Recently, I have started listening to podcasts rather than music while working out. I have found this to be a wonderful way to take full advantage of those thirty minutes and learn something new. Though I’ve only listened to a handful of episodes so far, I have been greatly enjoying Michael Hyatt’s weekly podcast This is Your Life. It may all be down to his excellent episode on perfectionism that has completely transformed the way I have been approaching various projects.
I have been frustrated with the fact that I have not been making as much progress on some of my projects as I would like to, and in some cases those projects seem to be stagnating. For the longest time, I blamed this on laziness and procrastination. I tried to cure this problem by organizing my time more efficiently with the Pomodoro technique, and, in part, this worked. I wrote the Study Smarter eBook in a matter of weeks, and I couldn’t wait to publish it on my site. But then came rounds of revisions and formatting edits. The project ended up dragging out longer than I had wanted it to. Finally, one day I had had enough and decided to just go ahead and upload it to the website. Relief. And success! I had published my first eBook!
Listening to the podcast on perfectionism suddenly put all of that into perspective. I hadn’t been lazy about completing my eBook, nor had I been procrastinating. It was just that I was obsessing over everything being absolutely perfect.
When I stopped to think of my other projects that seemed to be taking forever to finish or that I had abandoned or that I had never even been able to start, I realized that an unattainable goal of perfectionism was lurking below the surface of each one.
Exhibit A: I want to write a novel. I’ve always wanted to write a novel. I have a plot of a novel that I came up with this summer. But it is historical fiction, and what if all of my facts aren’t right? I’ll have to do a lot of research, and the plot has to be airtight, and character sketches will have to be written out beforehand.
Exhibit B: I want to start regularly producing content for my YouTube channel. But first I need to write a script, and then the lighting will have to be perfect as well as the audio and my hair and makeup.
Exhibit C: I want to start a blog on nicolebianchi.com. But first the design must look incredibly professional (working for five years as a web designer makes me a bit fanatical in this regard), and then I’ll have to have my about page all written up and ready to go, as well as a nice logo and a catchy tagline.
Result: Well, inaction for just a bit. But then I threw my excuses out the window, and I went ahead and did it. I deactivated the coming soon plugin and pushed my infant blog out into the world for all to see.
And this means, of course, that I can actually start producing content and building readership of my blog at the same time as I am busy tweaking everything else, rather than waiting for everything to be perfect before I begin.
Here are five steps I took to change my thinking in order to escape the perfectionism trap:
1. It’s not the final draft
The wonderful thing in today’s Internet age is that nearly everything can be edited even after it is published, from blog posts to Facebook comments to Kindle books. I know for myself as a perfectionist that it makes me a bit less nervous if I think about a project as in the beta testing stages once published rather than an un-editable final copy. I can continue to improve the project at my leisure.
In some mediums this is slightly more difficult, for example: YouTube videos. But even then it isn’t the end of the world if there is an error. I was once called out in the comments section of one of my YouTube videos for a typo (which goes to show that errors can slip past us perfectionists no matter how hard we try). By that point the video had already been liked over a hundred times, watched over thirty thousand times, and I had uploaded four more videos. I replied back to the commenter, thanking him for his observational skills and telling him that I hoped he had still found the video useful. I realized that if I hadn’t published my video (errors and all) when I did, it would never have been able to help all of those thousands of people, nor would I have been able to create the next four videos to upload to my channel. Obsessing over mistakes takes time away from moving forward with other projects.
2. It doesn’t have to be perfect to be valuable
Of course, there are some instances where perfection should be striven for: if you are a brain surgeon or designing an automobile. However, most of the time, a project doesn’t have to be 100% perfect in order to help and inspire someone.
Michael Hyatt points out in his podcast that people often confuse perfection with excellence. We think that we have done a poor job if a project isn’t perfect. That just isn’t true. Perfection is a vague goal, and it is usually an unachievable one. We should strive to create work we are proud of, and then share it as quickly as we can with the world. Stop thinking in terms of whether your work is perfect. Think instead: is it valuable? Have I worked passionately to create a final product that will help others?
3. Set deadlines and follow through
There’s always the urge to make one more edit before hitting publish. By setting a strict deadline for the completion date of a project, I prevent myself from dragging it out ad infinitum. It provides an impetus that helps me focus and stop procrastinating. If I’m working on an especially large project, I can break it down into smaller steps and set deadlines for each of those individual parts. For example, when I was working on my eBook, I set deadlines for each chapter.
4. Don’t compare yourself to others
Sometimes with my favorite YouTube channels, I click back to see their oldest videos. Most of the time these videos are cringe worthy compared to what those channels are uploading today: from bad lighting and audio to palpable awkwardness on camera. Moral of the story: everyone starts at the bottom, and then gradually gets better with practice. Our first work will never be our best work because we are always improving.
Banishing perfectionism means reminding myself not to compare myself to others except to learn from their mistakes, imitate what they are doing right, and be inspired by their successes.
5. Take action
When you’ve been swallowed up by perfectionism for so long, it can be hard to know what to do first. I spend a lot of time on the planning stages of a project, and this means I often sink deeper and deeper into the procrastination quicksand. Planning is worth nothing without action. A storyboard is not a movie. It’s just a storyboard.
So I looked at my latest project (this blog), and I thought to myself how can I take action right now? What is the most advantageous step I can take to bring my writing closer to seeing the light of day?
Obviously, all that was needed was to hit publish.