How I Overcame Perfection Paralysis

5 steps that kept me moving long enough to finish.

Have you ever stumbled across a post on social media that eerily resonates with you? One evening, during a deep-dive into the Instagram rabbithole, my thumb landed on a post that read, “Stop letting the idea of perfection get in the way of finishing.” The words seemed to yell at me through the screen.

For the past several weeks, I had been dragging my feet while finishing up the relaunch of my website. For hours I would turn the idea over and over in my mind, trying to visualize every potential outcome. I wanted the site to be perfect, so all the brainstorming and preparation felt productive at the time. However, as the weeks passed on, time was ticking and no actual progress was taking place. 

Seeing that post made me realize I was suffering from perfection paralysis – the inability to start or complete a project or task due to the fear of not getting it perfectly right. Once I understood what was causing me to procrastinate for so long, I decided to get out of my head and get to work. 

If you have a project lingering on your task list that you’re too anxious to complete, try following these 5 steps to overcome perfection paralysis. 

1. Just start.

As I sat at my desk to get started, one of my nearby post-it notes caught my eye. On it is a quote from Arthur Ashe which reads, “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” Initially, I kept telling myself to wait for better conditions before working on my website. Maybe I should have a bigger portfolio, I thought. Maybe I should wait until I can have professional photos taken.

While focusing on all those “maybes,” I had turned a blind eye to the experience, tools and skills I already possessed, which were more than enough to get me started. I wasn’t embracing the idea that the present moment was the perfect moment for me. That quote reminded me of my capabilities and discredited my excuses. 

Surround yourself with whatever motivates you. Take stock of your current resources. Use what you have to do what you can. Then, just start.

2. Don’t force it.

The first draft of my website was a fail. I planned a three-hour photoshoot, where I took self-portraits in stiff poses while trying to silence the nagging voice in my head that was telling me the truth: “That’s not who you are! This is so cliché and you know it! Those aren’t the types of projects you want to attract!” Still, I kept telling myself that finishing was more important than liking the result of my labor. Boy, was I wrong. When I finally put the site together, the outcome was too undesirable for me to ignore. I decided to scrap everything instead of launching something that wasn’t true to me. 

Always know when to stop. There’s a thin line between forcing it and faking it. Don’t push yourself to finish something you know you won’t be proud of. Be wary, though. Stopping now can be critical to your project. You can easily lose momentum here, and perfection paralysis can creep its way back in. That’s why the next step is so crucial. 

3. Do the backstage work.

In theater, the work that is done backstage is just as important to the show’s success as what happens in the spotlight. Instead of letting myself become stagnant, I found ways to be productive while still allowing myself to step away from the project itself. I spent time getting to know myself as a writer, discovering my niche and doing writing exercises to explore what my voice sounds like on paper. I found other writers to connect with online, and spent time reading their work or watching their helpful videos. I outlined blog topics and other content that I could post once the website was finished. Doing all of this backstage work reminded me why I wanted to relaunch my website in the first place. I felt excited to pick up where I left off. 

Allow yourself to be re-inspired. What backstage work can you do to help your project succeed in the long run?

4. Dust yourself off and try again.

Aaliyah said it best, “If at first you don’t succeed, dust yourself off and try again.” Starting over after my first failed attempt, I felt more confident, prepared, and seasoned. This time around, I practiced patience and diligence. I was no longer in a rush to finish. I allowed myself to ease into my ideas, letting them come to fruition naturally. I had redefined the idea of perfection, understanding this time that only I held the power to determine what it meant.

I planned another photoshoot, this time learning from my mistakes and following my intuition instead of trying to portray an image untrue to me. Instead of working alone, I opened up to my network and connected with people who held me accountable, taught me things I didn’t know, talked me through my ideas, and offered honest feedback. I felt proud of every new development, every step of the way.

Don’t ever be afraid or ashamed to start again. Every new chance is an opportunity for improvement, so trust in your wisdom and use it.

5. Finish the last lap.

Once I’d completed the bulk of my work, I was ready to kick my feet up and chill, but a few little finishing touches lingered behind. I was so close to the finish line, but my motivation was diminishing, yet again! I sat down and listed everything I would lose out on by not finishing. Not having a website meant I was unable to pitch clients, write guest posts on other blogs, join freelance writing networks, and more. Along with setting (and sticking to) a final deadline, seeing these risks on paper lit a fire under me to finish up quickly.

Make a detailed list of every remaining task that stands in your way of finishing. Then, make a list of everything you’ll continue to lose by procrastinating. Are you willing to take those losses? If not, set a deadline and get everything checked off that task list immediately. 

Before you let perfection paralysis hinder you from finishing a project, remind yourself that perfection is in the eye of the beholder, and nothing perfect comes from standing still. Focus on the process, not the prize. It’s okay if you start before you think you should. It’s okay if you fail. It’s okay if you have to start over. What matters most is that you start – and once you do – keep going.  

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