You’ve been working on the same project for what feels like an eternity. Continuously scanning your work, you search for the elusive error you’re convinced is there but haven’t spotted yet. However, the reality is that it might not even exist. You’ve spent so much time on it that you’re now seeking problems where they likely don’t exist. It’s not even that you want to work on the project anymore; you’re just not ready to let go.
Striving for perfection can be positive, as it indicates you value quality. However, the fear of producing anything less than perfect can be paralyzing. Consequently, you end up spending excessive time on one project, which could be better utilized on the next one.
Learning to let go of your projects can not only help you overcome the need for perfection but also enable you to accept feedback and criticism more readily. Moreover, it frees up time for taking on new work. Here are five tips to help you move on to the next project in your life.
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1. Acknowledge the Problem
Of course, hindsight is 20/20, so you are likely aware if you are prone to this perfectionism overkill. The challenge lies in recognizing it in the moment.
By attempting to be self-aware, you can typically determine when you have spent too much time on a task. You might say things to yourself such as, "I should have gone home or to bed an hour or two ago," "I haven’t eaten all day!" or "I’ll work for just five more minutes, then call it a night."
However, when you check the clock, you realize another hour has passed, and you don’t have much to show for your efforts.
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2. Save and Step Away Immediately
Save a version of your work, then put down the mouse, close the laptop, set aside the tablet, or whatever you need to do. Just pull yourself away from your work for a while; you’re too close to it.
Unless you’re on a really tight deadline, I’d recommend stepping away for several hours. If not, consider taking the age-old advice of sleeping on it
If you are on a tight deadline, engage in a completely different activity for a short period: Take a 20-minute walk, grab a snack or a beverage, visit a co-worker, check your snail mailbox, or go to the store. Shift your mind into a mode other than "work, work, work."
3. Reset Your Frame of Mind
Return to the project with as fresh an attitude as you can muster, and the mindset that you will not invest too much additional time in it. It might be helpful to remind yourself of other projects you have not been able to work on because you have been so preoccupied with this one.
Upon returning, you may find that you feel less critical of the results you have achieved and only need to make a few minor adjustments.
Alternatively, you may discover that you are mentally finished with the project and ready to send it off without further consideration.
4. Don’t Get Sucked Back In
No matter what, do not allow it to tempt you again. If you have already acknowledged that you have devoted excessive time to something, you must cut yourself off.
Moreover, you are still unsure whether your client or boss will appreciate it. By sending it off, you can discover their opinion and receive feedback to either make improvements or consider it a success. However, you will never know if you continue laboring over it hour after hour.
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5. Adjust Your Behavior
If the pursuit of perfection has become an issue for you and you’ve recognized it, attempt to identify it within yourself in the future and modify your behavior (crucial for step one!). Merely acknowledging that such problems exist in the first place can significantly contribute to resolving them.
The compulsion to keep working on a project until it is perfect can strike anyone, on any task, even the most experienced and confident creative professionals. Considering the tips above can help you work through it and reduce the chances of it happening again in the future.
As you begin to complete projects more efficiently, instead of being obsessed with perfection, you will start seeking out the satisfaction of marking off another task on your list and enjoying the feeling of a job well done.