5 Solutions to Help Perfectionists Get Things Done

Jul 14, 2014, Written by Sue Miley

Getting things done is important to everyone, but especially the small business owner.  Actually, we have to get a lot of different things done.  And we have to get them done and meet the customer or stakeholder’s expectations.

This can actually be a tall order at times depending on the customer’s expectations.  We all have customers that range from just give it to me “as is” to can you change this one last thing for the tenth or twentieth time.

So we have to manage the customer’s varying expectations.

What about our own expectations?  I know this is not a problem for everyone, but I do see it a lot in entrepreneurs.

It may be a little bit perfectionist tendencies and another portion of just spread out the work until it is due.  Combined, these two can be a killer.

Why?  If you are only spreading out the work until it is due, what is the problem?

It is the cumulative effect that bites you.  If you are working “too long” on a project:

  1. It may no longer be profitable.
  2. It may keep you from accepting other projects because you don’t have enough time.
  3. It may cause other projects to be late because you used up all of your time on one project and you have less time on other projects.
  4. It may cause the quality to deteriorate as you try to make up the time on the other projects.  (The antithesis of what a perfectionist wants to happen.)

And in a worse case scenario, it could create a combination of all of the above.

How do you change this?

Realistically, it may depend on if it is truly a clinical perfectionist issue, but assuming you have the normal issues we all have, here are some suggestions.

  1. Set a time budget and stick as close as possible to it.  You have been doing this awhile now.  Make your best estimate and see if you can stay within the time budget.  Provide the service or item to the customer and base your success on if their expectations were met, not on whether you could have done a little better with more time.  The improvement created with more time has diminishing returns on your time investment.
  2. Have someone review your work at a reasonable stopping point.  Get someone you trust, but who does not have the same affliction, to see your progress and give you feedback.  I had a colleague at a church I worked for who would work on any kind of graphic presentation literally until it had to be presented.  I would look at it way in advance of presentation and it was fine.  She would keep working on it with minimal measurable improvement, yet significant time added.  I had to take the project away, when I was good with it, to stop her from working on it.  (She thanked me later!)
  3. Time your work.  You may be overcommitting to the timeline over and over again.  I learned in graduate school for counseling that people are terrible at self report.  You may have to track your time in order to get realistic timelines.  This is really important if the problem keeps happening.  It is better to set the customer’s or stakeholder’s time expectation at the beginning, then to disappoint them or stress yourself out.
  4. Track your customer’s expectations.  Hopefully you have a lot of re-occurring clients.  Based on their history of satisfaction, requests, and in some cases for services, providing you what you need to do their project, you adjust your timeline.  Add time to customer’s who are more difficult so you have time for the changes and requests.  But you also have to include that in your pricing.  More time for many services increases your costs!
  5. Outsource or add resources.  Usually even perfectionists are easier on others than they are on themselves.  It is that whole double standard situation.  Having a team that can get things done, especially in the areas you are overly diligent may be the perfect solution.  You still have input up front and you get to review the work.  Again you just have to pay attention to the pricing and margins.  But your time is valuable also.  You have to count it as part of the cost when you do something yourself.  We tend to not count it because we didn’t have to pay someone else.  However, over time, the opportunity cost of utilizing too much of your time has a real dollar value to it.

Getting things done and meeting customer’s expectations is an ongoing requirement for entrepreneurs and small business owners.  If it isn’t going well, this is something you need to take the time to figure out, because it isn’t going to just go away.

Do you, or someone you work with, have this issue?  Are there other solutions that have worked for you?

Reader Interactions


  1. Nathan Ambrose says

    Nice advice Sue. I was thinking of writing an article like this.

    It’s so important to budget time, as we would do with other things. Although I help others to get organised, I do also fall into the same trap of trying to perfect something, and not progress. I often remind myself to move on to other tasks.

    • Sue Miley says

      Hi Nathan, I think it is likely, at times, that we all fall into this trap. Awareness helps, but usually it takes someone else’s objectivity to help us catch it. As a coach, it is common to help others but sometimes fall in to the same trap ourselves. It is probably what gives me 50% of the topics I write about—personal experience! Thank God for His grace!

  2. Carey Green says

    I’ve had to learn to assess what things should be on my plate at any given time so that I don’t overcommit like this. Once I’m clear on that, it’s easier for me to stay motivated – because I truly BELIEVE IN what I’m doing as the RIGHT things to be doing. If I skip that step due to enthusiasm or eagerness, I find myself losing traction and motivation along the way and ALL my projects drag along. Not a good thing. Thanks for this Sue… great stuff.

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Sue Miley

Sue Miley MBA, MA, LPC helps small business owners build successful businesses on a foundation of Christian values. After 20 years in business, and 10 years as a Christian counselor, Sue uses a combination of faith, business and psychology to help clients in business and in life.

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