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How to Overcome Perfectionism in the Workplace

Perfectionism is the fear of being wrong.


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Brooke Harrison

4 months ago | 3 min read
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Ask for feedback early and often

I can’t tell you how many times I “sat” on projects at work because I was chasing perfectionism.

It wasn’t because I was slow or because I didn’t want to do the work. It was because I wanted to get the project or the pitch exactly right. I thought I needed to cross all my t’s and dot all my I’s before sharing my work with the team.

A desire to produce quality work can be a strength (craftsmanship), or a crippling weakness (perfectionism).

Allow me to pull you back from the edge.

What I learned was this: I needed to ask for feedback early and often.

Why Early Feedback Works

The first time I wrote web copy for a client, it took me days to power through the assignment. And even then, I wasn’t convinced I’d nailed it, but I was running out of time.

I was determined to hand over a completed draft for my boss’s review. Know what happened? She skimmed the first page of my copy and told me the tone wasn’t quite right — the text needed to be more conversational.

I had a lot of revising to do.

The sooner you ask for feedback, the better. Don’t wait until you’re finished.

The last thing you want is to waste hours going down the wrong road, only to find out you’ve done something incorrectly, and you’re out of time to fix it. A simple course-correction could have saved you a lot of time and effort.

Common Misconceptions About Sharing Your Unfinished Projects

It may seem like an obvious suggestion. But few people are willing to ask for feedback in the early stages of a project, thanks to these misconceptions:

You’re asking for “help.”

The idea of asking for help bothers us because we don’t want people to think we don’t know what we’re doing.

We do want to prove we’re indispensable. And if you’re always asking for help, the higher-ups will worry that you can’t do your job.

Of course, there’s a right and a wrong way to ask for feedback.

The WRONG way: “What am I supposed to do, and how am I supposed to do it?”

VS.

The RIGHT way: “Am I moving in the right direction?”

The point here is to bring suggestions or solutions to the table. It’s easier for your boss to provide feedback when there’s something to review.

When you approach your boss before you’ve started, you’re asking for help. The only thing to do is to discuss ideas that have yet to be implemented. There’s a time for that — it’s called brainstorming.

When you show your work, you’re asking for feedback.

Expectations are low for an unfinished piece. There’s less pressure. Breaking up the project and asking for early feedback allowed me to combat my perfectionism.

It’s simple — at this stage, either you’re moving in the right direction or not.

  • If NOT you’ve saved yourself time, and you’re armed with more information.
  • If YES you have the validation you need to continue moving forward.

Be willing to learn something! Asking for feedback shows humility and a desire to improve.

You’re wasting someone’s time.

As a newbie at work, I was terrified of wasting my boss’ time. Bosses are busy people. Surely they don’t have the time to answer my questions.

This isn’t the case.

And if you’ve been given reason to feel this way (i.e., your higher-ups make it clear they don’t have time for you), let me say this: that’s just poor leadership. The best leaders invite your questions so they can teach you something.

Most likely, your boss will appreciate your initiative.

When I worked on the web project, I didn’t realize that my boss could be a valuable resource. Thanks to her experience and her intimate knowledge of the client, she identified the problem in a 5-minute skim over my work.

Your boss’ time is valuable — but believe me when I say they’re usually more than willing to give you five minutes if it will ensure a project is heading in the right direction.

Overcoming Your Perfectionism

At its ugliest, perfectionism is the fear of being wrong. And that, my friends, is pride.

Don’t wait until you’re finished to seek advice. Ask for feedback early and often. This simple strategy will help you overcome procrastination and perfectionism at work.

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Brooke Harrison

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