3 Signs Your Perfectionist Streak Is Hurting You

You pride yourself on delivering work that’s as close to perfect as can be. After all, that’s your job, right? Well, yes and no. Organizations want quality, but they want it created within predictable time frames. That often puts you in the position of having to deliver something that’s merely “good enough.”

“Building software is a fusion of quality and speed,” observed Ben Hicks, a partner at recruiter WinterWyman in Waltham, Mass. “Engineers who work too hard to be perfect can be looked on negatively by managers because they can never get something to the point where they’re ready to release it.”

The consequences of such situations are real: Hicks says the issue can come up in reference checks, and that he’s seen professionals pushed into job searches because of the difficulties caused by their lagging delivery time.

How do you strike the balance? A lot depends on whom you work for and what they expect. Quality rules in the defense sector, Hicks says, but in most commercial software businesses, speed of delivery plays an important role.

Of course, you’re focused on your work, so you may not even be aware that your perfectionist streak is setting you up for trouble. It’s worth taking a step back to see if you recognize any of these signs.

You’re Missing Deadlines

If your project’s deadlines are reasonable but you just can’t seem to meet them, ask yourself why. If you’ve got more to do than any one person can handle, you’ll need to speak with your manager to address the problem. But if you’re spending all of your time looking for a better approach, or constantly tweaking so your code runs at peak efficiency, you may be aiming for a level of quality that goes beyond what the business needs.

“I don’t think this is the only dynamic in life where you have to balance speed and quality,” Hicks said. Very often, a successful product is one that gets a specified task done and is delivered according to a set schedule, even if the workings under the hood could be streamlined. “In most commercial software companies, speed is important,” he added. “They want things to be as good as they can be, but they also want them out the door.”

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Everything Is Written in Stone

“Many time perfectionists think in black and white. They don’t see the middle of the road,” said Susan Morris, a Norristown, Pa., coach who works with technology professionals. That can lead them to an inflexible reading of things such as user requirements and specifications.

Perfectionists may also put pressure on themselves to deliver on everything at once, even if there’s room for negotiation with a client. “Perfectionists are hard-wired not to see paths to the middle,” Morris said.

But the middle is where the solution often lies. When you first review a project’s requirements, discipline yourself to be realistic about what you can achieve within its schedule. If your client is adamant that the product be completed by a certain date, document what you believe the deliverable can include. Don’t set yourself up for trouble by assuming you’ll push everything through by sheer force of will.

Your Relationships Have Grown Tense

Regularly missing deadlines when others depend on you is a sure way to create frustration within your team. If your work is the focus of questions, don’t get defensive. Instead, examine the goals you’ve set for yourself to see if they’re realistic.

For example, are you revisiting the same challenges time and again in search of a more “elegant” solution? If that’s the case, you need to decide whether the amount of effort you’re putting into an issue is in sync with the project’s overall mission and business case.

None of this is meant to imply that the quality of your work doesn’t matter. It does. However, the realities of business dictate that professionals balance quality and delivery time.

“It’s good to find an environment where your approach fits with the company. Otherwise, there’ll be a weight on you constantly,” Hicks said. “Being perfect in every situation is just not practical.”

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