Changing your focus from perfection to producing excellent work in partnership with others can help you become more efficient without sacrificing quality or affecting morale, writes self-described perfectionist Naphtali Hoff. “When we pursue excellence or high standards, we come to value the process as well as the outcome,” Hoff writes.



In previous productivity steps, we planned our work (Step 1) put systems into place to keep our people informed and in sync (Step 2) and rolled up our sleeves to get work done (Step 3) This post goes deeper on Step 4, sustaining for maximal productivity.

As a teacher and, later, in my role of school administrator, I was often concerned with all my materials being “just right.” My worksheets needed to not only properly engage students in the content, but they had to be visually pleasing and properly formatted.

As head of school, I would carefully edit each newsletter and the student handbook, among other things. If my name was on it, it needed to be “perfect.” Of course, this approach took much of my time and limited my effectiveness in other ways.

Another sustainability tip is to focus on excellence, not perfection. For many perfectionists (this author included), it is hard to “settle” on doing good work. We want to do great work. Actually, we insist on perfect work. Every time. (This is called “maladaptive perfectionism.”)

We do this because it satisfies our egos and leads us to think that others will more readily accept our work, especially when we feel insecure about our skills and our capacity to satisfy others.

But seeking to produce perfect work (even if that were possible) slows us down and decreases output. It focuses us on dotting each “i” and crossing all the “t”s rather than producing more in other areas and projects. So, instead of perfection, pursue excellence. You will still get solid results, and others will be more than satisfied.

The difference between perfection and excellence is that with excellence, you may strive to do your absolute best, but you also allow yourself to accept failure and mistakes as you learn from them. Whereas, with perfection, you can never live with (let alone admit to) error or weakness. Everything must be always perfect.

When we strive for excellence, we maintain high standards. High standards can encourage us to think creatively, solve problems, stick to deadlines and commitments, and do quality work. Perfectionism, however, is an impossibly high standard. It leaves no room for error and is harsh on the mistake-maker.