2 Perfectionist Tips That Will Free Up Your Time, Brain, and Energy

Looking for perfectionist tips that will help you overcome perfectionism? Just want to write better to-do lists in your bullet journal or be more productive? Click through for 2 great tips!

I’m not a perfectionist in the traditional sense.

I’ve published dozens of blog posts that contain typos. I’ll leave the house knowing there’s a tiny coffee stain on my shirt and pretend it happened in transit. I’ll happily cobble together a meal from a wilting green pepper and some freezer-burned corn and then yell about how I’m pretty much Julia Child.

I mean, I wrote a blog post entitled “It Doesn’t Have To Be Perfect, It Just Has To Be Something.”

But I’ll also spend weeks – or months! – polishing and editing and fussing over an ebook that’s already 99% amazing. I’ll wander into the kitchen at 10 pm “just to wipe down the counters” … and then it’s 45 minutes later and I’m defrosting the freezer. I’ll spend so long tweaking a client proposal that I almost miss the deadline.

Of course, truly getting over perfectionism is the work of a lifetime and probably lots of therapy. But while you’re doing that deeper work, here are two surprisingly effective tips that have helped me get out of my own way and get on with my totally-not-perfect-but-still-awesome life!

2 perfectionist tips that will free up your time, brain, and energy

Set a ‘good enough’ timer

Are you working on a task that doesn’t have a due date, defined finish line, and – if we’re being honest – isn’t wildly important?

I’m talking about stuff like

  • Clearing out your closet
  • Updating your photo albums or scrapbooks
  • Detailing the car
  • Researching and purchasing the world’s most perfect pots and pans (<- real thing I’ve devoted a surprising amount of time to recently)

If tasks like these flip your perfectionist switch and culminate with you using a toothbrush on your baseboards at 2 am, do yourself a favor:
If you’re prone to perfectionism, set a ‘good enough’ timer. If you don’t know when you’ve reached ‘good enough,’ at least your phone will. Click To Tweet
Think about how long you can reasonably expect yourself to work on this task without wearing yourself down to a grumpy, sulky nub. Reduce that number by 25%.

Set your timer, work on your task, and when the timer dings, you’re done. You’ve officially reached the ‘good enough’ point. Congrats!

Now go make yourself a cup of tea and read a magazine or something.

Set time-based goals rather than completion-based goals

We humans are shockingly bad at estimating how long things will take.

For years, when I’d make my daily to-do list, I’d write things like “finish client proposal” or “update old blog posts.” Then I’d sit down to finish that client proposal only to emerge five hours later, frazzled, exhausted, patently not-finished, and disappointed with myself. Fun!

And I did this all over my life! “Finish landscaping front yard,” “Plan Stacey’s birthday party,” and “Figure out SEP” were all items on my to-do list I mistakenly believed I could hammer out in 30-60 minutes.

Reader, I could not, in fact, landscape my front yard in 30 minutes.

Instead, I started to break my unrealistic, self-defeating to-do lists into time-based segments. When I had a huge, time-consuming goal, I’d break it into small, doable steps and give myself a set amount of time to work on each step.

“Spend 30 minutes researching lodging + activities for upcoming Denver trip.”
“Rake leaves for 45 minutes.”
“Work on new ebook for one hour.”

Do I always complete the task in the allotted time? I do not. But I kept my commitment to myself and did what I set out to do. Keeping your promises to yourself is a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it gets.

Many of the tasks I’m working on would take up an afternoon or entire days if I let them. I’d overwork, burn myself out, give up, and feel like I failed.

But when I set time-based goals rather than completion-based goals, I’m setting myself up for success. I can check that item off my to-do list and go to bed knowing I did what I said I was going to do.

I want to hear from you! Do you identify as a perfectionist? How does perfectionism show up in your life? If you’ve gotten past it, share your tips in the comments so we can learn from you!

P.S. If you’re looking to break your perfectionist habits, this can help. And it’s free!

Photo by Jess Watters on Unsplash

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  1. Maggie

    Cosigned SO HARD. This is honestly how I get myself to tackle huge piles of dishes. “Just set a timer for 15 minutes and get as much done as you can.” More often than not, all I need is 15 minutes, but I’d put it off because I’d convince myself I’d need, like, an hour, and the activation energy to tackle an “hour’s” worth of dishes was too much! I’m using this to clean my apartment in preparation for my aunt and uncle’s visit this weekend. One hour and done.

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Yes to ‘only’ cleaning for an hour!

  2. Heidi

    HA! Sarah, I was just reading about type One on the Enneagram (The Perfectionist), and I thought, “Enough of this. Let’s go see what’s new over at Yes and Yes.”

    My desire for perfection manifests as procrastination and flat-out refusing to start anything I might not be good at. Your tips will help me to try things and to tackle big projects more effectively.

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Ha! That’s so funny! I haven’t taken the Enneagram but from what I’ve heard, I’m pretty sure I’m a 1 :/

  3. Katharine

    I did #2 for writing my book! Rather than setting word count or chapter goals, I’d plan 3 hours of writing, or one hour of editing, or whatever fit in my day, and then work with as much focus as I could during that time. It worked great, kept me on track, and minimized the frustrating “I want to go to bed and I’m struggling to write this scene but I haven’t hit my word count for the day” moments. And long as I reached my time goal, I knew I was still getting the work done!

  4. Siân

    Hi! I’m new to your blog and just ADORE your advice! Brilliant and relatable direction, thank you! I can’t wait to read more 🙂 Siân x

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