How to be a productive perfectionist using an adaptive approach


Perfectionists are often associated with unrealistic standards and an obsession with work, in which nothing less than perfection is accepted. It can be incredibly exhausting and unnecessary, especially if it isn’t channeled in a healthy way.

If you recognize yourself in this area, it might be worth knowing that there are strengths to perfectionism. By using the right tools, you can redirect that energy towards improving your potential.

The good and bad sides of perfectionism

Perfectionism is not just a unique category; there are actually two distinct types where self-directed excellence is required. Depending on who you are it affects the way you see things around you and your sense of control.

If you are a failure-oriented or misfit perfectionist, your willingness to do well comes from your perceptions of the expectations of others, real or imagined. You tend to believe that your job is inferior to that of others, and you constantly overwork yourself to avoid social shame. You might even be suffering from impostor syndrome, which is where you feel like a fraud in the workplace.

If not managed properly, this form of perfectionism can lead to low self-esteem, frequent bouts of disappointment, and can negatively impact your mental health. It’s an unhealthy way to navigate success and causes more harm than good.

On the other hand, if you are a success-oriented or adaptive perfectionist, you will take great pleasure in working hard and taking on challenges with enthusiasm. In turn, this could boost your self-esteem and improve your motivation to work, with the goal of constantly improving yourself against your own values.

Usually, these people are very self-centered and stick strictly to their goal. They can still benefit from a balance with good wellness techniques like everyone else, but they usually have healthy eyesight.

The goal is to move from the maladaptive to the adaptive approach, and while it may take time, there are proven and tested ways to make this change.

Set yourself SMART goals

Screenshot of your Trail app

Adaptive perfectionism means giving more importance to your own values, and to do this, it’s a good idea to practice setting goals. This will provide you with clear plans on how to accomplish what you want, in your own realm of possibility.

To be as successful as possible in achieving your goals, make your goals SMART:

  • Specific

  • Measurable

  • Feasible

  • Realistic

  • Timely

A good app to start with is Your Path, which is a free web-based tool that lets you set goals on a timeline and break them down into smaller steps. Simply go to the Trails tongue, Create a new trail, and write your main goal in the name field. You can add a description and also categorize your route by selecting Assign a living area.

Then you can get down to business breaking down your main goal into more achievable SMART steps. For example, if your main goal is to improve your knowledge base, your first action might be to take training, research, or follow a colleague. Focus on how you want to improve and ignore the pressure on anything else.

Use a dump for your thoughts

Screenshot of Evernote New Note

Wanting to achieve perfection means perfectionists are very creative and great at problem-solving, but they need a place to centralize these processes. Evernote is a productivity tool that lets you create notes, sketches, tasks, and upload documents, and it’s a perfect dumping ground for your thoughts.

When you create your account, select green New on your taskbar, select To note, and you can start writing. You can select a template from the Open gallery button to get inspiration, or you can use the design yourself by clicking on the blue Insert symbol and choosing from the available tools, such as a Table, Aaudio recording, Photo, attachment, sketch, and more.

When deciding what to write, don’t think too much about it. The point is to get what’s going on in your head, into something tangible, so you can put it away and come back to it another time. If you’re not sure where to start, here are some recommended Evernote models:

  • Gratitude journal logging template.
  • Daily recharge template for simple thoughts.
  • Reflect and correct to contemplate your travel goal.
  • Individual project for project planning.

Trade in your to-do list for a completed listScreenshot of Todoist Done List

Being failure-oriented suggests that you are focusing on the things you haven’t yet accomplished, and having an unfinished to-do list can make this mentality worse. To avoid this, you may need to ditch your to-do list.

With that out of the way, you can then begin to compile a “completed list,” which serves as a catalog of the work you have completed. It’s a fantastic tool for any perfectionist, because it gives you a visual of your accomplishments, rather than crossing them off, and you can look back on a hard day’s work and see exactly what you’ve done.

You can create an easy to use completed list using Todoist by following these steps:

  1. Under Projects in your taskbar, click on the More symbol

  2. On the Add a project window, type “List completed” in the name field

  3. Select the Color of your choice

  4. Select either the List Where Plank layout, according to your preference

  5. Click on Add

  6. From your completed list, click Add a task to write down the assignments you have completed

If you’re wondering how you’ll remember your pending tasks, a handy alternative to a traditional to-do list is to schedule your tasks in your digital calendar app.

This is sometimes referred to as “living on your calendar” and allows you to manage your time efficiently while simultaneously removing any incomplete work reminders.

Related: Top Tips for Avoiding Procrastination and Meeting Deadlines

Making the most of perfectionism

Despite the fact that perfectionism is not always ideal in the workplace or in life, hard work and persistence can lead to success. Ideally, you want to use the strengths you have and rule out the aspects of perfectionism that get in your way.

Now that you have the tools of the adaptive approach, you can channel your high-level zest into something productive, while still feeling competent in doing it.

Illustration of computer and professional tools

How to increase your productivity using SMART criteria

If you really want to achieve a goal, set one that’s SMART. This acronym stands for: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound.

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