How your perfectionism is killing your productivity

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The essence of being human is that one does not seek perfection. -George Orwell

Who are Perfectionists?

Perfectionists are people who strive to meet very high, often unrealistic, standards in all aspects of their life.

Dr. Randy Frost of Smith College, Massachusetts has designed a scale to measure perfectionism. Six different dimensions have been identified: concerns over mistakes, personal standards, parent expectations, parental criticism, doubting of actions, organization.

Expectations of reality are often idealized and the practicality aspect is ignored. When these expectations of how things should be ideally fall out of sync with what the reality is, a surge of negative emotions overwhelms these people.

The higher your expectations, the more the chances of disappointment or failure.

Perfectionists who criticize themselves excessively are prone to psychological and physical illnesses such as depression, alcoholism, coronary heart disease, obsessive-compulsive disorder, suicide, anorexia nervosa, writer’s block. It’s a life filled with misery.

I used to be one. Sometimes, I still find myself having perfectionist thoughts and behaviours. But at some point 3 years ago, I realized my perfectionistic ideals had gone too far. It had become a compulsion, it was hindering my everyday activities and consequent success.

I would not hand in assignments (worth a good 10%-20% of course weight), because I felt I couldn’t do it “justice”, which was just my way of convincing myself that I hadn’t done anything wrong. I didn’t have time to make it perfect, so I justified my actions by thinking “it’s better not to hand in anything at all than to hand in average work”.

Then there were the personal feelings of failure or disappointment that accompanied any minor setbacks. Over the years, I would gave up on many dreams and tasks at the first signs of trouble. I believed that in this way, I hadn’t actually “failed” from achieving my goals in the “perfect way” that I expected or wanted to.

Other times, I caught myself trying to micro-manage other peoples actions and lives. I feared becoming a control freak. If I’d let it carry on, I have no doubts that it would have resulted in ruined relationships. Afterall, no one likes people who step on their toes or interfere with their lives for their personal neurotic insecurities and needs.

I also suffered from extreme procrastination. Why? I told myself that “it had to be just perfect, and often that meant I’d save it for later when I could perform my best”. This time often didn’t approach until the last minute case, in which case it wasn’t my best work anyway. It was a perfect excuse to be lazy and non productive.

But I didn’t realize the negative influences my ideologies were having on my life for a very long time. And admitting that I had this problem was the most important and difficult step. Thankfully though, once I did accept it, working on a better ideology of “productivity” only got easier.


What is Productivity?

Productivity is the state or quality of producing something, used especially in agriculture or industries. It is a term rarely used to gauge personal progress.

But I am a strong advocate for defining a productivist as a person who strives toward “achieving results” in all aspects of their lives. This person is focused on getting things done. They believe that having something is better than having nothing at all.

This “something” doesn’t mean that they are sub-par achievements. But even if they were, I would argue that average yet tangible products or results are better than above-average ideal imaginary ones.


Why seeing results is better than incomplete idealized expectations?

If unhealthy personality traits (such as self-criticism, intolerance) don’t get in the way, there is an inherent sense of accomplishment and pride with all personal creations and achievements.

Ever since I started working on the cause, I’ve found myself feeling liberated, like a heavy bag of potatoes has been taken off a mule’s back. I don’t have these unrealistically high expectations and standards that I constantly have to keep trying to meet.

I accepted the reality that nothing and nobody is perfect.

And there is no point trying to achieve ideas of perfection because they do a lot more harm than any good. Perfect is a subjective unattainable state. You end up draining out all your energy, positivity and efficiency.

It’s like chasing after a mirage in a desert.

Be practical, seek productive goals and results.

You’ll find yourself a much happier and carefree person. You’ll actually be much more likely to achieve success because you can focus all your energy and time on doing your best without the negative self-criticism and self-doubt.

Try it! You’ll thank yourself, first for taking an active step and also for doing it sooner rather than later.

You don’t want to be on your deathbed thinking you could have lived a better, more “perfect” life.

Instead, take the time now to change your thinking. Learn to let go of idealized versions of reality. Stop being afraid of making the wrong decisions and not achieving perfection. You will feel more empowered and less regretful.

A much better way to live life, in my opinion.