In her very entertaining book Bossypants, Tina Fey warns against the evils of perfectionism—the enemy of so many creative projects. As she advises, “Perfect is overrated.”
Even busy agency folks struggle with impossibly high standards, particularly those who write for a living. What we do as PR pros can be frustratingly ephemeral, but a blog post, white paper or other content tends to stick around. It’s tempting to keep working until every word is just so. Yet it’s not always a productive use of time.
Here are some proven strategies to beat perfectionism, and its close cousin, procrastination.
Quantify the improvement likely to come from your efforts. Then decide if it’s worth it. If another hour will improve your proposal by 40 percent, then spend the time. But if the enhancement is likely to be minimal—10 percent or less—it may be better to fight the urge.
Get fresh eyes on the situation. This is generally easy in an agency environment where a team structure is the rule. And someone else is far more likely to spot an error or notice an omission that might never have occurred to you, so it can be doubly helpful.
Focus on the objective, not just the product. Go back to that document that you can improve by 10 percent. Will that increase your odds of winning the project? Or is the time better spent in research or preparation? Sometimes, done is better than perfect.
Start in the middle. This can be an effective strategy for those who have trouble beginning proposals or papers. A perfect beginning is rare and can be fixed later. I usually end up deleting a few sentences of throat clearing from posts like these. For procrastinators, it’s better to just jump in.
Set small goals. Instead of telling yourself, “I’ll write an amazing blog post,” or “I’ll finish the proposal tonight,” try thinking, “I’ll spend an hour on the proposal with no interruptions.”
Ask yourself, “How important will this be by this time next year?” In five years? This is the ultimate question to ask if you’re really stuck. Taking pride in work quality is admirable, but a little perspective can go a long way.
I wanted to come up with seven strategies here, but six is just as good. Because, sometimes, less is more.
Dorothy Crenshaw is CEO and creative director of Crenshaw Communications. She has been named one of the public relations industry’s 100 Most Powerful Women by PR Week. A version of this story first appeared on Crenshaw Communications’ blog.