Tips and musings on organizing your way from chaos to calm

Archive for June, 2010

Perfectionism (or how to get nothing done and drive yourself crazy at the same time)

Sunday, June 13th, 2010

I’m outing myself.  I’m a perfectionist.  It’s true.

As a professional organizer, I work with lots of perfectionistic clients who aren’t able to accomplish what they want to as a result of their perfectionism.  I help them work through this, reminding them that, “Good and done is better than best.” I point out the ways that their high standards prevent them from getting started.  They tell me,  “I can’t organize my papers because I don’t have the ‘right’ folders or system, because all my papers aren’t yet in one place, because I don’t know where things are.”  And I typically respond by giving them permission to get started anyway.  “Let’s just use these folders to start, let’s work through the papers on your desk, let’s organize what we can find.  It doesn’t have to perfect,” I say, “Perfectionism is the enemy of productivity.  It stops us in our tracks and undermines our ability to move forward.”

All true.  How do I know?  Because it takes one to know one.  Take a careful look at this blog.  I launched it in March 2009.  March 2009!  It has taken me over one year to begin posting to my own organizing blog (she says as she  hides tail between legs).  Why?  Because I delayed and delayed, making such a project of this blog in my mind that I began to tell myself I would need hours and hours of uninterrupted time to blog and that it had to be “perfect.”  I avoided my own blog like the plague – it became a pressure, an albatross around my neck, a burden, something to be dreaded – even feared.

Now, finally, in  June 2010, here I sit stealing a few minutes to blog while my 17-month old son is napping.  What changed?  I decided to get started and get real.  I decided that action is the best antidote to anxiety.  And for me, my perfectionism is wrapped up in anxiety (I’m my own harshest and most demanding critic).  So I gave myself a good talking to, reminded myself of why I started this blog in the first place, and kicked my you know what into gear. I let myself off the hook and decided to just be me.  And a blog post is emerging as we speak!

Perfect is an impossible standard to achieve and it depletes the spirit.  It sabotages, rather than helps. It breeds avoidance.  It is a negative, not a positive.   Because perfect is unattainable, seeking it automatically sets you up for failure and disappointment.   The more realistic I’m able to be about my available time, energy level,  interest, and skill-set, the more successful I am and the happier I feel.   But it’s an on-going battle, since I seem to be a hard-wired perfectionist (you know, the kid that stayed up until 2AM in 7th grade working on a school project so it was perfect, even if it meant utter exhaustion the next day.)  So I work on it and I manage it every day, imperfectly, bearing in mind the following principles:

  • My value is based on who I am, not what  I accomplish
  • I am a finite resource with limited time and energy
  • It’s not helpful to internalize external standards and expectations
  • Avoidance is a sign of fear, pain, or self-judgment
  • Perfect is the enemy of good
  • Just do it

So I challenge you to give yourself a break, stop being your own worst critic, and just get started on something you’ve been avoiding.    If you’re anything like me, you’ll feel lighter and brighter for doing so, and probably wonder what the big deal was in the first place.  Kind of like this blog post.  What the heck took me so long, huh?