3 Ways to Avoid Getting Stuck in Perfectionist Rip Tides
For the first few minutes of starting a project, I do great. I create, I experiment, I follow what 'feels right' for a project. Then, for some reason, I slip into what I call "perfectionist rip tides".
Perfectionist rip tides come in many forms, but there are three that plague me:
Perfectionist Rip Tides
1. Analyze the point of the project and never take the first step in creating.
2. Stop writing and start editing (and re-editing) what has already been created.
3. Never reach the end of a first draft but keep re-starting the project
hoping to make it 'just right'.
Ironically enough, even as I wrote the above three rip tides, I had to fight myself from editing them over and over until I finished the post. The struggle is real, folks... :)
Thankfully, in the seven years I have been creating project online, I've identified three ways to avoid getting stuck in these perfectionist rip tides:
1. I work in 5-minute steps.
You can read more about this process in a more in-depth blog post I wrote a couple of months ago, but suffice it to say that my mind does best when I only have three tiny steps in front of me. It sounds pitiful, but this process has enabled me to start many of my seemingly overwhelming projects and write a book.
See a related post: 5 Minute Steps to Success >>
2. I do not edit while writing.
I have learned that the more important the projects are, the more I want what I produce to be perfect, and the more overly critical I become of myself. At least for the first draft or the first edition of a project, I cannot let myself be the editor and the writer at the same time. I crank out my work, ignoring the seemingly blatant errors, and get to the end of a draft with all the gusto of an out-of-control train. Only then do I put on my editor hat and go back through the post with my natural flare for the nitty-gritty.
See a related post: Get to the End. Now. >>
3. I give myself "impossible" deadlines.
One of the ridiculous realities of human behavior is Parkinson's Law. If we have 8 hours to complete a task, it will take us 8 hours. If we have 1 hour to complete a task, it will take us only 1 hour. People tend to scoff when they learn of this law until they remember the time they pulled together a college paper at the last minute and still got a decent grade. (The decent grade part doesn't always happen, but we've all had that miracle happen at least once.)
Short deadlines may seem like the perfect way to induce an anxiety attack, but they work for these reasons:
We set priorities.
Perfectionists, like myself, have a hard time setting priorities. In our minds, EVERYTHING is important - including the font of this blog post. But time restrictions mean I use a default setting rather than wasting 5 minutes picking through a million "sans" fonts.
We cut out the 'fluff'.
Related to the first point, deadlines naturally cut out the 'fluff' that is unnecessary in a project. If I have 30 minutes to write a paper on the German Deaf Community in World War II, I will not allow myself to delve into "research" on how to sign "deaf" in Germany Sign Language or what Deaf Clubs were like in America during the 1940's. [Both of which would be a HUGE temptation for me if I had the time to explore.] There is just something about a longer time frame that leads us (often subconsciously) down the rabbit hole of random research.
We do better when there is an end in sight.
My perfectionist brain does one of two things when I have a long deadline - it either dreads it and moves slowly OR it completely shuts down and I find myself going in circles. I have found this to be the case with MANY people with perfectionist tendencies (and even some without). Short timelines are like the last lap of a mile run - we see the end in site and we put our whole souls into the final stretch, knowing that we will be done soon.
I am writing this post with a timer set to 15 minutes. It will take me about one hour, but I know from experience that this kind of post would take me much longer if I did not have a timer set.
Perfectionist rip tides can make or break a project - too many of my good ideas have slipped away without ANY action simply because I was stuck in cycles that I didn't know how to escape from.
With only 2 minutes left on my timer, I want to close with something profound but the perfectionist in me can't think of anything in the (now) 40 seconds left. So with that anti-climatic finish, I wish you the best on your projects and let me know what works for you!
28 May 2016