How to Overcome Perfectionism

If you're looking to perfect your perfectionism, keep your eye fixed on process, not output.

Stever Robbins
4-minute read
Episode #489

done is better than perfect quote

Today we’ll be talking about perfectionism.

Let's take the following scenario: Bernice, proprietor of the Green Growing Things plant stores, decided she wanted to launch a course for her customers on the care and feeding of Audrey II plants. She put together an outline, subscribed to an online webinar service, and began to design the outline. For each topic, she recorded a video. Halfway through the course, she realized that the video made her look, well, bluish. She took a course on video production and realized her white balance was off, and decided to re-record the videos.

Then she realized that the checkout process for the webinar subscription was awkward. Surely, she should streamline that. And that means getting a payment processor that integrates with her webinar service. 

By the time she got all that set up, technology had advanced and she realized that a 4:3 video aspect ratio was so…so…retro, and she should reshoot the video in 16:9 aspect ratio instead.

Five years later, she’s still working on getting the project perfect. No one but her has seen a moment of the video. 

You’ll Never Reach the Perfect Output

Bernice is shooting for perfection of her finished product. Unfortunately, perfection of the output is a moving target. As you learn more and more about what you’re creating, you can simply raise your standards. Back before vacuum cleaners, the perfectly clean floors basically meant floors you could eat off of…and only get one or two mouthfuls of dirt.

Once vacuum cleaners came on the scene, however, standards changed. A perfect floor become one that you could eat off of with only one mouthful of dirt. And then eventually, no dirt. And now, perfection even includes anti-bacterial scrubs, whiteners, color brighteners, and all kinds of things. Outcome perfection is a moving target.

Perfection is In the Process

What you can perfect is the process. First off, expand your definition of “perfection” to include a time period. Instead of the best outcome you could possibly produce, shoot for the best outcome you can produce by a specific date. Bernice’s definition of perfection does not need to be a course shot in technicolor. It does need to be the best course she can create and still deliver by the time the store has its spring sale.

Furthermore, after the Spring Sale will be a Summer Sale. Then a Fall Sale. And then a Winter Sale. and then another Spring Sale. When we’re approaching a deadline, it always seems like that deadline is the date when, well, we’ll drop dead if we miss it. But actually that rarely happens. And if it does, we won’t care that we missed the deadline, because we’ll be dead. Or zombified. And if we don’t drop dead, then we’re still alive, and we can work on the next version of our product then.

Yes, I said “next version.” Bernice can produce a quick and dirty series of videos now, and then produce higher-quality versions over time once these are out in the field. In fact, if she notices that out of her 12 video series, only the videos on Audrey II tentacle care are getting many views, she might only have to produce that one video to professional standards.


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.