I received a great question from a listener that really got my gears turning.
Perfectionism is a dangerous tendency that can lead us to procrastination, missed opportunities, and wasted time.
Yes, we want to do thing with excellence. But we don’t want to be obsessive that we go overboard with perfectionism.
But how do we know where to draw the line? When do you keep working on a project and when do you launch?
In this episode, we take a look at the heart issues buried underneath perfectionism – and I share eight tips on how to judge when it’s right to launch a project or to continue refining what you’re working on.
Feel free to add to the discussion below the transcript:
Photo Credit: Doug Knuth (Creative Commons)
Welcome to the Life of a Steward Podcast. From Biblical instruction to systems and tips to motivation and inspiration, we look at time management from a Christian perspective. We want to make the most of our time, not to make much of us but to make much of him. Not to earn anything but because he’s already earned it. Join me as we seek together to live the Life of a Steward.
In this episode, we’ll look at perfectionism and the danger it brings for wasting our time and our lives. We’ll address the heart issues behind perfectionism and look at some practical tips on how to fight our perfectionist tendencies.
Hello. This is Loren Pinilis from Life of a Steward.com. And welcome to another episode of the Life of a Steward Christian Time Management podcast.
I always feel a little strange doing small talk before I launch into the podcast topic, because I realize that you may be listening to this the day I release this or you could be listening possibly years later. So wherever you find yourself, whenever you find yourself – I hope you’re doing well.
Perhaps you’re listening to this in the year 2020 and there are flying cars and cyborgs.
But seriously – perhaps you’re listening from across the globe – I was just checking the stats on the podcast and it’s been downloaded in 55 different countries. Every single continent except for Antarctica. Which to me is just humbling and amazing. And I’m thankful for everyone that shares these podcasts, that comments, that asks questions. I’m thankful for you right now listening. I hope it’s helpful. So let’s dive in to today’s podcast.
Today’s Question from a Listener
Barb Raveling asked me a question. She blogs at beyondthesinnersprayer.wordpress.com. She has some great resources out there on avoiding emotional eating on her blog, and she’s wonderful at really digging into the heart of the issue and digging down deep into what drives our actions – and I find her material helpful not just to control eating but for everything we do.
Now for those who want to ask questions, you can go to www.lifeofasteward.com and click on contact at the top, you can Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, you can message me on facebook at the Life of a Steward page, or chat with me on twitter at lifeofasteward.
Her question, and I’m paraphrasing because she sent it to me over Twitter, was how do you deal with perfectionism? She writes that it’s one of her biggest time wasters, because she will rewrite and rewrite blog posts to make them “acceptable.”
My Initially Unhelpful Response and Realizing a Better Answer Was Needed
I wrote back to her and told her that we had to strike a balance. We certainly want to do things with excellence and we want to represent Christ well, but not to be so much of a perfectionist that we delay our projects or leave things uncompleted or waste time.
To which she graciously replied – and these are my words not hers – but “Duh!” Of course you want to do things well but not be too much of a perfectionist. But, she asked, how do you know where that line is.
Of course you don’t want to go too far one way and be sloppy and you don’t want to go too far the other way and be so much of a perfectionist that you never get anything done or you waste time obsessing over the details – of course you want to strike just the right balance.
But how do you know where that balance is? That’s the issue. That’s the struggle. How much is just enough attention to detail?
I thought it was a great question, so I wanted to talk about it.
The Problems with Perfectionism
There is danger in perfectionism.
It can keep us from releasing projects because we keep refining and refining them and we just decide to not finish. Or it can lead us to procrastination. We can browse the internet for the 15th time that day as we stall because we just feel that our project doesn’t measure up. It can keep us from tackling difficult pursuits in the first place because we just tell ourselves that what we can do won’t be enough. Don’t even start.
On a smaller scale, like Barb was saying, we can waste time because we end up spending a lot of our time and energy rehashing and rehashing something, obsessing over the fine details. So instead of launching a project that’s 98% perfect and took us 10 hours we want to take it up to 99% perfect even if that takes 40 hours.
We end up spending a huge chunk of time to see a very small amount of improvement. And if we would’ve just moved on to something else instead of being a perfectionist, we could’ve spent that time doing a lot of other helpful things.
So there is danger in being a perfectionist.
Is Perfectionism Even Wrong?
And here’s the first stumbling block that a lot of people reach: doesn’t scripture talk about doing things well? Doing things excellently?
Colossians 3:23 says
“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.”
And then Proverbs 18:9 says
“Whoever is slack in his work is a brother to him who destroys.”
Performing excellently in our jobs is how we serve others, It’s how we express our love for others. It’s one of the ways that we can love our neighbor as ourselves. Matt Perman on his blog, What’s Best Next, talks a lot about this. Go check that out.
And if God gets glory when our work is excellent – when we just don’t do slack work but do excellent work – and if we’re really working for God as the Colossians passage put it – then shouldn’t we want to do things perfectly? Is it even wrong to be a perfectionist? Can someone actually say that the correct thing to do is to knowingly perform work that’s not perfect? To knowingly launch a project or a blog post or a proposal or this podcast knowing that it’s not the absolute best product we could make and that a little more effort could make it better?
Is it even wrong to be a perfectionist?
Balanced with Other Biblical Concepts
I would say that it is totally biblical to desire to do excellent work, but I believe we have to take that in the context of the full counsel of scripture. We’ve got to balance that with some other biblical concepts.
First, we have a limited amount of resources. We have a limited of time to devote to any particular project. Not only is that common sense, but it’s biblical. We’re told to redeem the time, we’re told to number our days.
And obviously time spent obsessing over the finer details of a project (being a perfectionist) is time that we can’t spend doing something else that would be fruitful.
So the issue is maximizing the use of our resources, stewarding our resources well to do as much good in the world, to express as much love as we can to others, to bring God as much glory as we can. And I believe that because we are only human, because we are finite with limited time and limited capabilities and limited capacities – sometimes the most loving thing to do, the most God-glorifying thing to do is to launch a project that’s complete but may not be perfect and then move on to another task.
I think the realization that everything we do is not going to be perfect and not going to live up to our perfect standards for ourselves – I think it’s humility to be able to launch a project in the midst of that.
A Closer Look at Our Hearts
So hopefully I’ve made the case that perfectionism is dangerous – but how do we fight it?
Well, I think the first step, and I don’t think this is a surprise to many people – is to ask ourselves why we’re perfectionists. Who are we trying to please? Who are we trying to impress?
What does that reveal about our hearts?
I’m not going to say too much about this. And it’s not because the matter of the heart isn’t important – in fact, it’s absolutely critical. But I’m not going to talk a lot about it because I think that it’s a matter for personal introspection.
Are you personally making an idol out of the praise of men? Are you idolizing acceptance?
Are you making an idol out of success? Out of looking in the mirror and feeling proud?
Have you made an idol out of the safety and the comfort of never having anyone be disappointed in anything you’ve done?
If this is an issue for you, take some time to get alone to examine your heart and where your idols are.
After considering your heart, here are some more steps you can take – some practical steps to fight the dangers of perfectionism. To help you determine that point where you’ve crossed the line from pursuing excellence into just unhelpfully stewing over something. Because that’s the issue – when do you pull the trigger?
First: Understanding Risk
The first step is to understand the biblical concept of risk.
This is going to seem out there at first, but stay with me. I’m going to tie this in in a little bit and I think it will click.
We need to understand the biblical view of risk.
We have this misguided idea that everything we do for God, we’ll always have 100% assurance that it will be successful in every way. But that’s not biblical.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego – they said they weren’t going to bow down to the golden statue. They knew God could save them but they weren’t sure if he would. They were going to take a risk anyway and do the right thing.
Jonathan fighting the Philistines in their garrison. He went up there with his armor bearer, and he took a risk. He knew that God could empower him for a massive victory but wasn’t sure if that’s what would happen.
Esther risked her life for the glory of God and for the lives of her Jewish people. She walked into the throne room taking a risk that she could die.
Apart from the bible, history is full of people who risked it all for Christ. People who went to foreign mission fields and evangelized to tribes of cannibals, people who gave away a huge portion of their livelihood. All sorts of risks that people have taken for Christ.
Justified and Loved
Take a step back – your eternal state, if you’re a believer, is already locked up in Christ. You have everything you need for the next life – and everything you need in this life. Christ has made it possible to stand before God after you die forgiven. But get this – you presently stand in the eyes of God right now as having the righteousness of Christ. You are justified right now if you’re a believer. You are loved, and it is all from grace. There is nothing you can do to earn it and nothing can rip it away from you.
Sovereign Promises and an Invitation to Risk
Add to that that God is sovereign. He is in control of every atom in the universe, every hair on your head, every second of time, absolutely everything. And he has promised (Romans 8:28) to do everything for your good – everything to conform you more and more into the image of Christ and to give you more and more of the best thing in the universe: himself.
So this means everything important is already tied up and secure. So you’re free to risk everything else on Earth because the one thing that really matters you already have.
We don’t want to risk foolishly. We don’t want to test God. We don’t want to take wild risks to puff up our own ego as a daring risktaker.
But we can do what’s in the best interest of others, going to that mission field, giving a huge portion of our income – knowing that God is in control and that we have and will continue to be loved by Christ.
That frees us up to risk for his glory.
Now, I know you’re wondering what this has to do with perfectionism.
Here’s what it has to do with it: I’m going to ask you to do is to take a risk. Not a risk necessarily that you die on the mission field – but a risk that maybe the product you put out there isn’t wonderful. Maybe people laugh at you. Maybe you’re disappointed in yourself.
Risking putting out something that’s not perfect.
Second: Give Yourself Permission
That leads to the second step. You have to give yourself permission.
This isn’t giving yourself permission to be naughty. This isn’t giving yourself permission to be self-indulgent. To eat that extra piece of cake because “you deserve it.”
No, this is giving yourself permission to take a risk. This is your uptight side, your protective side, giving yourself permission to take a risk for God.
It sounds like a stupid step, because it just flows so naturally from the first step. Once you understand the concept of risk, it seems silly to talk about giving yourself permission.
But there is tremendous power – and don’t neglect it – there’s tremendous power in personalizing the application of a principle. In other words, you need to consciously take the step from understanding generally about how risk works in the world to understanding how the concept of risk works right now in your life.
Third: Focus on Others
That leads me to the third point. I wouldn’t this so much the third step, the fourth step – I would just call them points because they may happen in any particular order.
So the third point is to be others-focused.
You can’t simply just say, “Don’t worry about your ego.” You can’t just take away an idol and leave it at that. You have to deliberately replace that idol with something else – and that would be obviously be God.
So remove that tendency in yourself to protect your own ego, and we’re going to give ourselves permission to risk – but the reason we risk is because of the potential good that can happen for others.
The way to become humble is not to insult ourselves or to not care about ourselves – it’s to care and to think about other people.
When we radically live out love for our fellow man, which by the way reflects God and brings him glory, when we’re truly loving our neighbor as ourselves, not only will we be willing and eager to risk our ego for their good – but when that’s our motivation and that’s our focus, then we’re in a better place to make a decision about when to launch a product.
Thinking to ourselves “How can I accomplish the most good for others?” is the mindset we need to have to help discern where that line is – when we need to finish a task or launch a project instead of continuing to refine the details.
Fourth: What’s the Best and Worst That Could Happen?
The fourth point, and this is tied closely with the third, is to consider the potential worst-case scenarios and the best-case scenarios. What’s the worst that can happen if I launch this product at this point even though it’s not “perfect.”
Also consider what good would come if I continue to refine this.
Think just about this project and what you’re producing right now.
So, for instance, a blog post that Barb is writing – if it’s 98% perfect, will it really matter if you spend a few more hours to get it up to 99%? What’s the harm in stopping at 98%? What’s the benefit of going to 99%? Is it worth the time and effort?
It could be that for a blog post, it’s not. Then again, you could be a craftsman building some furniture. And you go the extra mile and you take some time and really just polish things and refine things – and your customers notice your attention to detail, and they’re won over. They know you’re someone who takes the work seriously and has integrity – and that can reflect very positively on Christ.
Questions like these help us discern the worth of continuing to work on a project instead of launching it.
Fifth: Consider the Rest of Your Life
The fifth point follows right from the previous point – we need to see this particular task or project in the context of the rest of our lives and our vocations and our ministries.
In other words, we previously said “What’s the damage that can be done if I launch this project at 98% perfect?” – and we focused strictly on how that project would affect people.
Now what we’re doing is expanding our focus. We realize that we have limited resources, so the question now is, “What am I giving up by continuing to refine this project? If I were to launch this project now at 98% perfect, what would that free me up to do?”
Is it ultimately more loving to other people, more honoring to God, if I keep working at this or if I spend my valuable time somewhere else?
And that’s really the key – what is the most loving thing to do?
And I know this may be a disappointing answer to a lot of people, because I don’t have any real clear black and white tests. It doesn’t work like that, unfortunately. It’s a judgment issue. It takes wisdom. It takes discernment.
Sixth: Pray for Discernment
And that leads me to point six – which is to pray for that discernment. It could be, in the case of major decisions, you seek out good counsel from others. But even in the smaller decisions, we’re talking about wisdom and discernment – and we have the invitation to pray for that. God’s not up there bugged by our prayers. He desires for us to grow in wisdom, so don’t be ashamed or bashful to ask him in prayer – “Lord, give me discernment. Help me figure out if now is the right time to launch this project. Give me wisdom. Give me discernment. Not only in this project but in my life as I deal with project after project. Teach me to know where that line is.”
Seventh: You Are Not Alone
Two more final steps I would add in:
Step seven is don’t see yourself as unique. You look at a project that you’ve launched and feel it’s inadequate. You feel that it didn’t measure up to how it looked in your mind.
But no one else sees that mental image you have. They just see your product, and they may think it’s great.
I can guarantee you that everyone who is regularly completing tasks, regularly launching things out into the public eye – I can guarantee you that sometimes they thought their work was inadequate and could have used some polishing.
I teach a small group class, I play bass for our contemporary service, I write for Lifeofasteward.com and do this podcast – and all the time, I feel like I’m releasing stuff that’s not quite where I would love it to be.
There are preachers, speakers, bloggers, authors, musicians, artists – anyone that creates a product, has inevitably put something out there that they thought was subpar and could have used some polishing – or maybe they were worried that it wouldn’t be received well because it was only 95% perfect.
Realize that everyone deals with that somewhat.
Eighth: Err on the Side of Launching
And the eighth and final point is: If you know you have a habit of being a perfectionist, then take that into account and err on the side of being uncomfortable and launching. If you regularly eat way more than you should, you learn to stop before you would have otherwise stopped. If you regularly over-exercise to the point of being injured, then you know to stop before you otherwise would have stopped.
Barb mentioned that she knew that perfectionism was a problem for her. And in that case, make an extra effort to launch at the point where you’re still uncomfortable.
And I would make a particular point of doing this with things like blog posts – because although we certainly want to do our best there, let’s face it, there’s not really a lot riding on the line. No one’s life is in danger. No one’s financial future is in danger. It’s an environment where there’s relatively low consequences and what a better place to experiment and practice.
And you may be surprised that the blog posts you think are not anywhere near good enough – those are the ones that end up making an impact on people. It’s just surprising how that works.
I’d Love to Hear Your Thoughts
Well, I’d love to hear from you guys.
Do you struggle with perfectionism? What damage has it done to your life?
Do you have any tips for us on how you fight perfectionism?
To share, just head over to lifeofasteward.com and join the discussion on the page for this episode.
Until next time, this is Loren Pinilis from Lifeofasteward.com.
Remember: We want to make the most of our time, not to make much of us but to make much of him. Not to earn anything but because he’s already earned it. Join me next time where we’ll look at more time management tips from a Christian perspective as we seek together to live the Life of a Steward.
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