How to Use 'Good Enough' to Beat Perfectionism

Perfectionism is caused by the illusion of immortality. Take away that illusion, and you'll get things done, pronto.

Stever Robbins
4-minute read
Episode #497

how to stop perfectionism

They say you teach what you most need to learn. Today, I am here to teach about overcoming perfectionism. Sometimes, extreme attention to perfecting every detail simply gets in the way. And by golly, I’ll show you how to overcome it, if I have to dot every “i” and cross every “t” myself, with a .4mm Turquoise Pilot G-Tec-C pen. 

Perfection is caused by immortality

If you’re a perfectionist, it’s only because some part of your brain believes you’ll live forever. After spending 17 hours painstakingly adjusting the spacing between the fonts on our business card, some part of my brain thought, “wow! This perfectionism stuff really takes time. Fortunately, I’ll live forever.” *Record Screech*

Er, back up there. What’s this about living forever? My brain was confused, and yours might be, too.

I created a program called Get-It-Done Groups, which is an accountability program to help self-employed people build new habits and finish projects they’ve been working on forever. Originally, it was going to take months to get started, what with all the videos and handouts and stuff that was going to be ready for the program’s rollout.

I was eagerly telling my friend David about it when he looked me sternly in the eye and said, “Get it done. Now.”

Give yourself a time limit

Then David did what I’d never done for myself: he gave me a hard, fast time limit. “You have three hours. You can use it all at once, or a little at a time. But you must launch as soon as you’ve done three hours total work on the program.”

Choose an area where you’ve been taking forever, because you’ve been a perfectionist. Maybe you’re writing the novel you’ve been dreaming of your whole life. Or working on your first YouTube video. Or knitting exciting underwear for your shmoopies. Whatever it is, give yourself a time limit, and make it small. Under eight hours. That means you have One Day to get it done.

Use a timer. Make it visible.

Now get yourself a timer app that you can pause and resume. After trying 139,000 timer apps, my favorite is Multitimer for the iPhone. I created a three-hour timer that could be started and stopped when I worked on Get-it-Done Groups.

That timer watched every moment of work on the Get-It-Done Group pilot, counting down from three hours.

The countdown really heightens the awareness of how long things take: putting together the shopping cart, writing the web page, and designing the actual course. With two hours and five minutes left, about 3/4 of the work was left to complete. Something had to change.

Make a “high chunk” version of your project plan

What had to change was the perfectionism. That immortal part of the brain? It suddenly realized that there were only 125 minutes left to get everything done. That changed the driving question from “What needs to get done?” into “How is it possible to get everything good enough in two hours and five minutes?”


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.