Overcoming the Perfectionism Trap

A Typical Time Management Problem for Doctors

I fall into this trap sometimes and it’s really common in doctors, so I thought I’d share a couple of quick solutions that people tell me really helped them (feedback from our Time Management Course, which in part looks at stuff like this).

The Problem

Fundamental to good medicine is obviously a high attention to detail, thoroughness, being comprehensive etc.  It comes naturally to most doctors because there is a fairly common psychological predisposition towards perfectionism.  It’s a strength but then also a weakness. If it is an underlying character predisposition, the issue is that it gets used in ‘everything’ and not just those aspects of work that actually benefit from it, which would be fine if you had oodles of time but none of us do. In which case, it’s a trap that results in overworked individuals who ironically also tend to think they are failing somewhat because they can’t find the time to ‘do things properly’.

The Mental Shift

It’s as simple as this – If you have too much to do and not enough time, being a perfectionist in something that doesn’t sufficiently benefit from perfectionism is robbing that same level of attention from something that does. That’s right, perfectionism is undermining the very thing that’s important to you – perfectionism (but where it counts).

Practical Solutions

There are 3 basic solutions or approaches to adopt:

  1. Be a perfectionist about applying perfectionism – Give yourself a 1-10 scale and ask yourself for any task or project “to what degree on my scale does this task truly benefit from perfectionism?” and then use that to put just the right input into something.
  1. Delegate low perfectionism tasks – I know what you might be thinking; that you don’t like to delegate because nobody does it quite well enough (it’s another perfectionists trap!). That’s why delegating low perfectionism tasks is great because they don’t warrant things being done to perfection and you can use the time for things that are really important and do genuinely benefit.
  1. Prioritise based on genuine task importance – it’s a derivative of approach 1 but what you’ll find is something interesting. We measure importance by the impact of something being done or the consequence of it not being done. However, after you have prioritised your to-do list, you’ll find the really important items split into consequences from not being done properly (requiring perfectionism) and consequences from not being done in a timely enough fashion (requiring them simply to be done, now, well enough).

This latter point can be literally life-changing for some, as they realise that their wonderful trait of perfectionism is wonderfully undermining their ability to be successful because of this very specific trap – applying perfectionism to really important things where there are consequences to stuff not being done. Ultimately it’s the same advice as approach 1 – apply perfectionism appropriately but by prioritising first, it’s difficult to ignore the sheer consequences of getting this wrong.

If this feels like good advice and you want to understand more, have a look at our Time Management Course for Consultants and see if it addresses some of the issues you might be facing:

View Time Management for Consultants

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