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 http://www.letyourbodywin.com/bookstore.html. Email her to request she speak to your organization at firstname.lastname@example.org.