedback – Even the Bad Stuff

Because perfectionists care so deeply about their work, they can often find it hard to hear feedback, taking it personally and often straight to the heart. They can even get quite defensive or upset, as well as disappointed in themselves and their work.

However, feedback – particularly “negative” feedback – is a critical part of professional development, allowing employees to continually grow and learn. If you struggle to receive feedback from managers or workmates, try not to take it personally and embrace their comments as an important learning curve.

Accept that Mistakes are a Part of Life

Everyone makes mistakes. So when something goes wrong, go a little easier on yourself.

Viewing the smallest of mistakes as epic failures makes you less resilient to every day challenges. To succeed at work, you need to have the ability to bounce back from your mistakes and show resilience to challenges.

It’s important to also accept mistakes in others. Perfectionists can be highly critical of colleagues and workmates because they hold everyone to the same high standard to which they hold themselves. Try and let go of the need to criticise and judge the people around you.

Develop Confidence in Your Work

As hard as it is to hear, perfectionism can actually be a sign of low confidence in your work.

While colleagues and managers may assume you are confident because of your high quality work, they probably don’t see the deliberation and doubt that lies behind each piece. Not to mention the constant drafting and re-drafting!

Perfectionists always feel like they’re coming up short. This means they often don’t have the self-confidence to go ahead with a new concept or challenge, for fear that it won’t be good enough.

As Dr Bradberry explains, “perfectionists’ hard work, research, and attention to detail produce novel ideas… unfortunately, their great ideas are often placed on the back burner because of their fear of risk.

Next time you feel yourself scared of putting an idea or project out there, think about the risk of not making a move at all. The worst thing that can happen is that your idea or piece of work is knocked back, in which case you try again next time. This is the best way to build confidence in your work.

Stop Procrastinating – Just Get it Done!

One of the biggest problems with perfectionism is that it can cause constant procrastination.

Because deep down, you may not have confidence in your work and are scared of criticism or rejection, perfectionists can often become paralysed. Even the most ordinary tasks, like replying to an email, can become daunting when you’ve talked yourself into a perfectionist downward spiral.

When everything on your list needs to be done perfectly it can become so overwhelming that you end up completely frozen, unable to produce anything or meet your deadlines.

To avoid this, be realistic about the significance and priority of your everyday tasks – sometimes you need to realise that getting something finished and off your list is the most important thing, even if it’s only 80% “perfect” to you.

So next time you find your perfectionist tendencies taking over your work life, take a deep breath and think about all of these steps. Then make a start on that exciting new project, put forward your great idea, or post your work online for the world to see. After all, what’s the worst that can happen?

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