It’s no secret that we’re pretty fussy about typos, spelling errors, and mistakes in general. We have ridiculously high standards for the work we produce, both for ourselves and for our clients. We even correct each other’s facebook posts.
However, we know that there is a fine line between high quality and that innocent-sounding evil: perfectionism.
“Perfectionism” sounds like one of those pat answers that people give during interviews when they’re asked to describe one of their negative qualities. When you’re a professional who specializes in making sure things are just so, this can be a sneaky way of answering the question without answering the question. It’s how people try to turn a negative into a positive.
But, the truth is, perfectionism is a synonym for the true evil in productivity and business: procrastination.
Focusing on tiny details and small problems can allow us to avoid facing larger, much more challenging issues. When we are feeling overwhelmed, lost, or downright burned out, we may start paying attention to the wrong things, the things that can be fixed easily and quickly. The things that don’t require your true, unique talent.
This can look like spending an inordinate amount of time on email, managing your calendar, and organizing paperwork. You don’t make any money doing it, but it still counts as “work*.” It might not move your business or your career forward, but you can still pat yourself on the back for a job well done, and wonder aloud why all your effort is not paying off - without taking responsibility.
Focusing on perfection is exactly how you miss opportunities. While you’re busy paying attention to all those nitpicky details, you’re not taking risks. You’re not engaging in the truly hard work that other people want to pay you for. You are spending time and energy that you do not have engaging in activities that other people can complete (potentially faster and better than you can), and you are, quite frankly, missing out.
Why did that other person, the one you know, the one who doesn’t know as much as you, or has a lower quality product, get the job that you should have had? Why did the client you knew was perfect for you walk away? Why is your bank account dwindling dangerously close to zero?
If you are executing perfectly, you are likely hanging out in your comfort zone. When you’re in your comfort zone, you aren’t exposing yourself to possibility. This is fine if you are happy with where your business is today, you have no intention of growing it—ever—and are open to it becoming a smaller business each month.
Life and business cycles move rapidly in the information age. What got you here isn’t going to get you over there. It’s not even going to keep you here. Perfectionism keeps you, and your business, small. If you’d like to spend more time over there, then you must lift your nose up from the details, accept that you will make mistakes—you must make mistakes—and start focusing on what matters.
You may not realize this, but how we manage inevitable mistakes is more telling about who we are, and whether we are worth working with than consistent (impossible) perfection could ever be. In fact, one of the ways we determine whether a team member is someone we want to keep for the long run is by watching how they deal with their own errors.
We would never, ever say that you should abandon your own high standards. Those standards are part of what makes your work so valuable. But you can ensure quality without sacrificing all that brain space, freeing up your time to work on strategy, growth, and building relationships.
Here are just a few ways you can build high quality into a sustainable, habitual, low-energy part of your business:
Use templates for everything: emails, letters, documents, and telephone calls. No one is comparing the email that you just sent to the one received by that other person they don’t even know. Besides, templates can trigger creativity, reduce the possibility of error, and increase the likelihood that you can delegate—freeing up even more of your time.
Build reviews into your process. The more eyes and perspectives on your output, the less likely an error will occur. Some of our work, and that of our clients, has been seen by more than 5 sets of eyes before it goes out.
Delegate the details. As a business owner and entrepreneur, you are at your most valuable when you are focused on the big-picture, strategic work. Look for someone who thrives on details…and just let that part of your business go.
Perfectionism didn’t get you here. Your ability to do, be, or produce something really special did. Don’t hide your procrastination behind a veil of details. Get out there, take risks, make mistakes - and hand those daily duties off to someone else, so you can concentrate on what makes you and your business valuable.
* Honestly, for whom is this counting though? Your mom? Your dog? When you’re running your own business, nobody counts the amount of work you do or your relative effort. They’re counting whether you’re doing the thing they want to pay you to do.