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Image of neatly aligned noodles showing perfectionist tendencies

Taking pride in your work is an important part of professional success. When you are passionate about the types of projects you take on, and the results or products you produce, it’s natural to strive for that extra bit that will distinguish your work and help it rise above the competition.

While this attitude can be useful, it can also open you up for new anxieties and unforeseen consequences. You may find yourself so focused on perfecting the task at hand, your work and the work of your team, actually suffers as a result. The stress that comes with obsessing over small details might even bleed over into other parts of your life!

Producing good work is, ultimately, about finding a process that allows you to channel your productive energy in a constructive way. If you find yourself stuck striking this balance, I have some strategies that might help:

1. “Perfect” Is Not Always the Solution

No matter how ‘finished’ a project may seem, there are almost always ways in which it can be tweaked or improved. Graphics can be stylized and made to include different sets of information. Speeches can be reworded a hundred different ways. Striving to achieve perfection in specific areas run the risk of distracting you from the actual concrete demands of a given project. Take a step back and focus on the general architecture of the message you’re trying to convey, or the product you’re trying to present. Is the information succinct? Does it engage the audience in an approachable way? These basic considerations don’t explicitly require a perfect solution, and there may be more than one viable option available. Don’t limit yourself.  

2. Get Eyes, Get Feedback

Run ideas and rough drafts by team members and other colleagues. An external pair of eyes is an invaluable tool in separating the wheat of your ideas from the chaff. You don’t have to shoulder all the responsibility of making a project great yourself. Even the most talented professionals in their field rely on the input and knowledge of others. If something is missing, trust in your associates to help point you toward it. Their reaction will most likely mirror that of your audience.

3. Work in a Rhythm

We all work most effectively in different environments and rhythms. Regardless of the space or schedule of your efforts, practice holding yourself to consistent windows in which you work. Take breaks, and enjoy your leisure time outside of the project. Creating great work is not isolated to what you produce but holistically how you produce it. If you’re short on sleep or distracted, it will only make the worrying and obsessing worse.

4. Know When to Put Down the Pen

Sometimes, you just have to know when to say “when.” If your biggest issue is finding the point to cut yourself off from a given project, set hard deadlines or dates where drafts can no longer be touched. Having a firm idea of when something must be finished can provide clarity and drive in producing the best work you can. These small degrees of structure provide the bounds for your creativity to flourish. It is not always easy to put ideas like these into practice. The emotional regard you have for your work is important, but it is equally important not to abuse yourself with it. As with all things, balance is key. Hopefully these reflective tools will help you achieve that balance. They may just be the ‘perfect’ solution.

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depression-get unstuck from life's ruts

When you’re in a rut–be it in a job, in between jobs, or just in general–becoming “unstuck” can be very difficult. While in this position, you may feel trapped, unmotivated or defeated. You may be tempted to settle. Don’t!

We all get in ruts, at times feeling trapped by our circumstances, and that is okay. However, the worst thing to do in this situation is to remain engaged in whatever it is that is making you feel unsatisfied. Something needs to change and change requires action. Today, I’ll give you five tried and true ways to free yourself from the funk so you can get back to living a rewarding life.

Get out of the comfort zone! 

Often the real cause of feeling stuck comes from the very habits we’ve created to be more comfortable. Our comfort zone feels good, but also has the potential to keep us from experiencing life. When we see too much of the same thing day after day, it’s easy to fall into the doldrums. Do something new! Try painting or photography or learn video editing. Attend a networking event or retreat. Work through your reservations and put yourself out there. In doing so, you’ll prove to yourself that you’re adaptable and resilient to setbacks. And, who knows, maybe you’ll find a talent or passion you were not even aware of.

Exercise, exercise, exercise 

We often forget that the brain is part of the body, and the body was made to move. Research continues to confirm that the brain performs better, and the body feels better, when we exercise.1 Whether it’s yoga, jogging, taking a walk or lifting weights, daily physical activity will motivate you to get out of the funk by stimulating your brain.

Travel somewhere new

Like exercise, travel stimulates the brain as well (probably due to the fact that we humans were nomadic creatures not too long ago). It’s in our nature to crave a change of scenery. It doesn’t need to be an expensive, extravagant trip. It can be something as simple as a weekend trek to a neighboring state, a train ride across the country, or a camping adventure with the family.

Make a point to be kind to those around you 

This obvious step is easily ignored when we get trapped in ruts. We become so wrapped up in ourselves, we forget to reach out and engage with others. Taking time at work, at home, and with friends to connect and share is one of the best ways to enrich your life. Kindness is reciprocal, after all.

Try reading for pleasure (every day!) 

Reading for pleasure forces your brain to create entire worlds out of thin air, and books offer differing perspectives on life that you may have never considered. What’s more, reading gives you time to recover from life’s little struggles and have a moment to yourself. It also works as a great sleeping aid if you get into the habit of reading right before bed.

These suggestions promote positive change, but the key to each of these is your attitude. You must eliminate the words “wish, hope, maybe, and should” from your vocabulary and replace them with “can, will, and do.” In most cases, feeling stuck is temporary and common.* You have the power to get yourself out of it. Trust that you will!

1 “The Human Brain,” The Franklin Institute, accessed October 22, 2012, http://www.fi.edu/learn/brain/exercise.html

2 “Staying on Top of Your Game,” Psychology Foundation of Canada, accessed October 22, 2012, http://www.psychologyfoundation.org/pdf/TopOfYourGame/3.pdf

*It should be noted that a “rut” is much different than dealing with depression or other mental disorders that cause a permanent “low” feeling. When in doubt, consult a physician.

 

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS®DISCOVERY LICENSED PRACTITIONER, FOUNDER OF UXL, AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE TAG TEAM. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. YOU CAN VISIT HER WEBSITE AT WWW.YOUEXCELNOW.COM

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