The Prioritization Checklist for Productive Perfectionists

Your eye for excellence sets you apart. You hold yourself and your work to high standards and push yourself to meet them, always. Your flawless execution is a differentiator that turns heads and creates career opportunities. But when does your self-oriented perfectionism go too far? Is it possible that your standards hinder your productivity? Various research studies show that perfectionism can decrease productivity and lead to burnout. A study investigating the perfectionist habits of professors found that it not only prevents productivity, but can also inhibit career growth. Through psychologist David Burns’ therapy sessions, he has learned that perfectionism thwarts happiness and efficiency.

A recovering perfectionist, I struggle with balancing my preference for perfection and the necessity of productivity. I previously took a perfectionist approach to all my work, but this always-on perfectionist mentality was exhausting and unproductive. Now, I prioritize my perfectionism to meet my standards when it counts and let go when it doesn’t.[bctt tweet="I struggle to balance my preference for perfection w/ necessity of productivity, says @cvwarner"]

Granted, the effectiveness of an idea relies on its execution. You could have a groundbreaking concept with immense potential but its brilliance can fail to come to fruition by a mediocre execution. However, the thing about perfection is that it’s relative. Your perception of perfect is likely different than mine.

To get insight from my peers, I posed a question on Twitter: Is done better than perfect? Or do you pursue perfection? It instigated inspiring insights leaning towards the get-it-done approach. Freelance writer Emma Siemasko tweeted, “You can spend hours ‘perfecting’ and end up worse off.” Iteration is critical for creation, so perfectionism can halt the creative process.

It is possible to strike a balance between perfection-seeking and productivity. So, how do you deal with being a perfectionist? As entrepreneur Evan Carmichael shares, “[Don’t] throw away all your standards and create crap—but don't let those standards get in the way of you actually doing something." Before diving into your next project, use this checklist to help you set priorities and manage your perfectionist personality type:


As you start to scrutinize, stop and ask, “Why?” Are you aiming for perfection just to please yourself, or is an impeccable touch needed to succeed with this project? Since perfectionism can be motivated by ego, sometimes the only one actually taking a critical eye is you. Recognize whether your perfection is motivated by internal or external expectations and adapt accordingly.[bctt tweet="Recognize whether your perfection is motivated by internal or external expectations, says @cvwarner"]


If the answer to “Why?” is tied to a high-impact result for you or your team, then your efforts may be warranted. Assess whether your excellence-driven approach is prudent given the value of the output. Is your project a crucial contribution to your career growth, workplace relationships, or bottom line? Or is it a personal passion without the same weight?[bctt tweet="Assess whether an excellence-driven approach is prudent given output value, says @cvwarner"]


Consider the audience of your work. Will it be reviewed by many as a reflection of your personal brand and work? Will it be presented to a few but important figures? Or will it be skimmed and quickly forgotten or discarded despite your thoroughness? Keep your audience in mind and cater your efforts based on their expectations.[bctt tweet="Keep your audience in mind + align your efforts w/ their expectations, says @cvwarner"]  


An essential criteria to your prioritization—linked directly to productivity—is your project’s deadline. Under the pressure of time, you can’t always perform to perfection. Don’t waste time refining the details, focus on communicating your ideas clearly. When time is of the essence, speed may need to trump your stringent eye.


The end product can sway your standards. Is the final deliverable concrete such as a document or does it also involve a presentation or voiceover? If it has a pitch element, pleasing your high standards can help you share and advocate for your ideas with confidence. When you’re not confident in the quality of your work, it can affect your ability to sell it.[bctt tweet="When you’re not confident in the quality of your work, it affects your ability to sell it—@cvwarner"]


Once you produce something to a specific standard, it sets expectations for future outputs. This can have a negative effect if a future project doesn’t meet those same standards. Ask whether or not you can consistently produce at that level. If not, you may want to scale back your perfectionism. 

If you’ve decided that a perfectionist approach is the way to go, make sure that you are open to iteration. Perfectionism can make you less receptive to feedback if you view your own standards as the be-all and end-all. Remember, perfection is relative. While a universal standard for perfection is fictional, excellence is attainable.  [bctt tweet="While a universal standard for perfection is fictional, excellence is attainable, says @cvwarner"]

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