Going beyond Perfectionism in 6 Steps

Going beyond Perfectionism in 6 Steps
7 min read

Perfectionism: Extreme or obsessive striving for perfection, as in one’s work.

-Webster’s New World College Dictionary

Voor Nederlands, klik hier.

This article is about perfectionism and how to deal with it.

I have decided to write it in one stretch and not to take days (or weeks) for it. Also, I will not let anyone check it before publication. Often, I do this to make sure that my blogs are of real value to you, that I do not forget anything or that there are no errors in it.

Perfectionism = fear

Actually, perfectionism is about fear: fear of failure, to goof off during a presentation or to be rejected. The result is that I spent way too much time on research and self-reflection. In addition, it keeps me from doing other tasks because I have to think about it all the time. I want improve the article quickly with something new that can also be of help for you (or to impress you…).

The other effect is that I am not focused, that I worry and that it takes too much time to complete it. Sometimes I get stressed and sleep badly. Perfectionism can lead to too much strain or even to a Burn-out.

Do you recognize this? I do understand that you want to make a good impression and deliver good product. That I also what I want, but it has not to affect your health in a bad way. Below, I am giving you 6 steps that might help you to go beyond perfectionism. In taking these steps, you can let go of your work, be more creative, experience more joy and happiness and be calmer. (also read: 100 ways to experience more joy and happiness).

1. Perfection does not exist!

The definition in the Webster’s New World College Dictionary hints towards this. Perfection is never to be achieved! You  will always strive for more. There will always be a change in  conditions which will make your work less perfect. Yesterday, I heard on the radio that a grasshopper was found on a painting (In the series of the Olive trees) by Van Gogh. It was only a part of a very small insect. According to some, the painting can be considered less perfect (it is dirty!). Or not? I think that the painting has become unique. Perfectionism is subjective. What is perfect for me can be far from it for you.

2. Manage expectations

So, communicate with others in your team. The expectations of your customer or colleague can be different from what you have in mind. For a perfectionist it is either “perfect” or “not perfect”. Accept that it can also be “some-perfect”.

After you have defined all the framework conditions and parameters of your calculation, you usually start with your calculations. It may occur that new information (or alternatives) will become available over time. Often this means that you will need to redo your calculation, your annex or that you must adjust the report. First, consult with the client, colleague or project manager.

These additional tasks will have an effect on planning and budget. Especially, this is important to new projects based on the Design, Build, Finance & Maintain model.

Make clear agreements on what is expected of you and what you can deliver and when. That may also mean that you will need help from another colleague or more time to finish something. By managing expectations, you do not have to worry about what others will think. They already know what they will get from you.

3. Set goals and make a planning (with small tasks)

Write down what you want to achieve and by when. Sketch a clear picture of what you are going to deliver. For example: Today I will finish this article before lunch break. I can still find nice quotes or make a worksheet for you but at 12 o’clock, this work is good and done. What helps very well is the 1 + 3 + 5 planning tool (also read: 12 keys to create balance in your engineering career).

Often, perfectionists are stuck in a task because they want to complete it perfectly. If you make your task small, it is also done faster and you can go to the following task. Do not spend any more time on the first task. Like this, you will work faster and you will still deliver sound work.

4. Recognize the perfectionist!

Maybe, you are the perfectionist or maybe it is someone else. Perfectionism can be a habit that is not good for you or the team. Often you are not aware of this. Ask a colleague to tell you if you are stuck in this habit of perfectionism. Discuss it, make new agreements or go to step 5.

5. Take a break

Are you stuck in perfectionism? Take a break. Do something different. Go for a walk. If necessary, take a colleague along to come up with new ideas. (Also read: Time to recharge!).

6. Fail, so what?

Last year, I have failed often. For example, I have sent the wrong email, I did not know what to say during a training or how to proceed in a coaching session. Also, my book is far from finished and I still need to make a quote for a customer. Furthermore, countless of proposals have not been commissioned. Well, that is annoying.

Is this a failure? Maybe. I know I have learned something from it and I approach it differently next time. For example, by making clearer agreements on the product to be delivered. Also read this article: How to deal with an embarrassing mistake.


It is not even time for lunch yet and this article is done! Undoubtedly, it can be even better or I could have given you even more value in the form of additional tips. I would like to do that in my next blogs.

Do you ever suffer from perfectionism? Or are you a perfectionist? I would like to hear from you on how you deal with this and which of the above steps resonate most (and why)? Let me know in the comment box below. I look forward to read from you!

Thank you for reading up to here & sharing this article with your colleagues, friends or family. And please SHARE this article with your network on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google + by pressing the buttons below so that they can also benefit from this article on how to deal with perfectionism.

Have you seen an error in this article? Let me know! I am grateful!

Notify of
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
11 November 2017 14:19

Hi Freek, great blog! I’m a great fan of the expressions “leave good enough alone” and “le mieux est l’ennemi du bien”. So main times I’ve seen individuals and teams frustrated, missing deadlines, arguing with each other because they (or one of them) thought “this is not good enough” or “we can make this perfect”. Of course, we also need to keep striving for improvements, but we must balance efficiency, effectiveness, progress and as you say expectations and perceptions!
Hope you’re well,