Why You Shouldn't Be a Perfectionist at Work

The co-author of 'The Plateau Effect' says this time-consuming quirk can shut down progress and backfire on you

by Bob Sullivan • Next Avenue
the plateau effect book image
Photograph: "The Plateau Effect: Getting From Stuck to Success"

This article is an adaptation from The Plateau Effect: Getting From Stuck to Success by Bob Sullivan and Hugh Thompson.
Have you ever been late to a meeting because you were fiddling with the font on a PowerPoint slide?

Ever had someone else get credit at work for an idea of yours because you hesitated to suggest your not-completely-formed proposal?

When you send an email or memo on the job, do you dwell for days over the adjective you used in the next-to-last sentence? 
Do the words “good enough” make you cringe?
If any of these sound familiar, you might be a perfectionist, one of the leading causes of career (and life) plateaus.

(MORE: How to Be More Productive at Work in Less Time)
Many psychologists recognize this form of self-torture as a modern-day epidemic – part obsessive-compulsive disorder, part overbearing superego, part digital-age narcissistic nightmare, a plateau that nearly always leads to the edge of misery.
How Perfectionists Irk Their Colleagues
Perfectionists dwell on small mistakes for hours, days or even weeks, crushed when someone points out even a small flaw. But they also bog down team efforts at the office, throwing a monkey wrench into discussions just as everyone is about to reach consensus. As a result, the group process fails and the entire staff suffers.
And when perfectionists are in charge, they are unreasonably demanding micromanagers who irritate employees by obsessing over nonessential details. Because everything is important, they are terrible at prioritizing, perhaps the most important task of a manager.

(MORE: How to Recognize – and Survive – Burnout)
You can see why being a perfectionist is a bankrupt strategy.

At its worst, perfection is the ultimate weapon wielded by procrastination. Gordon Flett, a professor at York University in Canada who has spent his career studying perfectionism, says the trait is just an excuse to put things off.

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