The first draft of anything is sh*t

7th March 2016
Åsa Magnusson

Being a perfectionist is often hailed as an admirable trait to have, as if it somehow vouches for a continuous drive for excellence and a stamp of quality. In reality, it is a weakness in disguise. It hampers productivity for two reasons:

  1. You self-censor yourself

    Perfectionists often spend too much time criticising their own performance – when they could be churning out results, iteration after iteration. Just like the Sistine Chapel masterpieces were once rough sketches and outlines, we shouldn’t expect the first version of our work to be flawless. If we are overly focussed on achieving the perfect result, we won’t mentally give ourselves permission to work through a few rubbish variations before refining them to greatness. The title above is a quote from the great Ernest Hemingway, who himself understood the value of humble beginnings. We can learn a lot from adopting the mindset of the “draft” to many areas of our lives. Aren’t we all in fact, as people, the draft of a future version of ourselves?

  2. You don’t recognise “good enough”

    Perfectionists also struggle to let go when something is in fact very much fit for purpose. This is particularly true if your work entails producing written work or graphics but it can be seen on all levels of business where we simply don’t want something to leave our hands until it is absolutely perfect. This is of course not an issue if you have unlimited time and resource at your disposal, but most of us do still operate in a fast-paced world where we are measured on time as well as quality.
    Being a part-time artist, I sometimes find myself working on a piece of art long after it should have been declared “finished”. I always find little details that can be improved, things I’m not entirely happy with, things I suddenly decide I want to add or remove. Sometimes they do improve the end result, but most of the time I am just wasting my time as the edits don’t make any substantial impact on the final product.

The result of both of these behaviours can at best be a small nuisance, but can at worst drive you to the point of burnout – at which point you are of no use to anyone (from a business perspective, that is!). We should of course aim to produce our best work and maintain a solid high quality in what we do, but not at the cost of being perfect. Consider if it’s even possible to reach the standards you have set for yourself, with the means you have available. If it is, then do aim for it. If it isn’t, then do the best you can in the circumstances and accept it – and move on.

If any of this rings true to you, it could be useful for you to re-visit your approach to your own motivation. Why do you feel the need to be perfect? Whom are you working so hard to please? For many of us, there are latent issues from our early childhood conditioning which may need to be addressed. You may benefit from discussing this with a counsellor or a therapist.

But in the meantime, try challenging your own perfectionism, letting go at “good enough” – and see what happens!