Like many others, I have to confess to being one of those people who wants to be really good at everything I turn my attention to. I have driven myself (and probably many others) crazy with this perfectionist streak. Over time, I have learnt to manage it more effectively – and you can too.

As life becomes increasingly more complicated, being a perfectionist can have dangerous side effects. When it is just you in the world, it is easier to indulge your perfectionist streak. However, throw in responsibilities for a team, for a family, for a relationship and for some furry friends – well it becomes an increasingly complex juggling act.

As a perfectionist, there are a few important pitfalls to understand and ultimately, to overcome. Firstly, it is unlikely that you and others will ever live up to your expectations.  So, it is often difficult to accept praise and you will be always be looking for ways to improve.

Despite often being high achievers, perfectionists tend to only have fleeting feelings of satisfaction, because they always believe that there is more to do, be and accomplish. They are their own harshest critics, frequently berating themselves over any small thing that went wrong.[1]

As a spelling and grammar freak, I still physically cringe when others make basic spelling errors and use the incorrect version of “there”, “their” and “they’re”.  Don’t get me started on the correct application of “its and it’s”.  It is hard to refrain from breaking out the red pen or politely directing the offenders to that handy tool called “spell check”. However, that is not always seen as particularly helpful. You need to pick your battles. This is rarely one of them!

Secondly, as a perfectionist, it is sometimes hard to get started. It turns out that perfectionism and procrastination often go hand in hand. So, when you have an increasing number of responsibilities, this can be a recipe for disaster. You need to manage your time wisely and calmly – and procrastination is absolutely the enemy of achievement. After all, putting it off doesn’t make it go away. Getting it done does.[2]

So, as a “semi-reformed perfectionist”, here are my tips on how to beat those demons and just get things done.

The myth of multi-tasking

At one point, if you couldn’t multi-task, you were not considered to be efficient. In fact, many equated multi-tasking as a special gift that women were granted upon birth.  But the truth is, I have learnt that multi-tasking is not what creates balance and achievement in my life. If you are trying to do too many things at once, it becomes incredibly difficult to do any of them really well. It is also stressful and becomes quite reactive. There is little room for creativity and the end result is not always optimal for each of the tasks that you are trying to achieve.

Recent neuroscience research tells us that the brain doesn’t really do tasks simultaneously, as the term “multi-tasking” indicates. In fact, we just switch tasks quickly. Each time we move from one task to another, there is a stop/start process that goes on in the brain. That start/stop/start process is rough on us: rather than saving time, it costs time (even very small micro seconds), it’s less efficient, we make more mistakes, and over time it can be energy sapping.[3]

In today’s world, it is actually quite difficult to move away from multi-tasking. You are constantly receiving text messages, emails, phone calls and then there is social media. All of these alerts that are constantly distracting you, and make multi-tasking seem normal.

One morning, I was enjoying a cup of tea and some toast and I thought I would check out what was happening in the world on my phone. I checked my emails, I responded to some new texts, I checked out linked in, I checked out Instagram (my personal favourite), I checked out Facebook,  and then I checked out my news app. To my shock and horror, I had wasted an hour. A complete hour of staring at my phone and learning about the latest Trump tweet tirade and feeling twinges of envy at my friends’ carefully curated lives.

This was a bit of a wake-up call for me and I have now started to put my phone away a lot more. Out of sight really is out of mind. And not surprisingly, my productivity has improved.

The power of the Pomodoro

Today, there is a real shift away from multi-tasking toward mindfulness and focusing on one thing at a time. Mindfulness is not new and is actually quite intrinsic in the concept of flow. (Click here to read my article on “The Meaning of Life and the Importance of Flow”: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/meaning-life-importance-flow-kylie-sprott ).

Last year I had the great pleasure of coaching the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of a software company. We often spoke about flow and how to achieve it. Many software developers get so caught up in what they are doing, that they forget to eat, sleep and move from their chair. This is absolutely flow!

The CTO introduced me to a great tool that helps to induce flow and really kick your productivity into a higher gear, without scaring you too much in the process.

The Pomodoro technique has been utilised by many software developers and is based on the concept of 25 minute sprints. Pomodoro is Italian for tomato and is a quaint reference to the tomato egg timers that used to be popular in many kitchens across the world.

The idea behind the Pomodoro Technique is to break down all of your tasks into 25 minute time blocks. Between each time block, there is a five minute break. And after completing four Pomodoros you take a longer break—usually 15 to 30 minutes.

In theory, this strategy works because you completely focus on one task (like writing) without shifting focus or multitasking. When the clock is ticking, you ignore the urge to check your email, hop on Facebook, answer text messages or do any other distracting activity. You’re in the zone and completely focused.[4]

If you would like to learn more about the Pomodoro Technique, go straight the creator’s website and click here: https://cirillocompany.de/pages/pomodoro-technique

I have found it to be an incredibly useful tool to have in my own personal kit bag, to increase my productivity and get through a mountain of work.

Summary

Although I will always strive for excellence, I have learnt not to sweat the small stuff and pick my battles about the important issues. Learning to accept praise and making sure that I acknowledge the efforts of everyone around me, has really allowed me to move beyond my perfectionist tendencies.

I truly believe that practising mindfulness and being totally focused on one piece of work at a time, is quite a revelation not only in terms of productivity, but also in terms of my satisfaction. By utilising techniques such as the Pomodoro, I have banished procrastination and I have embraced the pure joy in simply getting a lot of things done.

[1] Denise Jacobs, “Breaking the Perfectionism and Procrastination Infinite Loop”, May 2014 https://webstandardssherpa.com/reviews/breaking-the-perfectionism-procrastination-infinite-loop/

[2] Ned Hallowell, “Driven to Distraction at Work: How to Focus and Be More Productive”, 1994

[3] Dr Nancy K Napier, “The Myth of Multi-Tasking”, Psychology Today, 2014 https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/creativity-without-borders/201405/the-myth-multitasking

[4] http://www.developgoodhabits.com/pomodoro-technique/