How to Beat Perfectionism

We Don’t Have to Be Perfectionists to Suffer from It

Perfectionism is killing our productivity. Even a teeny bit of perfectionism slows us down, seeds doubt and fear, and drains joy out of whatever we’re doing. In this brief post, I’ll share two classic “Perfectionism Situations” and their “Perfectionism Slayers,” and show you how to beat perfectionism.

“I Don’t Need to Know How to Beat Perfectionism!”

Oh, you’re not a perfectionist? Hmmmm. Are you sure about that?

Do you ever feel paralyzed struggling to decide on which of your many to-do’s…to do?

When confronting a complex task or project, are you sometimes unable to figure out the best way to start it? So you…don’t start it?

Do you ever have trouble finishing a major assignment, even though you’re nine tenths the way there?

How to beat perfectionism scale

See? You don’t have to be a raving-OCD perfectionist to be getting hobbled by perfectionism. (Well, you may actually be a perfectionist, but more likely you’re just letting perfectionist tendencies eat away at your productivity and keep you stuck.)

There are hacks — what I call “Perfectionism Slayers,” that help us beat perfectionist tendencies, each tailored to the situation in which perfectionism may have us stuck.

Two Examples of How to Beat Perfectionism

Perfectionism, noun: “A disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable.”

Yeesh — “anything short of…unacceptable”? That’s pretty harsh. And that’s why slaying perfectionist tendencies that keep us stuck is first and foremost about letting ourselves be a little vulnerable. Taking a little chance…to not be perfect – or even close to it.

As researcher Brené Brown says, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.” TWEET THIS

So with that important preamble, here are two of the most common perfectionism-prone situations and a Perfectionism Slayer for each…

Perfectionism Situation: You have to write a complicated email, or a speech or a presentation. You pretty much know what you need to say, what your point of view is, etc. But you just don’t know how to say it, in what order, with what emphasis, etc.

This is a classic writing rut. What we tend to do is try to put it all together up in our head first. “Ya, I’ll open with this thought, then, no, I’ll open with THIS thought, then i’ll….no…”

…and you begin to think whatever you write is gonna totally suck. Which of course sends you into perfectionist mode and mental paralysis.

Perfectionism Slayer: Stephen King’s mantra for writing is, “Write with the door closed. Rewrite with the door open.” I learned this same trick from a writing coach early in my advertising career. And it is a huge perfectionism slayer – it definitely altered my career trajectory.

Barf it Out to Beat Perfectionism

My term for this hack is, Barf It Out! Just spill whatever’s in your head into the computer or onto the paper. Don’t read that barf, don’t re-order that mess, don’t polish that turd in any way! Just barf it out there!

This is what King means by writing “with the door closed.” Nobody gets to look at it, not even you…until you have pooped everything in your head onto the paper. Then, open the door and start editing, reordering and polishing. Your turd will turn to gold out only on the paper or the computer screen — never in your head.

It’s helpful also to remember the words of Ernest Hemingway: “The first draft is always sh*t.” Let it be so. (And sorry for all the scatology.) Here’s another common…

Perfectionism Situation: Your project or task is done. Your email’s been sent, your presentation is over. And you find yourself being just a tad self-critical on something – whether a mistake or a missed deadline or it just wasn’t as good as you thought it should’ve been.

This is a terrible place to dwell. It keeps us from moving on with confidence and closure. It also sets us up to be even more perfectionist next time we take up a similar task. But here’s your…

Perfectionism Slayer: Give yourself a freakin’ break! We tend to count our “failures” at three times the rate at which we acknowledge our successes. Talk about self-defeating behavior that keeps us from moving forward, exploring new ventures or just starting a new project!

Give Yourself a Break from Perfectionism

And as Brené Brown says, “You can’t do anything brave if you’re wearing the straitjacket of ‘what will people think?’” And that includes YOU – what YOU think. Ultimately, here’s what this Perfectionism Slayer — giving yourself a break — is all about…

Carl Richards, writing for the NYTimes, asks, “What might happen if you took all the energy that goes into judging your work and put it right back into the wellspring of creating the work instead?” TWEET THIS

A Closing Thought

We all want things to be done right, to be excellent. And perfection is indeed a desirable goal. But for most of us, “Perfectionism = procrastination + paralysis.”

Using these and other basic perfectionism slayers can not only help us to move forward and get stuff done, they help us find more joy in our work, more willingness to experiment, take chances, even screw up!

Want More Tips on How to Beat Perfectionism?

I dedicated an entire Episode of Crusher™TV to beating perfectionism — Episode 87: 5 Ways to Beat Perfectionism, where I share more classic “perfectionism situations” and their “perfectionism slayers.” Including how to beat perfectionism that results in procrastination, and how to beat the perfectionist tendencies that prevent us from finishing tasks.

Plus, my Guest Expert in the Episode is Dr. David Sitt, a clinical psychologist who shares his own unique approach for how to beat perfectionism.

Each Crusher™TV Episode is a well-researched “mini-masterclass” of evidence-based solutions on a specific productivity topic.

I think you’ll get a lot out of watching this entire episode of Crusher™TV (you can become a member for a buck and cancel any time you like), and you can watch the Preview of it here.



Alan P Brown CrusherTVAlan P. Brown, an internationally recognized Productivity Coach, TEDx Speaker and #1 Best Selling Author of Zen and the Art of Productivity: 27 Easy Ways to Have More Time, Earn More Money and Live Happier is the host of Crusher™TV, where he and his Guest Experts share simple ways to accomplish more in less time with less drama. Follow Alan on Twitter and on Facebook.



Rhonda Eby

I’m wondering if my description of being a perfectionist is the same as my therapist saying ‘is it something you can control’. I want to do things right and internally frustrated with change.

Alan Brown

Not sure why your comment fell thru the cracks and I didn’t see until now but apologies!! And your questions is an interesting one. I’d want to know what exactly your therapist means by “Is is something you can control”. But there are parts of perfectionism that will always be there, yet we can have some control when we’re in the midst of it. My go-to hack is to just “go for a sh*tty first draft (SFD), which at least gives me permission to START! Let me know your thoughts…apb

Pierre Marchessault

Thank you very much Alan for this great email. You give me hope! With the years, my anxiety level has gone out of the roof!

When I have a little bit more time, I will register to your program.


Alan Brown

Thanks for the kind words, and so glad this gave you some relief from the hopelessness. Do hope you’ll become a Crusher™TV Member — it’s a buck! APB


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *