George Halachev
Jan 3, 2017 · 5 min read
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Perfectionism is a big obstacle when it comes to productivity. Instead of focusing on what’s important, we waste time trying to make everything perfect.

How many days have you wasted obsessing over insignificant details? And when it was all over, did you wish you had that time back to invest it into something more important?

Why We Seek Perfection

When you’re working on a project or task, it’s all about the objective that you have in mind. The goal that you’re working towards.

However, we’re not always consciously thinking about the goal or objective. In fact, in most cases it’s unconscious.

Here are some goals that might be in your head while your perfectionism is in high gear:

  • I want to be satisfied with my work.
  • I want to do it better than everybody else.
  • I want my boss to like me more.
  • I want my colleagues to respect me more.
  • I want this to make a ton of money.
  • I want my mom to be proud of me.

These “goals” sound a bit ridiculous. It’s as if a 7-year-old wrote them. But that’s just how our brains operate in the background. We have subconscious needs and motivations that creep into our work.

So instead of focusing on what’s really important and what our real aim is, we end up serving our subconscious needs and desires. Like the desire for approval.

A Better Alternative to Perfectionism

Instead of slaving to your subconscious mind, you’ll be much better off if you set the goal consciously. If you are really clear about your objective. Or as Stephen Covey said, “Begin with the end in mind.”

Write what you really want to get out of your work and what you’re willing to give in return.

For example, if I apply the concept for this article it would go something like this:

  1. Reach and serve as many people struggling with perfectionism as possible.
  2. Spend a maximum of 4 hours working on the article and move on.

The first point is making sure that I focus on the real purpose of the article and what I want to achieve with it.

The second point is to define the constraints. To make sure that I don’t waste time obsessing over small, insignificant details.

If I didn’t have those two points to guide me I would constantly waste time to serve my subconscious needs like, “I want to do it better than everyone else.”

80/20 Rule & Diminishing Returns

Even if you set your aim consciously, however, the perfectionism impulse isn’t going to magically disappear. You’ll still have to put in some effort to stay focused on what’s important. But staying aware of the goal makes it much easier than just going with the flow.

A very simple way to start overcoming that perfectionism impulse is to apply the 80/20 rule. Also known as the Pareto principle.

The rule says, “80% of the results are coming from 20% of the effort.” It means that when you’ve put 20% of the time working on your task, you’re already 8/10’s done.

The more time and effort you keep putting in after that, the less effective you’ll be.

For example, I can write the draft for the article in about 60 minutes. In those 60 minutes, the article is about 80% done. You will get 80% of the value even if I stopped after an hour of work.

For the remaining 3 hours, I might do things like:

  • Format the article so it looks good.
  • Fix spelling and grammar mistakes.
  • Research the facts to make sure they’re correct.
  • Find an appropriate header image.

All of these would add much less value to the article than expressing the main idea in the first 60 minutes.

The 80/20 numbers are a very broad generalization, but the rule is based on the idea of diminishing returns.

A point at which the level of profits or benefits gained is less than the amount of money or energy invested.

Or in other words, the more you keep working on something, the fewer results you’ll get in return.

Prioritize, prioritize, and prioritize some more!

Cutting 80% of your working time isn’t automatically going to leave you with the most effective work. The 80/20 rule applies to tasks and to-dos, not time. The rule works only if you figure out which of the tasks are on the 80% side of the equation.

So how do we do that? We start with the end in mind. The objective.

Using this article as an example again, I’ll take my two goals:

  1. Reach and serve as many people struggling with perfectionism as possible.
  2. Spend a maximum of 4 hours working on the article and move on.

Then my 5 tasks:

  1. Write the draft.
  2. Format the article so it looks good.
  3. Fix spelling and grammar mistakes.
  4. Research the facts to make sure they’re correct.
  5. Find an appropriate header image.

Now that I have my goals and tasks written out, it’s easy to pick the top 20% of the tasks that will give me the most results for this goal.

For me, the top 20% is just writing the draft. That’s where I should spend the majority of my time if I want to get the most results.

In the case of an article, that’s really easy and obvious. But when you’re working on more complicated projects, prioritizing is crucial. It helps to not get lost in the insignificant tasks and get the most bang for your buck.

What are you working on right now that you’re trying to make perfect? What is the true objective of your project? What are some of the tasks that are not going to make much of a difference?

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.

George Halachev

Written by

Online coach and blogger focusing on productivity and building better habits. www.georgehalachev.com

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.

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