When Perfectionists Need to Stop Making Lists

May 17, 2010
When is it better to actually DO a job rather than add it to your to-do list?

File:Crystal Clear mimetype spreadsheet.pngThis weekend I had a problem. I had made a number of contacts during a conference in March and felt badly that I hadn’t yet written to these people. Yes, I know I should have done it sooner (that’s what marketing schools tell you to do), but I came back with a very bad cold and then other things kept interfering with my good intentions to follow through. The guilt was starting to build up.

To add to this delinquent correspondence was a pile on my desk of names (okay, lots of names that I have collected for some time now) and in my computer was an Excel spreadsheet with hundreds of names I am trying to keep track of.  Therefore, when I decided I could no longer put off writing this latest group of contacts, I did something I tend to do when there is a whole lot of work to do: I organize.

I opened the spreadsheet and began to add new names. I also started to rearrange the list so it would be helpful when I had time to actually write those emails.

However, it soon struck me that my perfectionist, who had convinced herself that I should spend precious time prioritizing the list, would feel she had done something “productive.” A nicely organized list seems so, well, “organized.” In some ways, that may have been true. But I would only have been getting ready to do something in the future, and considering the number of people I have to contact, I wouldn’t have been nearly done with the list at the end of the weekend. I needed to get those emails written NOW.

Fortunately, my recovering perfectionist realized that, at the end of the day, the people I was adding to my list would be nicely included in a lovely spreadsheet, but I wouldn’t have had time to write to even one of them.

That’s when I stopped and wrote a few emails. Do you know what happened? I discovered that the feeling of accomplishment was greater than it would have been if I had made the perfect spreadsheet.

Today I have given myself the goal of writing five people (at first I was going to say ten, but decided that was pushing it) and will not bother with the spreadsheet until I’ve gone through the list of people I know I need to write.

My recommendation from this “lesson of a recovering perfectionist” series is to always ask yourself whether you absolutely HAVE to write that list, or whether it is an excuse or distraction from what you SHOULD be doing.

Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia

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