Why Perfectionism Will Crush Your Productivity — And How To Stop It

November 8, 2016

Hi! I'm Marie

You have gifts to share with the world and my job is to help you get them out there.

Read More


Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros elementum tristique. Duis cursus, mi quis viverra ornare, eros dolor interdum nulla, ut commodo diam libero vitae erat. Aenean faucibus nibh et justo cursus id rutrum lorem imperdiet. Nunc ut sem vitae risus tristique posuere.

Button Text

Have you ever had a brilliant idea, the kind that keeps you up at night fantasizing, and after a few days, weeks, or years it’s still just an idea?

Have you ever created something you wanted to share with the world but no one’s seen it yet because you’re still polishing? I’m talking about those endless tweaks that keep you from putting your work out into the world. All that time you spend hoping to get it juuuust right.

As someone with high standards who cares deeply about the quality of what I produce, I’m intimately familiar with the pull to keep polishing… forever.

But I’ve come to understand a sanity-saving distinction:

  • High standards are healthy and motivating.
  • Perfectionism is dysfunctional at best, deadly at worst.

Perfectionism is an insidious trap that can grind your output to a halt and suffocate your creative spirit — if you let it.

So how do you know when enough is enough? Where does quality end and perfectionism begin? In other words, how do you know when your work is ready for public consumption?

While there’s no set formula, there is a simple three-word mantra that saves me from the endless urge to tweak.

Progress, Not Perfection: A Mantra to Get Sh*t Done

Perfectionism will kill your dreams. It’s the one thing that separates winners from wannabes.

In this MarieTV, I’ll show you how this simple mantra, progress, not perfection, can dissolve perfectionism and get you back on track toward your dreams.

Keep reading after the video for five strategies to strive for progress and leave perfectionism in the dust.

None of us are immune to perfectionism. It’s a psychological barrier I still work on every dang day.

Repeating progress, not perfection works like a magic salve to ease the chronic itch to polish, polish, polish.

What does it mean?

This mantra is about taking consistent action. Not expecting the road to be free of bumps, bruises, or detours. Not waiting until everything is perfect.

Progress, not perfection pries me loose when I’m feeling stuck. Repeat this mantra whenever you find yourself questioning your next step or endlessly “fixing” your creations.

When you choose a growth-oriented mindset — and just keep putting shiz out there — you’ll get to play, learn, experiment, and get better over time.

Focusing on progress doesn’t mean your work will eventually be perfect. In fact, you might even feel a little sheepish when you look back at your early stuff. That’s what real progress looks like, which is why I love this quote about perfectionism:

“If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you have launched too late.”

~Reid Hoffman, Founder of LinkedIn

There’s no shame in growing and improving your work — but you can’t do that until you put it out there.

What’s the Big Deal? Why Perfection is the Enemy of Progress

Why not strive for perfection?

Of course, you want to do the best work possible, show up every day, and keep striving for excellence.

But excellence isn’t the same as perfection.

Perfection is an illusion, and striving for perfection sets you up for failure.

“It’s not ready yet” is a story we tell ourselves that stops us from doing any good in the world. We think if we can’t be perfect, why even try? But no one can be perfect, because perfection doesn’t exist.

Endless tweaking… tweaking… tweaking… It’s just a manifestation of procrastination and the fear of being judged. Since you’ll never reach the perfection you’re aiming for, you never have to take that next step. Like, actually sharing something with the world.

To be clear, prioritizing progress doesn’t mean lowering your standards or putting crap out into the world. Striving for progress over perfection means being relentless about learning, growing, evolving, and improving. You can’t do that if you never get anything done.

Always work hard and put in your best effort, but don’t be a tweaker.

marie forleo quote progress not perfection

No More Perfection Paralysis: 5 Strategies to Make Progress Now

Way to go! You’ve made it this far, so I know you’re ready to strive for progress, not perfection. But how?

If your work will never be perfect, how do you know when it’s “good enough”?

How do you know when it’s time to hit publish on your ideas, dreams, creations, or business?

My advice: In the words of Slick Rick… HIT IT!

Always hit that publish button sooner than you think you should.

It might be scary at first, but the more you do it, the more natural it gets until, suddenly, you’re an action-taking machine!

Here are five practices to train your brain for progress and productivity so you can finally overcome perfection paralysis.

1. Prioritize Important Over Urgent Work

Do you ever feel like you’re so busy with work that has to get done — think: clients, day jobs, housework, emails — that you never get to the valuable work you want to get done?

Here’s the thing: You can fill your day with endless to-dos. You’ll never be “done” with emails or housework. You’ll never find mystical pockets of free time in the work day. You’ll always be tempted to take on just one more client. If you wait until you “have time,” you’ll never get to work on what matters most.

Don’t wait for time, make it.

Don’t worry — making time doesn’t require advanced physics or time travel. All you need to do is prioritize. Many people think they have clear priorities but actually have it backward.

To prioritize progress, know the difference between urgent and important and do the important stuff first.

That’s it, the whole stinkin’ thing!

Prioritizing is super simple — but not always easy. How do you distinguish between urgent and important? And isn’t the urgent stuff high-priority for a reason?

Many tasks feel urgent, but they’re not. They pop up through notifications, a knock at the door, looming deadlines, or other people’s expectations, and they demand attention NOW.

These tasks rarely support your goals because urgent things usually support other people’s goals — your clients’, employer’s, or family’s.

Important things are different. They’re quiet — no notifications, no drama, no expectations. They’re the whispers from your very own dreams and goals. Important things require self-motivation, so they’re easy to blow off.

Work on what’s important first, and you’ll realize you have more than enough time to make progress on your own goals without crashing and burning everywhere else.

Save what’s urgent for a little bit later. You’ll still get it done, I promise. Urgent stuff always gets done… because it has to.

2. Be Willing to Start Small & Sucky

Have you ever seen someone at the top of their game and thought, “Ugh, I’ll never be that good”?

Many of us give up on our dreams when we see someone we admire already crushing it. We don’t believe we’ll ever be as good as they are.

That’s a classic case of perfection paralysis.

You’re not going to be Bruce Springsteen after your first guitar lesson or Beyoncé after your first open mic. It’s great to admire others’ work, and it’s ah-mazing to dream big. Don’t ever stop!

But to get anywhere, you have to start right where you are.

You have to be willing to start small and sucky.

Here’s what I mean.

When I first started my coaching business, I had a big vision. I imagined tons of people, big stages, changing the world. But I had to start somewhere way smaller.

Excited to share my ideas, I hosted my first workshop. It was attended by a whopping five people. Two of them were my parents. The third was my yoga teacher, and the last two were people she literally dragged in off the street.

Honestly, I cringe just thinking about it — until I remember there’s nothing to be ashamed of.

I took a risk. I did something new, put myself out there, and did my best to deliver value to all five of those people.

That small and sucky workshop gave me the courage to keep going. I didn’t have to be afraid anymore, because I’d already hosted my puniest workshop! That momentum fueled me.

Now I’ve been running this business for 20 years. I have reached people all over the world with my work — tens of thousands of clients, students, readers, and viewers in 195 countries, across more than 600 industries.

But it started with five people in a New Jersey basement.

Next time you find yourself stuck in perfection paralysis, remember: Starting small and sucky beats staying stucky.

3. Train Your Brain for Progress

If you’ve been stuck in perfection and procrastination mode, you may be doing a helluva lot but not making any progress.

Does this sound familiar?

  • You keep your commitment to put your butt in a chair and do the work, yet you’re not moving forward.
  • You’ve let go of the promise of perfection, but you can’t even seem to create something sucky. You feel totally blocked!
  • You’re busy checking tasks off your list and feel super productive, but you don’t seem any closer to your goal.

If you found yourself nodding your head to any of those statements, you might be stuck in the hamster wheel of perfectionism: busywork.

Instead of writing blog posts, you tweak your navigation menu 1,200 times.

Instead of scheduling calls with clients, you fiddle with the color options on your calendar app.

Instead of — well — anything, you respond to another email. So. Many. Emails.

It’s time to answer your creative dreams instead of your emails.

Put these three strategies into practice every day to break distracting habits and train your brain for progress.

  1. Do creative work first. When you wake up, you have a full tank of cognitive fuel. Every decision you make throughout the day drains that tank. If you skitter about taking care of all the little things first, you won’t have energy for important work later. Use your fuel to create in the morning, instead of blowing your daily wad on tasks that don’t move you forward.
  2. Put your entire life on airplane mode. Don’t TRY to ignore your phone, email, or Slack messages. It ain’t gonna happen. Instead, eliminate the temptation altogether. Turn off the notifications, close the tabs, delete the apps. If you can, turn off your phone. Ask people around you to pretend you don’t exist for a few hours. Don’t fight your brain’s impulse to respond to distractions — just get rid of them.
  3. Write a onesie. This isn’t about designing baby clothes or donning grown-up jammies. It’s about focus. Remove everything from your sight — no distractions. On a blank piece of paper, write the ONE task you need to work on right now, and keep that piece of paper nearby. Anytime you start acting like a digital junkie in need of something to click or double-tap, your onesie will be there to remind you to stay on task.

4. R.E.S.E.T. to Focus Your Energy

Let me read your mind for a sec.

“But, Marie, where will I find the energy every day to make progress on my creative work AND get all the little things done to keep the lights on? Won’t I burn out? Shouldn’t I just wait until I don’t have so much going on???”

I hear you loud and clear, and you know what? Give yourself a break.

I mean, literally. You need a break. Lots of them, actually.

Instead of waiting until you have absolutely nothing else to do (a.k.a. fantasyland), make the most of the time you have by taking intentional, effective breaks to recharge and avoid burnout.

I call this method R.E.S.E.T., an acronym to help you remember these steps:

Review your day, and plan breaks in advance. Getting something on your calendar wildly increases your chances of success. Schedule a 5 to 15-minute break for every 90 minutes of focused work time.

Easy to remember. Make taking breaks a no-frickin’-brainer. Set an alarm or calendar reminder to ping you every couple hours to say, “Hey there crusher, it’s break time!”

Step away from the screens. No email, web surfing, or social media during your breaks. Those might seem relaxing, but they can actually increase your fatigue.

Exersate! Or, exercise and hydrate. Drink a tall glass of water, and move your body. Get outside for a walk, do some stretches, or — one of my favorites — take a dance break.

Tune back in. Where attention goes, energy flows. So take a deep breath, and redirect your cognitive energy to get cracking and focus on progress.

5. Start Before You’re Ready

One of the stickiest myths of perfectionism is that there will be a “right time” to do something. You just have to wait for your magic Disney moment. If you put your work out too early, you’ll never get it right… Right?

You already know I’m going to tell you: WRONG-O.

If you want to make any progress toward your dream life or business, you’ve got to get out there and do the work. Not at the “right time.” Right now.

You have to start before you’re ready.

Even if that means doing the work for free.

Even if you still have a lot to learn (you always will).

Even if you don’t have enough time, enough money, enough __________ [insert your favorite excuse here].

Starting before you’re ready means doing the work. Get out there and go for it with your whole heart.

If You Wait to Get It Perfect, You’ll Never Get It Done

Don’t let perfectionism and procrastination crush your productivity.

This simple mantra, progress, not perfection, will dismantle your paralyzing pursuit of perfection so you can create more swiftly and joyfully.

Most importantly, it’ll help you stay rooted in growth.

Now, let’s turn this insight into action.

Grab a notebook, and take 5 to 10 minutes to examine your experience with perfectionism by writing down your answers to these questions:

  • Is there something you’re stopping yourself from doing because you’re not willing to be less-than-perfect? Where are you procrastinating instead of progressing?
  • Have you ever done something as cringe-worthy as my first workshop that got your momentum going? How can you use that experience to fuel you when you’re feeling uncertain?
  • What can you do every day to remind yourself when it’s time to stop polishing and just hit publish?

The greatest barrier to achieving your dreams, sharing your talents, and making your deepest contribution to the world is believing that critical voice in your head. The one that says, “It’s not good enough yet.”

Use this mantra — progress, not perfection — anytime you’re feeling stuck or afraid. Free yourself from perfectionism so you can share your gifts with the world.

View Comments