Actually Getting Big Things Done is a series of guests posts on how to make things happen from those who know how to… well… actually get big things done. Today’s post comes from Erin Feldman whose blog, adorable drawings and recent ebook, Write Right continue to inform and delight.
I’m sometimes asked how I get things done even though I struggle with perfectionism. I actually write about perfectionism on a semi-regular basis, but I don’t know that I spend a lot of time writing about how I push past or against the perfectionism in order to accomplish things. I do, however, think about it from time to time.
Does that lack of writing mean I have no method or secret to overcoming my perfectionism? I don’t think so. I think it’s more that I haven’t dedicated myself to recording the steps and processes I use. I’ve also learned that what works at one stage of my life doesn’t always work at another one, a harsh reality for a perfectionist. Perfectionists like order and rules and tidiness. They want to be certain of the desired outcome before making the attempt to achieve that outcome. They want to be in control. Control and order and tidiness are at odds with the creative life; they are at odds with life in general. How, then, do I get things done? How do I take control of my perfectionism rather than let it control me?
- Accept “perfect” does not exist. Even on my best writing or drawing days, my work is never going to be perfect. While I must and should aim for that mark, I also have to accept that I’m not perfect and neither is my work.
- Accept failure as a reality. Failure is necessary to growth. If I’m not failing, I’m not trying. If I’m not trying, I’m not doing what I’m meant to do. Which is worse? Failure or not doing what I’m meant to do?
- Set deadlines. Part of this is the controlling nature of perfectionism; part of it is my combative strategy. If I set deadlines for projects, I have to meet them in order to move onto the next project’s deadline.
- Break projects into their smaller components. My e-book was in the works long before I started the actual work. The work itself was compartmentalized. I set aside a weekend for the text, a few weekends for the drawings, a weekend to pull the text and images together in InDesign, and another weekend to review the e-book.
- Prioritize projects and components. Remembering I’m human plays a role in prioritizing tasks. If I stretch myself too thin, I create opportunities for my perfectionism to wreak havoc. I prioritize tasks and give them the most realistic time frames I can. I also recognize which tasks will require more time – often because of things outside my control – or will require more from me (usually the scarier ones, such as starting a video series or submitting a session idea to SXSW).
- Document projects and time lines. I may be slightly obsessive compulsive when it comes to tracking ideas, projects, and time lines – I use paper, white boards, and Evernote – but it keeps me on track. Documentation helps to combat the perfectionism that says I’m not working hard enough or not accomplishing enough quickly enough.
- Don’t look back. By the time I finish one project, I’m already preparing to move onto the next one and am setting up the steps necessary to accomplishing it. Continual movement prevents some of the obsession over whether a project is “perfect.”
- Extend grace. This is an area I continually address. My natural tendency is to devolve into a cycle of negative self-talk when I don’t meet my perfectionism’s standards.
While all those steps play a part in my ability to get things done, perhaps the real answer is that I don’t give myself any excuses. My perfectionism is not an excuse for not creating. My battle with perfectionism is not an excuse, either. I think Rumi, a Persian Muslim poet, expresses my understanding of what it means to create despite everything, including my perfectionism:
Dance, when you’re broken open. Dance, if you’ve torn the bandage off. Dance in the middle of the fighting. Dance in your blood. Dance, when you’re perfectly free.
Thus, I create when I feel like a failure. I create when I am hurt. I create when I’m fighting my perfectionism. I create when I am free. I keep creating because, at some point, I will be “perfectly free” if I only can get past myself with all my own issues and my perfectionism with its loud, accusatory voice.