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Two Ways Entrepreneurs Can Turn Perfectionism Into Progress

In order to combat the sneaky effects of perfectionism, we can use two proven techniques and turn perfectionism into progress.

We’ve all had experiences where we attempted to start a new project, but struggled to make progress and complete it. However, the reason we haven’t completed that project isn’t because we are lazy, unmotivated, or didn’t have the time. The real reason is because of a sneaky little affliction called perfectionism.

Photo: Jess Wass, Executive Coach | Source: Courtesy Photo
Photo: Jess Wass, Executive Coach | Source: Courtesy Photo

Over the last few weeks, two friends (who are also entrepreneurs) decided to finally launch new websites for their businesses. The problem is, each of them had been kicking around the idea for months and still had nothing to show for it.

The problem wasn’t their motivation, abilities, or that they were too busy. Rather, perfectionism was preventing them from making progress. Perfectionism caused them to get distracted by all the potential details and decisions that could be made in the process of creating a website. In the end, this lack of focus prevented them from making progress.

In order to combat the sneaky effects of perfectionism, we can use two proven techniques and turn perfectionism into progress. The first approach is to clarify your goals and redefine what “success” looks like. The second technique is to break down the project into smaller stages.


Gaining Clarity

Often we try to create overly complicated solutions that prevent us from reaching our goal. We lose sight of why we are undertaking the project and what we want to achieve. This causes us to build features or solutions that do not help us achieve our goals and instead prolong the timeline of our projects.

In the case of my friends working on their respective websites, each was trying to build out an extremely comprehensive website. When I asked them why they needed the website, they said they just needed something to show prospective clients and prove they were a real business. My next question was, “Given your clarified goal, what is the minimum information you need to provide to meet that goal?”

The first question is about clarifying (and re-clarifying) your goals. 

We often create beautiful and clever solutions to problems we weren’t trying to solve. Solve the right problems!

For my friends, they wanted a website designed to convert warm leads into paying clients. Given that goal, all they needed was some basic information, that looked professional, and without major grammatical mistakes and spelling errors. Later on, as their business expands they may need additional pages and information to convert cold leads, but that wasn’t necessarily the case right now.

This leads us to the second question.

Given your stated goals, can you re-evaluate your requirements for completion? What does the most basic version of the product look like? In the startup and engineering worlds, they refer to this as the MVP, or Minimum Viable Product. The idea is to get some version of the product, a version that is functional and without obvious flaws, out to market as quickly as possible.

The MVP also implies that there will be future updates. This means you do not need to stress about getting every feature in there immediately. What can be completed later, once the product is actually launched? What information can we collect in the early stages that will help us build a better version in the later stages? This leads us into our second technique to combat perfectionism, which is to break down the project into phases.


Breaking It Down

Sometimes even when we are clear on the goal, we still struggle to make progress because we find the end goal so daunting. We start to get overwhelmed with all the details and decisions that need to be made or we start criticize our ideas before we even act on them.

The end result is the same in that we become paralyzed by the anxiety and we continue to spin our wheels without ever declaring the project as complete. In order to overcome that anxiety and prevent ourselves from trying to go from start to finish in one shot, you need to create mini-goals and a phased approach.

“One benefit of breaking down the project into smaller phases is the ability to collect feedback that may influence a later phase.”

One benefit of breaking down the project into smaller phases is the ability to collect feedback that may influence a later phase. This process enables us to easily incorporate newly learned information, which then influences and changes the approach in the next stage. Once the product is out there, you can then evaluate in real-time what is working, what isn’t working, and what is really needed next. You will often find that the end solution you were going to build is no longer the right solution.

For instance, say you launch a small beta program for a new product instead of waiting a few more months until the final bells and whistles are completed. Through this beta program you may learn that features you originally thought were important and were planning to build are not actually valued by the customer. As a result, you can eliminate those features from the next phase and replace them with a new feature. This information only becomes apparent through the actual testing of the product with real customers.

Another interesting application of this approach is detailed in an article written by Professor Betty S. Flowers called “Madman, Architect, Carpenter, Judge” in regards to overcoming writer’s block.

Writer’s block is usually caused not by a lack of ideas, but by criticizing your pages before they are even written. To combat this, you break the writing process into four distinct stages as outlined by Flowers. Stage 1 is the Madman phase where you just get words down on paper. Next, the Architect starts to create sense out of the madman by moving the best ideas into organized sections. Then the Carpenter comes in and starts to create coherent sentences. The last stage is the Judge which is when you correct grammatical mistakes and details.

Usually, we start to jump into the Carpenter or Judge stage at the same time we are trying to get our ideas down. These phases compete with each other and that conflict results in shutting down our thinking and creativity. What I love about this process is that it can apply to any project, not just writing.

So what does this mean for you?

Is there a project you have been working on that you just haven’t had a chance to complete? If so, ask yourself whether you need to redefine what “complete” means. See if redefining what success looks like or breaking down the project into multiple phases will enable you to move towards the finish line.

This new approach can apply both to personal projects, such as building a vegetable garden, and work projects, such as launching a new service offering. If you can clarify your goals and break the project down into various phases and evolutions, you can get the project off the ground a lot quicker and learn a lot more along the way.


Jess Wass is an Executive Coach, Consultant, Facilitator & Speaker. She has a Masters in Organizational Psychology and over 10 years experience working in large global companies and startups before starting her own business. Now she helps busy entrepreneurs, owners, and founders enhance their productivity and transition from ordinary managers to extraordinary leaders. To help her clients organize their days more efficiently she created The DAILY PLANNER, a one-page digital planner that you can download for FREE at TheDailyPlanner.


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