Women often reference “working harder” and “delivering excellence in their work” as evidence that they deserve (or reasons why they received) positive feedback or a promotion. They admit that this “extra effort” takes a toll and can, although not always, go unnoticed or unappreciated. It undeniably leads to more hours per task, time that could be better spent. Psychologists believe it’s tied to confidence, i.e. women feel more confident when the work they produce is perfect, something learned in school. Extra time is not something you have as Cram it all in Year (CIAIY) moms, so it’s best to a) recognize the instinct, b) determine when diminishing returns kick in, and c) identify how to modify your behavior.
Sometimes we’re trying so hard to do the best possible job, which is admirable, but you have to have awareness of how good is good enough versus near to perfection.
So, it’s not uncommon for “underqualified and under-prepared” men to be seen as more decisive at work than “overqualified and over-prepared” women. If that rings true – and we have a feeling it may – here’s something to keep in mind: women tend to feel their work needs to be almost perfect – and their thoughts fully baked – before they share. And it’s costing us. Costing us on the perception front at work; we can overthink our work product, which feels inefficient and frustrating for the person who is waiting on it. But also, on the well-being front: perfectionism is associated with feelings of anxiety, depression, and diminished self-esteem. We’re editing ourselves into a dark place. Here’s how to get back into the sun:
What To Do (Bites)
Beware the Nirvana Fallacy
The French philosopher Voltaire famously declared that “perfect is the enemy of the good.” This is the essence of the Nirvana Fallacy – the false belief that a perfect version of what we’re working on exists. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t. Be conscious when you’re telling yourself “one more go at it and it will be way better.” Or, when you’re saying to yourself “it’s not quite ‘there’ yet.” Step away from the keyboard, put your pen down. At a certain point, our changes don’t make our work better – it simply makes it different.
Get Comfortable “Satisficing”
Satisficing is an awesome combo of satisfy and suffice, and captures an approach to work and decision making that favors “good enough” over perfect. Some tasks do require optimal effort and outcomes, sure, but a whole lot of others don’t. When working on low to medium stake tasks, take a satisficing approach by asking: is the work currently “good enough” to satisfy local norms and audience expectations? If so, mark it done and move on.
Just to be clear (!) that doesn’t mean accept mediocrity everywhere – but figure out where good enough is sufficient, and where pursuing excellence actually makes the difference.
Focus on External Contributions over Internal Evaluations
Simply put, ‘what they really need’ compared to ‘what you think you need you to deliver.’ Resisting impulses to perfect and overwork something is hard. We’re our own best critics – and we work in critical environments. It’s a double whammy. But shifting focus off of our work, and on to our contributions to others’ work can help. Don’t ask “what will make this better”; instead, ask yourself “what does the other person need to solve a problem or move things forward?”
My Achilles heel was being perfectionistic. It costs time. Time is currency. Speed is currency. Often good enough is really good enough. So, figure out what’s really required.
Remember, colleagues and clients won’t know that any added creativity or polish is missing from your work if it is good enough. They’ll just see the good work you’ve done. All the potential overworking you’ve sidestepped will be invisible.
Take mental notes of what is considered “good enough” in your office and industry for the tasks you routinely perform. Sometimes your first attempt will be adequate. Sometimes you might need to rework it a few times. Overworking something without this contextual understanding can be as inefficient as mailing it in.
For high-stake tasks, ask questions of the person you’re delivering the work product to before you start. Get specific: what are you expecting the deliverable to look like? So as not to lose control or appear like you can’t take the lead, start with ‘here’s what I was planning as the best approach, is this consistent with your expectations?’ You can also have a trusted colleague review an in-progress version of what you’re working on. Talking it through with a person who knows your office, the ask, and the players involved will help you draw a line in the sand, and determine what “good enough” looks like in this case.
Hope you found this helpful! Got a topic you’d like some wisdom on? Let us know.