Ditching the Devil on Your Shoulder: Perfectionism

Despite our ravenous appetite for organizational products, news articles and TV shows, very few people feel that they’re effectively staying on top of the chaos.

In a recent survey commissioned by Buttoned Up, we learned that over two thirds of women worried that they were not organized enough. Nearly as many indicated that they were constantly frustrated that they never able to get as organized as the experts say they should be. And worse, most felt they would never be buttoned up enough, no matter how much help they got.

Alicia on the devil on your shoulder

‘That organizational anxiety you may be feeling might just be related to a little devil on your shoulder called perfectionism. It doesn’t help that at every turn ‘perfect organization’ (a little something we like to call org porn) is held up as the achievable ideal. And to help you get there, you have to follow a series of rigid, compartmentalized organizational systems that hardly fit into busy, sandwiched lives. We want to be clear — taking steps to become more Buttoned Up is NOT the same thing as chasing ‘perfection.’ That, simply doesn’t exist — and is an utter waste of time and energy, not to mention a drag for the people around you! And for that matter, so are tools and tips that make getting organized a full time job.’

Sarah on why it’s detrimental

‘Chasing perfection fuels something we call ‘organizational inertia,’ a type of paralysis that makes it virtually impossible to get started. Nearly every woman who took our survey last month agreed that the most difficult part of getting organized was knowing where to start. If perfection is the objective, that makes sense; it requires a superhuman effort to achieve and constant, superhuman vigilance to maintain. The goal of getting organized is to eliminate inefficiency, so that you have more time to do what you actually want to do.’

Three tips for brushing off that devil on your shoulder:

#1: Get clear on ‘why’
Images of perfectly organized closets, kitchens, desks, and bookshelves are everywhere. It’s easy to view those images as a guideline for ‘the way things are supposed to be.’ But that just sets you up for failure. Instead, focus on why you want to get organized in the first place. If it helps, use the images to focus on the benefits you are trying to achieve: calm, efficiency, etc. Once you are clear on the real objective, then you are free to define your own rules for achieving that end goal (and what that end goal will look like for you).

#2: Break it down
Time is the one, scarce resource that we all wish we had more of. The trick to getting and staying organized is to do a little bit each day, but perfectionism can lead us to believe that if we don’t accomplish it all at once and by ‘yesterday,’ we have somehow failed. To be sustainable, getting organized has to fit into your busy, time-stretched life. This means you will invariably need to break larger tasks down into bite-sized pieces that you can finish in smaller windows of time. Realistic and flexible timeframes are crucial to staying (happily) on track.

#3: Focus on the process
Fixating on the end goal without focusing on the process is a trap that is easy to fall into. The problem is that such a single-minded focus means you may never figure out a way to make the process of getting buttoned up enjoyable. And if you don’t find the process satisfying, you are much, much, much less likely to stay on track; unless you’re a saint, you’re probably no good at doing things you hate to do! So try to find ways to enjoy the process, not just on the end result. Evaluate your success in terms of how much you enjoyed the task.