Monday, July 23, 2012

Be perfect on most important tasks only

Stress for Success

July 24, 2012

Why do some people need to have life be perfect? What are they afraid might happen if it isn’t? That they’ll be perceived as imperfect themselves? Why is that so bad?

Whatever drives an individual perfectionist, there’s help to overcome this stressful and fruitless tendency.

The most important lessons I learned in minimizing my own perfectionism was from my still favorite time management book, “How to Put More Time into Your Life” by Dr. Dru Scott (1980). She points the finger of blame for mismanaging time at personality traits, including perfectionism.

Dr. Scott encourages you to keep a time log at work and at home for one week. Every 15 - 30 minutes jot down what you just did: for example, you had a conference call for 30 minutes. List the meeting time – 8:30 – 9:00 - and brief notes about with whom you met and about what.

Scott then presents three categories into which everything you do can be divided:

• Central: The most important things you do leading most directly toward your top personal and professional goals. Her advice for these is to set aside the best time of your day with the fewest interruptions to focus on them. Include healthy self-care activities here, which is central to accomplishing everything else in your life.

• Secondary: The activities you must do, like bill paying, but they don’t lead you toward important goals. Schedule a specific time to do these tasks, like switch paying bills when they come in to paying them every Saturday morning.

• Marginal: The nit-picky details that don’t contribute to your important priorities, like chitchatting at work or house cleaning. Do marginal things only when you have nothing more important to do.

For many perfectionists, self-care doesn’t appear in any category. “I don’t have time,” is their complaint. Make it a priority and schedule time for it by putting marginal tasks where they belong: at the bottom of your list.

Categorize everything on your completed time log as central, secondary or marginal. (You can do this only by knowing your top goals and priorities.)

You’ll likely notice you spend an inordinate amount of time on marginal and secondary tasks. Lots of perfectionism falls into these categories. With increased awareness of Scott’s categories you can catch yourself investing too much energy into unimportant project details proving that you have more time than you thought. Reinvest that energy into more important tasks freeing up your time.
From my time log, I was shocked by how much time I spent on secondary and marginal tasks. This awareness (the first step to any change) motivated me to decrease my perfectionism on lower priority items and allowed it free reign on central tasks.

Whether a perfectionist or not, I challenge you to keep a time log for one week. If you’re expending more time on unimportant things to the detriment of higher priorities, realign your time investments. At least be imperfect on lesser tasks thereby reducing some stress that perfectionism creates.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness Coach. Order her book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple, at Email her to request she speak to your organization at

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Life still goes on without perfectionism
Stress for Success

July 17, 2012

You’re racing out the door on your way to work and out of the corner of your eye you notice a throw rug is turned up. What would you do: rush back to make it right or ignore it?

Or when you look in the mirror, do you see mostly what’s wrong with your appearance versus what’s right?

How do you think perfectionists would answer?

Take it from a recovering perfectionist, life really does go on when you let go of some of your too-high expectations of yourself and others. Plus, more realistic expectations lead to lower stress.

Women more than men, have been socialized to be perfect: perfectly nice and polite (I exaggerate only a little), to NEVER hurt anyone’s feelings, and to always be clean and smell good (this goes for their homes as well). And women are not to lose their tempers; it’s very unladylike.

I’ve known many a male perfectionist in my day but far more women.

Part of the problem for any perfectionist, male or female, is that we judge others by our own impossible standards. Who can live up to them? Because so few do we can become very judgmental of those who don’t, which creates more conflict.

Here’s a perfect (forgive the pun) definition of a perfectionist: “One who takes great pains and gives them to others.” (Source unknown) Ask anyone who works for or lives with a perfectionist. They appreciate this definition.

When you’re a perfectionist, you have multitudes of unmet expectations daily; therefore you compound normal every-day stress unnecessarily.

To decrease your perfectionist expectations of others start with this rule (be careful how you read this):

• “I won’t should on you if you won’t should on me.” (Source unknown)

When someone disappoints you, listen for the “shoulds” in your assessment of what’s wrong. For example, your boss didn’t give you any positive feedback on your recent project when everyone else told you how great it was. You heard yourself think or say to others, “I don’t understand bosses who give no positive feedback. I always compliment my employees.” The implied “should,” “She should give positive feedback.”

No doubt a boss “should” praise employees’ good work. But has she in the past? If not, what leads you to expect her to do so now? The stress is that in your perfectionist (and judgmental) eyes, it’s realistic to expect she’ll change. When she doesn’t (again) you’re stressed all over.

Can you also see the judgment of the boss is based on your own shoulds? “I always compliment my employees so other bosses should, too.” When you hold others to your own perfectionist standards you not only set yourself up for disappointment and stress, you also put yourself into the being the judge and jury of what is good. “Who died and left you in charge”, others whom you judge may wonder.

Stop shoulding on yourself and others. The degree to which you are successful will be the degree to which you’ll lower your stress.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness Coach. Order her book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple, at Email her to request she speak to your organization at

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Stress reduction themes from 408 articles
Stress for Success

July 3, 2012

This is my 408th article since November, 2003! Over the years there have multiple themes that keep reappearing. This week, I’m, highlighting four of these as a reminder of some of the most important lessons in managing stress.

First and foremost is the stress truism: stress is in the mind of the beholder. The bulk of your stress comes from how you perceive or interpret situations. Just look at drivers: some explode with road rage over the same situation that others just roll their eyes over. So stop blaming the situation or person you assume is causing your stress.

Hurling strong, negative labels at the others, like you’re stupid, rude, lazy, etc., means your perception is more of your stress than the event itself. The more strongly emotionally hooked you are, the more the stress is coming from yourself.

This is difficult to accept when you’re convinced, for example, your unfair boss is making your life miserable. But listen to what you think and say about her; the more negative your labels, the more your stress is coming from you. Your negative labels also mean you’re taking the situation personally. And this is where your stress reduction work can be accomplished. Instead of blaming the person, substitute your negative assumptions with asking, “What are my options?”

This leads to the second lesson: stop fussing and stewing over what’s beyond your control and problem-solve on what’s within your control. That ignorant moron of a driver is absolutely beyond your control. So is your unfair boss. The only thing within your control is how you choose to react. Blowing a gasket at them means you choose stress. Identifying options of how to deal differently with them means you choose stress management.

Choosing to react differently requires the third important theme: you must live consciously. When you automatically negatively judge others, you’re probably doing it unconsciously. You get emotionally hooked and Boom! Out comes your wrath. To become conscious you must observe yourself negatively labeling the other. Don’t change anything yet, just watch. Notice you’re pounding on the steering wheel at the ignorant moron of a driver. Notice you just labeled him an ignorant moron. Also observe that you’re yelling at him. Now, turn inward and become aware of your increased heart rate and faster breathing, both signs you’ve triggered your fight/flight response ordering the release of stress hormones to course through your system. Is the ignorant moron worth putting your health at risk? I hope not.

This leads to the fourth important point: every time you’re stressed by anything, little to huge, you release stress hormones into your body. You can tolerate a lot of this for a long time. But if it’s excessive and it lasts month after month, if not year after year, you’re doing unseen damage to your physical and emotional self and one day your physical roof caves in.

There are more themes but my 500 word limit is here. Thanks for reading my column over the years.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness Coach. Order her book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple, at Email her to request she speak to your organization at