Perfectionism in the workplace

Business Support Tips & Tricks
Perfectionism in the Workplace

Being a perfectionist at heart, I’ve found that administration tasks can be a haven of finicky time wasting. I look back on the roles I had in my early 20’s and shake my head at the hours I spent being so pedantic – it verged on ridiculous. If I could just get it like this; I need to calculate it like that; these need to ALL be in bold. That line needs to be 2 millimetres that way; this internal document needs to be in external quality! The process must be completed in the order on the checklist. These people all need to be called back before I leave and their follow-up emails done AND the notes completed – TODAY and it’s 4.50pm.

There!….. 5 hours later, I had finished one task but at least it’s PERFECT… right…. guys….? Oh, they’ve all gone home.

This incessant need for perfection isn’t in all of us (lucky you) however if it is, it can seriously inhibit your ability to be effective and productive in the workplace. By trying to be so perfect, you are actually preventing yourself from being ‘good’ at anything. You end up being perfect at one task, and failing on others, or failing yourself in terms of work/life balance.
Your Boss doesn’t want it perfect – they want it done.

At the end of the day your boss isn’t going to know that you spent three hours getting that line on the internal word document ‘just right’ or the column widths for that spreadsheet EXACTLY even. They don’t care that you did the job and then did it again just to ‘check’.

All they will see is that it takes Emma in Projects half the amount of time to produce the same result. Which leaves you feeling…. deflated and unappreciated. No one wants perfect – they just want it done.

I’m not saying drop your standards and produce crappy work and just get by. After all quality is what you pride yourself on right? It’s what you sold yourself on in the interview that got you the job… right?! So how do you harness this side of yourself and use it to your advantage rather than it being a disadvantage?

Here are my 4 top tips to beat the trap and harness your inner greatness:

1. Compartmentalise

In this day and age, and with technological advances, we are pushed to work faster, harder and be at our best all the time. Workloads increase but our ability to be effective decreases due to stress, tiredness and burnout. Our brains can only handle a certain amount of information each moment, each day until we reach overload. We are not computers, we are humans.

What we are amazing at though, is compartmentalising. To compartmentalise is the ability to divide into discrete sections or categories. When tasks become too great or we have too much on, we become foggy and get the ‘I don’t know where to start’ feeling. This feeling can freeze us in our tracks – a kind of system overload of such. It is here that the ability to compartmentalise becomes crucial.

If you are able to take the tasks and break them apart into smaller achievable sections, you are well on your way to getting back into the productive zone.

Once you have compartmentalised you are now free to prioritise.

2. Prioritise 

This is where you take the time to look at your smaller tasks to complete for the day and figure out what is truly important. If you become so stuck at this stage that “EVERYTHING” is important and needs to be done today…. no it doesn’t, give yourself a slap and pull yourself together. The world is not going to fall apart – seriously.

At this stage, strip everything back to the basics. What were you hired to do? Think of the tasks that directly link to that statement. So the tasks that need completing are those that are going to directly affect the success of the company, your role and your team. Doing this, can help you see the bigger picture rather than being bogged down by all the ‘tasks’.

Next up, what are the tasks that will have a positive effect on your clients/customers experience; what must be done today to show great service. Or say you are in a straight admin role, what needs to be done today for things to run smoothly, for your team to be supported effectively.

It is here that you can look at the individual tasks on the list and prioritise accordingly by looking at the bigger picture. This is also a great way to manage stress and remind yourself what’s really important. You will complete the other tasks at a later date, because you are awesome and you produce quality work – remember?!

3. Time Frames/Time Management

Once you have compartmentalised and prioritised it is now time to set yourself some boundaries and time frames for the work. For things that MUST be done today, give yourself a time frame and stick to it. E.g. this needs to be done by 1.00pm; or for the next hour I will be doing this and only this. Without clear time frames, the day gets away from you and all of a sudden you have done a whole bunch of nothing but felt ‘busy’ all day. Be strict with your time and avoid distractions. Again here the perfectionism can creep in – don’t let it. That’s time-wasting!

4. Focus

You have now successfully compartmentalised, prioritised and set some time frames and it’s now time to focus! All of the above will be rendered useless if you do not focus. Avoid distractions, do you really need that extra cup of coffee, does your phone need to be checked… AGAIN – stop procrastinating!

Does your workmate really need to hear you’re hungry for the 1000th time today? Do you really need to listen to your workmate tell you that they are hungry for 1000th time today? Although, yes agreed, food and food talk can sometimes be a worthy distraction… endless chat about nothing doesn’t have to be. I try to give myself little treats or goals throughout the day to aid this – “you can go get a snack when you have finished this section,” kind of self-talk.

The world is full of distractions wanting your attention; the key is to focus on one thing at a time. Multi-tasking is out – Focus is in.


All in all no one is perfect and no one wants you to be perfect. That’s the pressure you put on yourself and that’s what is ultimately holding you back.

You can however focus on being very good (not perfect) at the above four tips and this will have you well on your way to producing the work you really wanted to achieve in your initial quest for perfection!