Some of us have a strong need to get things just right before we are ready to give a presentation or turn in a big project. Although attention to detail can be a good thing in theory, this perfectionism at work can also be a big problem. Is it an easy problem to solve? Understanding where perfectionism comes from can help to illuminate the solution.
Researchers are still in the process of trying to get to the root of where perfectionism comes from. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, many twin studies have been done to help figure it out. “In one study of 292 twins, published in January in the journal Depression and Anxiety, the identical twins had much more similar scores on measures of perfectionism and anxiety then the fraternal twins did, suggesting that their genetics had a stronger influence than their environment.” Identical twins are 100% genetically identical, and fraternal twins are only 50% genetic matches, so the evidence from this study does strongly suggest a genetic link to perfectionism.
However, genetics does not hold complete control over perfectionist behaviors. If you have a problem with perfectionism at work, it may cause you to miss deadlines or have altercations with sloppy colleagues. And according to the Wall Street Journal, “experts say that perfectionism can become toxic when people set standards that are impossibly high and believe they are worthless if they can’t meet them.” Fortunately, there are many ways to begin to retrain yourself into practicing healthier and less stressful workplace behaviors.
Relieve Perfectionism in the Workplace
1. Let go of your need to control everything.
Sometimes perfectionism is a tactic we use to try to manage our stress level. If we seem to be in control of every single detail, then perhaps a task may seem more manageable. However, perfectionism often causes more stress than it relieves, so it is generally not a very effective tactic.
2. Practice stress relief.
In order to let some of the perfectionism go, it may be helpful to you to alleviate some of the stress you experience at work. Take breaks periodically to exercise, to laugh with coworkers, and to take your mind off of your work for a short time.
3. Cultivate work-life balance.
Better work-life balance will help reduce burnout and give you perspective on what really matters. If you spend more time with family and friends, more time exercising and getting fresh air, or more time pursuing your outside interests, you are likely to find that the typesetting for the event invitations isn’t quite as crucial as it seemed a few hours before.
4. Leave a few mistakes behind.
Some therapists recommend deliberately leaving a few mistakes in place to increase your comfort level with imperfection, a technique commonly called exposure therapy. This can help you gradually rewire the circuits in your brain that insist on perfection.
5. Set manageable priorities.
It is not humanly possible to complete every task perfectly every time. It just isn’t. Decide for yourself what the most important things are, and spend the most time on those. But give yourself a time limit and hold yourself to it, even if you could in theory make that intra-office memo even more Pulitzer-worthy if you spent a few more hours on it.