“Hands up who here is perfect?” asked the awesome Helen Garcia.
No one raised their hands. Not a single person.
But what if Helen had instead asked the room of Salesforce professionals “Who here is a perfectionist?”
I’m willing to bet good money that at least 75% of the audience would have raised their hands.
For me this is the moment when the penny finally dropped.
If Helen had asked that other question, I would have sat there, thinking, “Yes, I’m a perfectionist and this room – full of my peers – are also perfectionists, therefore this is right.”
Let’s look at the room again: 40+ dedicated Salesforce enthusiasts, many of whom had given up considerable time to come to Brussels for YeurDreamin 2023 and chosen this particular session. Both paid and unpaid, we had foregone a day’s worth of competing priorities because we realise the value of continuous training and networking… So in that room of people I respected, not one single person had reached the goal of doing 100% perfect work. Could it be that we were in fact aiming for the wrong goal?
Note: This is an example of groupthink, and why groupthink can be bad. For those that are wondering, diversity is an excellent way to avoid this trap.
This was the moment when I resolved never to be a perfectionist ever again. Better than that, some of my recently-gained experiences and conversations all clicked together and I suddenly knew how I was going to do this.
Let me tell you how I got to this point.
I managed to swerve and avoid, although I did come extremely close, and part of it is because I was a perfectionist. I felt that if I was near a goal, then just a tiny bit of extra effort would create that perfect solution. What I didn’t understand was that just because I could see a destination, and perhaps describe it, I wasn’t actually near it due to the lovely way the brain works to fool us that (some) hard tasks are easy to keep us motivated.*
*no citations available
Here’s a case in point. Could the above graph be better? Yep – not going to deny it! I could spend time looking at fonts, line fitness, could it even be better represented with a cartoon… but does it get the job done, so I can spend my time more productively on something else? Absolutely!
And that’s the key: what else could I be doing with my time? Whether it’s making that graph look better, a different blog (there’s thousands of thoughts I need to organise…), learning something, doing the ironing or going outside for a relaxing bike ride, I need to own the decision on how I spend my time. It’s my decision alone, albeit that others might have a good call on some of it!
So if we’re not going for perfect, then will 90% suffice? Well, it’s hard to define what 90% looks like so there’s a risk there, but perhaps we’ll let your intuition guide you.
But I’ve tried that method in the past. If I’m at 90% my brain kicks in and goes “you’re nearly there” and then I get sucked into that “event horizon” that draws me closer. Instead I’m now going to go for 60%. I’m staying well out of reach. If 60% is good enough for Salesforce and many other “A”-graded exams in this world, then it will do for me too.
And here’s something else I learned from a audio book that I was listening to recently because I now have spare time:
If we are perfect, we must be certain of the right answer, but certainty is a rigid state in which creativity and agency cannot exist. (paraphrased from Citizens: Why the Key to Fixing Everything Is All of Us by Jon Alexander)
So certainty of the perfect solution is to deny that there are numerous ways of reaching the same goal. You know that’s not true, right? Right?! Everything has trade-offs, in both our professional and personal lives.
Example #1: Documentation which requires an interactive database to access it, and knowledge to understand it v. filling in a description field and help text. Both are good solutions, sometimes one is more appropriate than the other.
Example #2: Paying for the trendiest clothing v. making something yourself. Both can be fabulous. Equally this is a very good example of somewhere where you might decide not to prioritise your time at all.
It wasn’t just the effort I was getting wrong. My diary would be “perfectly” optimised – 100% full. Something additional coming along… no problem. I’ll just shift my schedule and reduce my sleep time a bit (my downtime had gone years ago).
In conversation with the fountain of wisdom that is Pei Mun Lim, again at YeurDreamin, she asked me to describe this in visual terms – not something that comes naturally to me, but it really helped me understand myself.
The theory was that if something new came into my life demanding my attention that I would remove something of equal size. Only that never happened. But instead of there being space for it, something would splash out and run down the outside. Often my health because I hate backing out of a promise I made, with the side effect of creating huge amounts of anxiety as I (poorly) managed this friction.
Instead I’m now aiming for 60%. That means if something comes along I might have spare capacity for it. And if not, then there’s plenty of options available: from making sure I’m on time for the first ever Glasgow Salesforce Saturday (starting later this month), to having a lie-in or to completing puzzles (I wanted a tactile hobby and if I picked up knitting the most likely outcome would be a trip to A&E!).
I’m wrapping up, and I hope you hear the message loudly and clearly. I get it… now. But I know I’ve been told the basic message many times: Perfectionism is the enemy of success.
So, what changed? Two factors:
- I heard the message from multiple sources, in different ways, within a relatively short space of time, all reinforcing each other: my ADHD CBT therapist, Helen Garcia, and from 40 others in the same room; I spoke with others and also discussed to help me think it over.
- I’m on the autistic spectrum and can be resistant to change… but I recognise this and say the pattern in my previous attempts at time management. I now realise that I shouldn’t make a small adjustment because I will just slip back into my old ways of working. Maybe “nudge theory” is good for neurotypicals, but I personally need a kindly but firm shove. It’s not perfect, but it does work!
Huge thanks to Kathryn Chlosta for her input on this blog, as well as the many many others that I have chatted to over the course of working through this issue.
p.s. Artwork at the top is from ADHDinos. Full credit to them!
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