Nov 12, 2020

I have a confession to make. I am a perfectionist. Whilst some might say that it’s a good thing, my perfectionism is so bad that it can cause me to miss deadlines, delay colleagues because they are waiting for my work to start theirs, over-service client work, stay up late and even miss fun things in my life like parties, days out with my family or even just taking some time out to read a book.

Having the need to make everything I do “perfect” can be satisfying for my clients, because they get amazing work from me, but not so great for me.  I’ve begun to ask is it really worth it? Is something that I do as “perfect” better than something that’s let’s say 90%, 80% or even 70% as good?

The interesting thing about the pandemic is that many of the people or organisations who have been successful, are the ones who got in there first. The ones who used “messy action”. These entrepreneurs and companies were comfortable with putting something out that that wasn’t perfect. They made mistakes, corrected them along the way, apologised where necessary, and kept going.

I recently heard a story about a branding company who had a great idea for a “pivot” at the start of the pandemic – they were going to create and brand safety kits with face masks, gloves, sanitiser, etc. to sell to airlines, construction companies, and other large organisations who would have a need for them. They had this idea in mid-March. Great idea, it probably would have helped them pivot ,and make them a lot of money, but the problem was that the perfectionists in them spent six weeks trying to get the look and feel right, so they missed their window and their target customers either created their own or found another supplier. Opportunity lost.

So why do we do this? Perhaps it’s a bit of imposter syndrome? I will be the first to admit that even after nearly 20 years of owning my own companies, there is that little niggling voice that worries that people might not thinking that I’m great at what I do – even though I know that I do a damn good job. But the problem is that I can spend so much time stuck in my head – thinking that what I’ve done isn’t good enough that like the branding company, I too have missed out on opportunities.

Something happened to me in the spring, I started to embrace “messy action”. Gosh it was so hard to begin with – because I was doing things that weren’t perfect. I stopped over-thinking things. I put out training courses online in a matter of hours, when previously it might have taken me weeks; I wrote proposals in an hour rather than days; and I made decisions quickly. If it weren’t for COVID, I think I’d still be stuck in my loop of perfectionism.

I learned a valuable lesson over the pandemic: make it messy and just get something out. If it doesn’t work, try something else. If it does work, don’t be afraid to improve and refine it. We can still deliver great work, but what’s more important is that we get out of our heads and start delivering – even if it is a bit messy.

So, I should now say, I used to be a “perfectionist”, now I’m more of a “messy actionist”!