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You’ve likely heard people, especially in the entrepreneurial world, describe themselves as “perfectionists” with a hint of pride. For some, this word signifies hard work and dedication, but it’s likely not as favorable of a characteristic they’d like to believe. A recent study by psychology researchers found that colleagues rated perfectionistic coworkers lower than others in terms of social skills and attraction.
Beyond bothering coworkers, perfectionism can also stall progress and inhibit our intuitive thinking, killing innovation and dampening enthusiasm overall. Still it’s part and parcel of the entrepreneurial mindset for many founders, and I used to be one of those people. Years ago I wanted to launch the mother of all nightlife apps. I wanted the app to do everything from allowing users to run background checks on people they meet to making purchases at the bar. I spent nearly two years trying to perfect so many different functions and get the app off the ground to no avail. It was too complex to actually be useful, and it was far from flawless.
Of course, the result was predictable. I became frustrated, the app went nowhere and 24 months flew by with little to show for them. If I hadn’t had seasoned advisers around to redirect my efforts to launch a more focused app (which turned into our current company), I might still be mired in failure.
A retrospective on perfectionism gone awry
Where did I go wrong? The same place other perfectionist entrepreneurs go wrong: I forgot that perfection doesn’t exist. The closest you can really get is a product that consumers believe has value. In their eyes, the product is “perfect enough.” Maybe if I had validated my concept early by introducing a stripped-down version to the public, I might have had success. However, I just couldn’t do that because I was caught up in the perfectionist struggle.
There’s a bright side to all this talk about perfectionism, though: Anyone can overcome it. For me, perfectionist thinking went by the wayside with our first child when I received a wonderful wake-up call that life doesn’t fall in a straight line, even if you’ve planned it out well in advance. Of course, I would never recommend someone have kids just to rein in their perfectionist tendencies. But I have learned a few other strategies that can help you settle for what’s good enough.
1. Live in the moment
Find peace and happiness in the current moment instead of thinking it’s always around the corner. The book The Power of Now has been instrumental in helping me understand and practice this idea in my life, and I recommend it for any entrepreneur who struggles with perfectionism.
Setting lofty goals is still important for driving success, but you must also be able to hit pause and determine what you actually need in the current moment. In fact, making a simple list of those needs can be helpful for keeping us focused on the here and now and not thinking of everything we think we must do to meet our goals of perfection in the future. Successful entrepreneur and Zarvana founder Matt Plummer recommends making checklists to help combat perfectionist tendencies. Make a list of your needs right now, on this day, and check them off as you accomplish them. The checklist can also help you refrain from double-checking your work again and again on the boxes you’ve already checked off.
2. Actively seek ways to achieve balance
If all you’re doing is working, you’re feeding your inner perfectionist. It’s only going to get worse unless you pull away from time to time. Consequently, you’ll want to do things regularly to ease and center your mind.
For me, exercising for two hours daily helps to reset my brain and give me the focus and energy I need to move forward. I feel more in control, but without the frantic desire to put everything into a perfect place. Many of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs stick to strict exercise and meditation routines to manage their stress, maintain their energy levels and find balance.
3. Remember that the relationship with the customer — not the product — is most important
It doesn’t matter if you’re launching an app or bringing a service to the market. Remind yourself that your relationship with potential customers is more important than delivering a perfect product. In other words, develop a user relationship with would-be buyers even before you fully launch. That way, you’ll have a better sense of when to release beta items to small groups.
Many successful companies (such as HubSpot and Groupon) started building an audience through a blog to foster conversation and learn through feedback before launching their products. Gaining validation allows you to get out of your own head and avoid wasting valuable resources nitpicking something that’s ready to rock-and-roll. Sure, it might not be your final product. That’s OK. Eager customers will appreciate having something to test and rate.
4. Name, claim and embrace your core skill set
When you know and trust yourself, you don’t have to fall back on perfectionism. For instance, let’s say you’re really good at writing neural networks for artificial intelligence. If that’s true, you shouldn’t be tweaking PowerPoint presentations or maintaining old AI code. Rather you should be writing neural networks. Delegate tasks you’re just OK at to other team members.
Considering that only 2.5 percent of people are actually good at multitasking, focusing on one skill rather than many at once is most people’s best bet for working more efficiently. And it drives away perfectionism because you’ll be too busy working on what you’re good at to get caught up trying to perfect things that are outside your wheelhouse.
Perfectionism is tough to overcome. The strategies above take focus and dedication. Being OK with good enough and moving along, however, is doing yourself, your colleagues and your business a massive service.