Why “perfectionism kills productivity” is a toxic mindset

This month, I am working on identifying and letting go of my perfectionist thinking.

As I have been reading about this topic, something I keep running into is a common perspective that views perfectionism as an obstacle to productivity and achievement.

This makes sense—perfectionism is often linked with procrastination. Because perfectionists are so worried about creating a “perfect” product, they put off getting started. They hate rough drafts because they can’t stand seeing an unfinished, imperfect version of their work.

For me, perfectionism can have almost an opposite effect. My perfectionism can lead me to work one something way earlier than needed, because I know I will spend more time overthinking and revising my work.

This gave me an idea. We can think of perfectionism as materializing in two ways—one that drives us to be productive and one that tends to block it. Both are bad. Both are driven by a mindset that we need to be perfect. Both are based on completely unrealistic standards of productivity and achievement.

Either way that you experience it, the mindset that “perfectionism kills productivity” is problematic. In many cases, perfectionism creates unrealistic standards for productivity in the first place.

Here are two articles that come up when I searched for how to let go of perfectionism:

  • Ways to Let Go of Perfectionism and Still Excel at Anything (Huffpost)
  • How to Be Your Most Productive Self: Let Go of Being Perfect (Trello)

In my opinion, these titles are contradictory. Perfectionism is what makes me feel like I need to excel at everything—it is what drives me to be my most productive self!

Here are some articles that I want to see instead:

  • Ways to Let Go of Perfectionism and Your Need to Excel at Everything
  • How to be Your Happiest Self: Let go of Your Perfectionist, Unrealistic Productivity Standards

As a society, we hold up productivity and achievement above all else. We see perfectionism as good if it helps people achieve or produce more. We only see it as bad when it becomes a “block” to productivity.

Rather, we need to see that perfectionism and unrealistic productivity standards are interconnected. Both are damaging and will not lead to a happy, healthy relationship with work.   

The combination of perfectionist and productivity-obsession can affect both individuals and teams. Both perfectionism and productivity are valued by our culture, and can show up in many workplaces.

This month, I have been keeping close track of any time that I find myself engaging in perfectionist thinking. Within only a few days, I had a major realization about perfectionism at work. Not only am I not the only one who suffers from perfectionism, I am not even the worst on my team.

Even when I tried to combat my own tendencies, someone else’s perfectionism would pop up and push me back towards my own.

I already knew that my workplace is obsessed with productivity. Now I realize that it, and probably a lot of other workplaces, has a perfectionist culture. We are expected to get a ton done and do it extremely well. This threw a bit of wrench in my plan for the month. Not only do I have to work on my own issues, but I have to do it in a culture that actively pushes me back towards my own negative patterns.

I will be continuing my experiment in challenging my own (and others) perfectionism through the rest of the month. I’ll check in with more insights and strategies.

Do you suffer from perfectionism or work on a perfectionist team? I would love to hear any tips you have for coping with it!

-M

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