If you’re a fan of the podcast, you might have listened to episode #62, where I discussed taming perfectionism. In that episode, I discussed the difference between perfectionism and striving for excellence, as well as how to get perfectionism under control.
If you haven’t had a chance to listen to that episode, let me offer you the highlights:
- The accounting profession is a breeding ground for perfectionism
- Perfectionism isn’t about arrogance or a lack of humility; it’s about the fear of not doing enough or being enough
- When you are a perfectionist, the underlying feeling of unworthiness will be the heavy purse you carry around on a daily basis
- Taming perfectionism doesn’t mean giving up on success or settling for mediocrity; it means learning how to think clearly and manage your mind along the way.
The most important thing to understand when it comes to perfectionism is that In order to tame perfectionism, you need to get familiar with your critical brain and understand how it’s been trying to protect you and keep you safe. Your primitive brain’s job is to keep you alive, and not being “perfect” signals possible rejection.
In other words, we tend to gravitate towards perfectionism, especially as accountants, because our lower, primitive brain is trying to keep us safe. The only issue is that striving for perfection comes at a cost to you both professionally and personally and can easily lead to stress, overwhelm, and eventually burnout.
The other issue is that since perfectionism is often encouraged and rewarded in the accounting profession, it can be challenging to admit it might be a problem. When you’re being compared to other perfectionistic accountants, you might have even more resistance to the idea of taming your perfectionist tendencies.
But this episode is going to be a little different – I’m actually going to help you use some of your perfectionist tendencies for good when it comes to managing your time. There are ways to leverage perfectionism when it comes to time management, and I want to help you see how.
In other words, instead of completely fighting against your brain’s tendency, I want to teach you how to work with it a little bit. I’ve noticed in my own time management that sometimes my perfectionist tendencies aren’t always that bad, so I want to help you learn some ways to balance your brain so you can better manage your time.
This week I’m going to discuss signs of perfectionism and some helpful time management tips for perfectionists.
Signs of perfectionism
In an article for Psychology Today, Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo explains that if you’re wondering whether or not you could be classified as a perfectionist, here are some common signs:
- You think in all-or-nothing terms
- You think and then act in extremes
- You rarely delegate since you can’t trust others to do a task correctly
- You have demanding standards for yourself and others
- You struggle to finish projects due to the need for constant improvement
- You use the word “should” frequently
- Your self-confidence depends on what you accomplish and how others react to you
- You tend to ruminate over tasks where you feel you messed up
- You procrastinate or avoid situations where you think you might not excel
As an accountant listening to this podcast, I’m going to bet you probably can relate to at least a few of these common signs. I know I definitely can, especially when it comes to the sign that your self-confidence depends on what you accomplish and how others react to you.
I’ve noticed over the years that I push myself to get more done in less time than anyone else, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, except when I look outside myself for the recognition of others. I’ve caught myself numerous times thinking that I didn’t do enough because I didn’t get the reaction I wanted from my boss.
I also noticed that I was beginning to put the word “should” in front of everything on my to-do list. For example, I should return that library book, I should answer that email, or I should do research for the next podcast.
I realized that I was looking at my to-do list as a list of shoulds that, when completed, would mean I had a productive day. The problem was when I pushed myself to get everything done, I wasn’t prioritizing properly.
Understanding how to harness positive perfectionist tendencies like being high-producing, setting and achieving goals, and being diligent and motivated can work to your benefit with time management as long as you are also aware of those negative perfectionist tendencies. When you can catch yourself going down the negative rabbit hole of perfectionism, you might be surprised how well you are able to adhere to the time management system that I created for accountants.
The Balanced Accountant Program is the signature time management program that I facilitate at CPA MOMS. This program helps address those unhelpful perfectionist habits and how to switch to better time management habits.
Bottom line – there’s no need to remove perfectionism from your life completely. We just need to help you nurture what’s helpful and let go of what’s not.
Helpful time management tips for perfectionists
Tips #1 – Productivity – if there’s one thing that most accountants need to hone, it’s productivity, especially if you want to learn how to create more time. I’ve done various podcasts on the topic of creating more time, but if you want more time for the things and the people you love, you have to improve your productivity.
But here’s where perfectionists get in trouble – perfectionism leads to procrastination. You get so caught up in having to do things perfectly or fear that things won’t be done perfectly that you wind up putting them off and creating a bottleneck of to-do items that never get done.
So here’s where the need to do things perfectly can be used to be more productive – I want you to learn to calendar everything that needs to be done and stick to the calendar no matter what. I want you to not give in to distractions but instead make a list of what needs to be done, decide how long you’ll take to get it done (within reason), time block on the calendar, and follow the calendar no matter what.
I’ve turned this into a game for myself – the Productivity Game. When I let my higher brain decide how long I’m going to give myself to get something done and figure out how I’m going to get it done in the allotted time without going over the scheduled time, I’m amazed at how quickly and efficiently I’m able to get things done.
While there’s no such thing as the “perfect plan” when it comes to time management, combining your perfectionist tendency to be high-producing within the boundaries of time blocks, you’ll be pleasantly surprised how you can get more done in less time.
Tip #2 – Prioritize – As you’re probably well aware, perfectionists have a tendency to make everything they do have to be done “just so.” For example, it’s not enough to just get the dishes in the dishwasher; they have to be put in a particular configuration or else. Or else what? To a perfectionist, the or else is typically something overly dramatic or catastrophic.
Perfectionists tend to bring the same level of intensity and attention to everything they do, making it challenging to prioritize. To a perfectionist, everything is urgent and needs their attention.
The issue when it comes to time management for perfectionists is that they often need help to delineate between low-value and high-value tasks. As I shared in a previous podcast about the Mere Urgency Effect, our lower, primitive brains are naturally wired to see most things as urgent, but this is particularly challenging for perfectionists because, to their lower brain, it’s not only urgent but also necessary to do it perfectly.
In order to help your perfectionist's brain learn how to prioritize, I suggest another playful game that will make it easier – make a list of things you need to and want to get done. Now you’re going to simply decide whether the item is easy or hard and whether it’s high or low impact. Get some colored pencils or pens in green, red, blue, and black, and put the following checkmarks next to each item on your list:
- Easy – Green
- Hard – Red
- High Impact – Blue
- Low Impact – Black
Quickly go through your list and, using your higher brain, decide first if something is easy or hard and put either a green or red checkmark next to each item on your list. Next, decide if each item is high or low impact and put either a blue or black checkmark next to it. When you’re done, every item should have two check marks next to it; either green or red and either blue or black.
Now you’re going to prioritize the items with green and blue checkmarks next to them, which means they are easy and high impact, and you’re going to schedule those on your calendar first. Next, you’re going to schedule the items that have red and blue checkmarks next to them which means they are hard and high-impact.
The last category you’ll calendar, if you have time available, are the items with green and black checkmarks, which means they are easy and low impact. What will remain on your list are the items with the red and black checkmarks, which means they are hard and low impact – you will ignore those.
For example, scheduling a consult call with a potential client is easy and high impact, so it goes on the calendar first; researching a new tax program would be hard and high impact, so it goes on second; choosing a photo for the website is easy and low impact so it would go on the calendar third if there’s time; creating a new logo would be hard and low impact so it would be ignored and put on a separate list for when it’s necessary.
Learning how to quickly distinguish between the easy versus hard and high versus low impact will help you focus on the right things and make much better use of your time.
Tip #3 – The After Model – When I work with my time management coaching clients on The Balanced Accountant Program, I teach them the tool “The Model” in order to learn how to manage their brains before they learn how to better manage their time. They learn exactly what’s getting in the way of getting things done and what to do to create more time.
One of the most important lessons I teach them is the concept of the Before, During, and After Models. For the Before and During Models, they learn to address what they’re thinking and feeling about the things on their calendar before they take any action, helping them to get much more done in less time.
But the After Model is what many of my clients find most impactful. The After Model addresses what they are thinking and feeling about what did or didn’t get done.
The After Model is particularly helpful for perfectionists because until you understand how to manage your lower brain, it will always tell you that you didn’t do enough, do it well enough, or that you should have gotten more done. The After Model addresses those mean girl thoughts that are common for perfectionists.
The truth is that what you think and feel, especially at the end of the day, will directly affect what you are able to get done the following day. For example, if you feel frustrated because you’re thinking, “I didn’t get enough done today,” that feeling of frustration will not fuel the best, most productive, or efficient action the following day.
Instead, you need to decide on a better thought about what you did or didn’t get done, allowing you to feel focused, motivated, or determined. For example, instead of “I didn’t get enough done today,” you could choose to think, “I’ll get this completed tomorrow.”
Just a simple shift in what you’re choosing to think in the After Model will make a big difference in how you move forward. The truth is that beating yourself up is only making you less effective.
So hopefully, you’ll be able to begin to implement these time management tips for perfectionists and begin to see a difference in how you approach your time management. As always, if you need some help, that’s what I’m here for.
There’s no shame in being a perfectionist; you just need to build on the positive qualities and tame the not-so-helpful tendencies that come with being a perfectionist. I promise you that you will be able to create so much more time when you get a better handle on time management for perfectionists.
- The most important thing to understand when it comes to perfectionism is that In order to tame perfectionism, you need to get familiar with your critical brain and understand how it’s been trying to protect you and keep you safe.
- Your primitive brain’s job is to keep you alive, and not being “perfect” signals possible rejection.
- There are ways to leverage perfectionism when it comes to time management