Selective Perfectionism by Meggin McIntosh, PhD

In Women
Jan 16th, 2014

Trying to be perfect–and expecting those around you to be perfect–creates a great deal of stress – and reduces productivity.

So let’s think about why perfectionism, instead of making us more productive, reduces our productivity:

Just for starters, consider how much time it “costs” to be perfect. Imagine that getting a task to 90% takes one unit of time (and that unit might be an hour, 6 hours, or 3 days). If you are going to take that task to “perfect,” or 100%, then it will take you another whole “unit” of time. Do the math. It takes twice as long to do something perfectly as it does to do it to a 90% standard.

There are times we need work toward perfection..and other times, we don’t. Here are ten productivity tips for practicing what I call “selective perfectionism:”

Tasks that probably need to be as close to perfect as humanly possible include:

  1. Doing surgery.
  2. Creating, checking, and rechecking a budget you are submitting for a federal grant.
  3. Scoring SAT, ACT, GRE, MCAT, and other high stakes tests and exams.
  4. Preparing for a major speech, address, or interview.

There are tasks in any of the above categories that do not need to go all the way to 100%, but then there are the others that deserve every bit of attention and practice we can possibly do.

I’m sure you have a few others that you might think need to get close to perfect, but here are some tasks that do NOT need to be taken to perfect (and where 90% will probably work fine):

  1. Writing memos. Just get the information in there, check it for spelling, content, etc. and send that memo on its way.
  2. Cleaning your house (no matter who is coming over).
  3. Creating a handout for a class you are teaching.
  4. Putting on make-up and fixing your hair.
  5. Organizing almost anything. The idea is to have items where you need them when you need them and to be able to find them, but having your books, files, spices, shoes, etc. referenced and cross-referenced….that’s over the top.
  6. Putting out your holiday letter (or other greeting cards, etc.) Communicate and send your greeting.  Period.  Done.

If you are a perfectionist (and you might know this to be true–or just ask those around you), then take this week’s ideas to heart, please.  I always tell people in my workshops that if you try to take everything to 100%, then you won’t have the time really to take the most important things to “perfect.”  Practice selective perfectionism, please.

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