Jul 062015
Photo: Eric Loyd

Photo: Eric Loyd

Have you ever tried to come up with that perfect, killer presentation just by staring at the computer screen, hoping inspiration will strike while the clock ticks away and your deadline inches closer?  Do you come up with distractions to keep you from starting?  Do you spend lots of time getting the fonts and colors set, before you even put a single word in the outline?

I hate when that happens.

Perfection paralysis is when you don’t start something because you want it to be perfect.  Knowing that nothing will ever be perfect, if you never start it, it can never be wrong – just late.  Disguised as procrastination, perfection paralysis also prevents us (I may be subconsciously talking about me, here) from completing a task; if it’s never finished, it can never be imperfect since there is always something more that can be done with it to try to make it perfect.

How do we (or maybe, how do I) combat this time stealing conundrum?  Easy – just do the work.  Baseball players know that in a normal game they will be on the field for nine innings and at bat for nine innings.  Daytona 500 race car drivers know they will be making 200 laps before the race is over.  Jockeys at the Kentucky Derby know they will ride for 10 furlongs (that’s 1 1/4 miles to us non-horse people) before they finish.  It can be the same for us in our business lives, too.

If you have a presentation due, break it up into stages and set due date for each stage, not just the final project.  The stages may be brainstorm ideas and concepts; research facts; put things into a mindmap to visually arrange topics and ideas; write a basic presentation; go back and add fonts, colors, and animations; and finally, proof-read and revise.  If you have a month until the presentation date, set four business day deadlines for each stage and stick to them.  Six stages until your project is done.  Just like a day at the ballpark, races, or NASCAR.

Breaking perfection paralysis is about setting small goals – all of which are obtainable on their own and easily “perfected” – without looking at the overall project as one task that can never be perfect.  It may require discipline and change to your work habits, but I would rather spend my time productively getting work done instead of doing busy work to avoid the “Click to add title” waiting-for-inspiration phase.  In short, “the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” (Lao Tzu).  Make your work a series of single steps and the journey will work itself out.  Imperfections and all.