Spending less and less time on non-work activities? Continually raising the bar? It’s time to get your clinical perfectionism under control.
The pressure we’re under to succeed in business has never been greater. This is no surprise. Everywhere you look, entrepreneurs are receiving the social adulation and financial rewards traditionally reserved for pop stars.
As a result of peer pressure and the growing idolisation of the entrepreneur, running a normal startup or small business has almost become a corporate faux pas – only hockey-stick growth will suffice!
But this relentless pursuit of the ultimate business is resulting in ever-more cases among business owners and senior management of clinical perfectionism — and this can be a serious, very damaging condition.
What is it?
Clinical perfectionism isn’t talked about as much as depression, anxiety and stress, but it’s an affliction that affects a large – and ever-increasing – number of people. It particularly affects entrepreneurial types, high-level executives and the self-employed.
At its most fundamental level, clinical perfectionists set themselves high, unrelenting, and often unachievable standards in their work or business, and they must reach these goals in order to maintain a sense of self-worth.
The problem, beyond the inevitable personal issues it can cause, is that perfectionism can negatively, and materially, impact a business. This happens in three main ways:
– When clinical perfectionists do achieve a tough goal or objective, they decide that it must have been too low, and requires a more rigorous standard next time. This often results in them spending too much time on things that are relatively unimportant.
– With their continual focus on raising the bar, clinical perfectionists are more likely to burn out. This can result in stress and depression and general absenteeism, all of which affects the business as well as the individual.
– Some clinical perfectionists dread the idea of not achieving a certain standard of work or meeting a goal so much that they procrastinate or avoid doing certain tasks altogether. This means that key areas of the business can be neglected, often at great cost.
How to tell if you a sufferer
Clearly we can’t cover everything, but here are some initial pointers:
– You increasingly spend less time on non-work activities. Work is becoming your life.
– You generally only feel satisfaction when you achieve things at work or in business, rather than in your broader life.
– You feel large amounts of pressure from tasks that may seem unimportant to others.
– While you’re spending more and more time on tasks, you’re achieving less.
– Others could be commenting on your standards, or even mocking you for being a perfectionist.
Shift to becoming a conscientious worker
If you did tick one or more of the boxes above, don’t worry. There are ways to get clinical perfectionism under control.
A good place to start is by creating a list of all the things that make your life worthwhile, at home and in work. Then ask a close friend or partner to do the same and take a look to see if there are any differences in how you see things. A great way to do this is to draw a pie chart.
Next, think through how you spend your time at work compared to your colleagues. Is there one area that you spend significantly more time on than others? If so, put “stop signals” – such as a three-hour time limit – in place to reduce the time spent on that activity.
Stop signals are warning signs that you have done enough. They are based on what is reasonable for the job, rather than what will make you feel differently about your ability – and they can really help train your mind to move away from perfectionism towards becoming a conscientious worker. There’s a big difference between the two.
Also, consider how to praise yourself for tasks that have been achieved well and with energy to spare, rather than those that have taken more resources to achieve.
Finally, monitor procrastination and remind yourself to shoot for 70% if you are paralysed with getting the task just right. After all, getting 70% on a post-graduate university course would still give you a degree with a distinction.
With time and the right approach it’s possible to adjust your perfectionism towards conscientiousness. In the long term, your business will thank you for it, and your personal wellbeing will increase.