I was running a time management workshop a couple of weeks ago and we started to talk about the incessant need to ‘tweak’ our work and the negative impact it had on us. So this month, I’ve chosen T is for ‘tweaking’. We all set such very high standards for ourselves, but there is a difference between achieving high standards and attaining perfectionism. The former is what we all strive for, but if we think there will never be any mistakes, we’re not being realistic. Of course some mistakes are inevitable, it’s just a matter of making sure we’ve used all the tools at our disposal to make sure they are reduced.
Tweaking work has always been a source of procrastination for me. I’ve been known to spend hours researching material and putting together workshops, to then work into the small hours of the night before a session altering it here and there. At one stage, I had to have a serious chat with myself as undoubtedly people wouldn’t be getting the same level of added value for the amount of additional time I was spending on the subject! And the only person that was feeling worse for wear was me as I arrived the next day trying to look upbeat and energetic, where in reality I was tired out.
It was after this particular session that I started to focus on why I felt the need to continually tweak my work as it was stopping me from working smartly and efficiently. It was also jeopardising me from achieving targets as I had the overriding feeling that whatever I’d produced was not good enough, so didn’t send it out. You may relate to some of the following too:
- If it’s not perfect, people may think I’m sloppy in all my work
- If you haven’t researched every angle and put your own spin on it how can you be seen as the ‘go to’ person for what you’re presenting?
- Having extremely high expectations of yourself – setting yourself up for failure before you’ve even begun.
- Wanting everything to be right first time every time.
- What will others think of my thoughts and words? It’s better to rewrite the script so that there’s more audience participation.
- Lacking the courage to get your work out there just in case it was laughed at, or even worse, scorned
- And of course just being highly self-critical and picking holes in anything and everything!
I’ve found that there are a number of tools and techniques you can use to help you move away from this kind of perfectionist mind-set, but of course they do take time to become a way of life. After all, my tweaking habit has been formed over a number of years so I’m still in that place where I’m unlearning at the moment. But here goes … this are some of the things that have helped me.
I’m trying to be much more realistic in my thought process of what can be achieved. This isn’t about lowering my standards, but it is about recognising that ‘I am doing my best’.
- It also took a long time to realise that it’s also okay if some people don’t like me. We just gel with some people better than others and those that are of a kindred spirit will help us to achieve our dreams. And if others are being extra critical, take away what I can from the feedback as they might be seeing something in me that is in my blind spot.
- I now allocate myself more realistic timescales to research and create activities so that I don’t let that time run away with me. I then break every large task down in to smaller events and diarise them so that I know I have time in the diary set aside to achieve each element. This in itself has made me so much more proactive in my approach and means that work due in three months’ time is often written and ready to go.
- I have a self-imposed ‘check in’ when I feel the need to tweak something, to understand where that need is coming from and why. As part of this process, I ask myself what added value it will create to the audience, or is it just a nice to have. If it’s the latter, I know that I can always add the extra part if some additional time becomes available?
- If I do find a mistake in some work, I don’t beat myself up …. it doesn’t mean I’m a failure; it means that I’m human! Although I will always try my best not to make mistakes, they are sometimes inevitable …. and can be a way of some our best learning!
- Peter Drucker said ‘It’s better to be doing the right work than the work right’ and I find this quote really helpful. It makes sure that I’m working towards my dreams and doing the ‘stuff’ that I really want to be doing, rather than faffing.
- Ask a trusted adviser for help. I’ve a number of colleagues with whom I can turn to when I feel that I’m going around in circles. It’s amazing when you don’t have the emotional attachment to a task, how you can be so much more logical about it and cut to the chase.
- If you don’t want to ask someone else, you may want to think about how you’d give feedback to one of your friends if they were doing the same thing as you and see what learning you’d get from that situation. Depersonalising the situation, can bring back your focus
- And last but not least, if you do think you’ll need to have a period of tweaking, build it into your planning time. Sometimes I find it helpful to write some material and then put it to one side for a while. During this time the material percolates and when I come back to it a few days later, there are things that I might do a little differently.
On a final note, did you know that we all have a positive perfectionist and a negative perfectionist within us? The positive perfectionist is the one who wants to win the race whereas the negative perfectionist doesn’t want to lose it. It’s such a subtle difference! We need to try to create habits that help us work towards the former as when we’re driven by challenge and constant improvement we’ll move forward. When we are driven by the negative perfectionist we are held back as the voices we hear in our heads are those linked to our self-esteem and anxiety and fear of not achieving! As you’ll know from my previous newsletters, we are what we think we are!