There is a lot of talk about work/life balance. Everyone is ‘super busy’ and it appears that the measure of living a successful life is how much we can cram into a day; up early to get to the gym before work, putting in long hours at the office without breaks, networking events in the evening, kids to see to, extended family and friends to see at the weekend; all whilst juggling those domestic chores in between. It’s little wonder we are feeling the pressure more than ever before to keep up with the lives we’ve created for ourselves and this is creating a collective of burnt out, stressed people.
Exhausted and anxious, being so time poor and always on is taking its toll in terms of our behaviours, particularly for the perfectionists amongst us resulting in anger, impatience, procrastination, and being so scared of failure that we convince ourselves that if we let our standards slip or slow down, we will appear catastrophically weak in comparison to everyone else.
Tension and stress rarely speed us up, they slow us down, cloud our judgement and can bring us to a halt altogether. The busier we are, the less productive we become; putting important things off until the last minute or not doing them at all for fear of looking stupid to others. Or through rushing, it must be done again correctly. It is healthy to want to do our best and try not to make mistakes, but some individuals strive for flawlessness and along with it come some very limiting behaviours:
- Excessive checking of documents
- Re-doing something again and again in an attempt to improve it
- Agonising over small decisions, in case you make the wrong choice
- Making elaborate ‘to do’ lists
- Avoiding something new we really want to do for fear of making mistakes
Being self-critical and placing unrealistically high standards on ourselves is a form of self-abuse, believing we don’t measure up. These thoughts and behaviours are laced up in our own insecurities, lack of confidence and the fear of being judged, and exacerbate when we are placed under time and emotional pressure.
Effective versus Productive
Working hard to a lot of people is measured by how many hours they put in. If people keep themselves busy then they feel and act busy, so therefore they must be successful, right?
Being effective in our roles is a very different ball game to being productive and busy. Being productive is about getting things done, being effective is about focussing on the right things that need to happen to purposefully reach the end goal. So, ask yourself are you fully focussed on the one priority task, and be honest and work out how much time you waste doing other less important things you prefer to do, that compete for your attention.
Real work often doesn’t look like work at all. How much easier does something feel when we are calm and thoughtful in our approach, as opposed to stressed and mindlessly working our way through an arm long to-do list each day and achieving next to nothing. I’ve known of people who add to their list a task which they’ve completed that wasn’t even on their list for that day, so they feel like they’ve completed at least something.
Effectiveness of work, not the busyness of it, should be the real measure of competence. Be the master of the task, not a slave to the clock; staying focused on the end goal and putting all your energy and skill to what is important and urgent. The rest will wait.
Learning the art of effectiveness will involve re-thinking some self-limiting beliefs about yourself and how you spend your time. Learning new habits which allow some space to think and just ‘be’ instead of doing all the time.
The alternative to perfectionism is making peace with the idea that you are good enough and that good is good enough. Nobody and I mean NOBODY is perfect and not everyone will like us, whether we make a mistake and mess up or not. After all, what’s the very worst that could happen?
Cheryl Jones, MD