Perfectionism vs Productivity — Too Good at What You Do?

Anna Majowska
4 min readMay 9, 2017

It is commonly believed that those of us who call themselves or are known to be perfectionists are more productive or better suited for efficient work.
While this does make sense on a logical level — since someone who puts a lot of attention on details must be good at what they do — it turns out to not necessarily be true.

Anxiety & Stress

These are the 2 definitive effects that the constant “having to meet the highest standard” is putting on people — even in meaningless situations the pressure is there to achieve the best possible result. This creates a constant worry, a feeling of being obliged to do even more than your best.
Then there is the fear of turning average. Meanwhile being “just regular” has a number of benefits, that perfectionists are missing out on. Seems like a better idea to leave the unrealistic approach of having to be flawless and focus on just being good, but less anxious. Perfectionism-related anxiety can easily turn into depression, low self-esteem or worse and no doubt — none of these are adding to productivity.

Priority Issues

Because even the smallest of insignificant details needs to be attended to with the greatest of care and attention, the amount of time left to produce the really important work gets limited. Sure, the real work will be done with no miss, but the issue with not being able to weigh what matters and what doesn’t is a valid problem.
Furthermore, people who get bogged down with the details can be seen as procrastinators — suppose the joke is on the perfectionists here, really.

The Failure Is Not an Option Trap

It’s common knowledge, that in order to become really good at something you first need to make a few mistakes — this is the quickest way to learn, provided that you’re paying attention.
Highly scrupulous people have a tendency to keep a flawless score of them not failing at something and therefore being the best. Once they do make a mistake — they leave the subject and move on to something else, because excelling at this one is no longer possible.
Because of that, it can be said that they are losing chance of getting really good at anything.
In other words — failing is the best opportunity to learn, not to quit. Failure is then also an everyday element of getting results.

Following the Leader

A compulsive best-performer may well have a will to stay in line with the boss’ requirements to such an extent, that straying off the directed path is impossible or unthinkable. Even in situations in which this would be of benefit to the results. Sticking closely to the rules can be an actual limitation of how much and how well one can produce.

The Perfect Tends to Kill the Innovative

Since a perfectionist has no room for a learning curve — all has got to be done right at first go — there is danger that any new idea or method will be squashed and let go of, before it has a chance to take root — just because of the fear of it not panning out and failing.
Innovation takes trial and error, with strong accent on error — as proven in a recent study. Innovation is an everyday part of doing things well and better with each attempt.
This extends further onto being apprehensive about starting a new challenge, career or even a hobby.

One-Area Focus and its Limitations

For people who tend to know they’re good (or best more likely) in one area of their work, there is a trap of becoming self-satisfied and feeling that they have nothing more to learn in this department, leading to them becoming stagnant in an ever-changing environment.
Perfectionists’ focus on the thing they know to do well also generates a limitation of the will to deal with other aspects of their work, which cannot be good, can it?


With overachievers, there is a trend to not share the workload with others and keep all matters related to it to themselves. This is meant to guarantee success and getting it done well and on time. Meanwhile, not letting others into a project and failing to cooperate can be damaging to any project — due to lack of multi-level perspective on a subject.
This DIY approach combined with the amount of high standard they exude plus the nervous atmosphere of having to maintain the very highest quality of all things cannot make you a fun person to be around.
This may seem harsh, but being likeable is big part of good teamwork, which, in turn, is a portion of being productive.

Although the search for perfection is a noble one, it seldom seems practical in a group environment. What then?
You may want to try a few approaches for getting rid of it:
- Lose the need and eye for it. Don’t seek it
- Aim for good or done — complete — not for perfect. 99 times out of 100 it will be enough
- Compromise: with yourself, with others, with the work, with the standard. It can be learned. Aim for your perfection of normality. BEST of luck ;)

The article was first published on the Kanban Tool Blog.