The Recovering Perfectionist - escaping the trap of doing things right

Where is that fine line between striving for perfection and being a perfectionist? Doing things right becomes a trap when it gets in the way of doing the right things.

Do you find that you spend a great deal of energy doing high quality work and then feel unappreciated when it's not recognized? Does no one seem to understand just how long your to-do list is? Do you find it is easier to do something yourself than to teach someone else to do it? Do your peers get more recognition for their work than you, even though you deliver more quality results? If you answered YES to two or more of these questions, you might be caught in the trap of Doing Things Right.

Doing things right involves putting energy towards creating something that you can be proud of. Doing the right things focuses energy on making a difference. The trap is created when we view activity as accomplishment. We feel a strong sense of achievement when we check things off our lengthy to-do list. We feel busy, powerful and valuable.

Doing lots of stuff feels like accomplishment and success. We get so involved in activity that we fail to notice the bigger game that is being overlooked. "I'll spend time on next year's plan once I've finished all these projects." "I don't have time to train my staff to take this over from me." Ego can play a big role as well, especially if doing the right thing involves uncharted territory. It is easier to remain on familiar ground. "No one else can do this as well as I can." "There is too much to do to waste my time on a new strategy right now." Working long hours becomes a badge of honor that is hard to let go of.

Making the shift from doing things right to doing the right things requires measuring yourself in a new way. It requires focusing your energy on making a real difference every day. It requires replacing the long to-do list with a short priority list. It is about having your hand on the pulse of the system, rather than your head down at your desk sifting through 50 emails. It is about being valuable, rather than perfect.

Tips for escaping the trap and doing the right things:

1. Note how "doing things right" is present in your life. It doesn't just play out in the workplace. Parents can become so involved in providing the "right" childhood experiences that they rush past the real value of just being fully present with their children.

2. Ask yourself what "right thing" is getting lost in the shuffle of busy activity.

  • improving the underlying process that is creating daily problems
  • training someone to take over the work you really shouldn't be doing
  • developing a better sales strategy so you aren't chasing the numbers every day
  • creating relationships instead of emails
  • meeting the expectation of your role instead of the expectation of others
  • focusing on progress instead of processing paperwork

3. Replace your 25-item to-do list with a 3-item priority list. Each day, create a new priority list that contains the top 3 things that will make the most difference in your work or personal life. If you forget something that wasn't on the list, how important was it really? Start a new list fresh each day and throw away the old one. This ensures that you always focus on what is important today, not yesterday.

4. FOCUS your energy on working the list. Don't allow low-hanging fruit (those quick tasks to "get out of the way") or pages of email to get in the way. If an emergency pops up, compare solving it to the priorities on your list before you automatically go into firefighting mode.

5. Learn to look to others as an extension of your value. The power is in getting the right things done, not doing everything yourself.

Escaping the trap of doing things right takes time and the path is not always forward. Expect yourself to revert to doing "stuff" during times of stress and insecurity. Just catch yourself in to-do mode and focus once again on doing what matters!