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Use Time Constraints to Tackle Perfectionism (and Avoidance)

Colored window behind hourglass

It seems like there’s never enough time. Between what we feel we have to do and what we think we should do (to say nothing of what we’d rather be doing) every obligation begins to feel like an enormous time-suck, with everything taking way more time than it should – or maybe, more precisely, everything taking longer than we have. In short, unpleasant.

If you really want to minimize the unpleasantness, you first need to figure out if you have a tendency to treat your time in an open-ended fashion. Why? Because chances are that the more open-ended you are about allocating time for tasks, the more likely you are to fall behind overall.

Perfectionism compounds the unpleasantness. Let’s say that tonight we decide that it’s high time to complete a task and, of course, we plan to spend as much time as it takes to complete the task to absolute perfection, because what’s the point of doing something if it’s not going to be absolutely perfect in the end? Of course, the task winds up taking considerably more time than expected. We also planned to do other tasks tonight as well, so the open-ended perfection of the first task has created a domino effect. We’re falling behind.

Daunted by our continual open-ended, unmitigated perfectionism, we then look for comfort in the arms of outright avoidance. In other words, if we can’t do it to perfection, we won’t do anything at all.

Sound familiar?

If so, try constraining your time. Give yourself a finite amount of time for a particular task. Tell yourself, “I only have an hour to make this as good as I can,” and then get to it. Stop when the hour is up.

The dirty secret about perfection is that not everything needs to be perfect, and often times something just needs to be good enough.

But what if something needs to be perfect?

Then perfect away. But be honest about whether any one task needs the full perfection treatment. And doing something is always better than total avoidance.

Staff Blogger: Pete Kimchuk, Senior Learning Instructor

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