5 Tips To Help You Let Go Of Project Perfectionism

Editor’s note: This is a contributed post by Sara Duane-Gladden, Editor for Smartpress.com, an online printing service based in Minnesota, and a contributor to the Smarptress.com blog. She also works as a freelance copywriter and photographer in her spare time.

You’ve been working on the same project for what feels like too long. You keep scanning your work, just looking for that error that you know is there, you just haven’t spotted it yet. But the fact is it couldn’t be there.

You’ve spent so much time on it that you’re looking for problems where they probably don’t exist. It’s not even that you want to work on the project anymore, it’s that you’re not ready to let go.

Striving for perfection can be good because it means you value quality, but the fear of failing to produce anything less than perfect can be paralyzing. You end up spending way too long on something and time spent lingering on a project is time not spent on the next one.

Learning to let go of your projects can not only help you get over the need for perfection but also accept feedback and criticism more readily, and opens up time for taking on new work. Here are five tips to help you learn to just move on to the next project in your life.

1. Acknowledge The Problem

Hindsight is 20/20 of course, so you probably know if you’re susceptible to this perfectionism overkill. It’s trying to recognize it in the moment that is an issue.

If you try to be self-aware, you can usually tell when you’ve spent too long on something. You say things to yourself like “I should have gone home/to bed an hour/two hours ago,” “I haven’t eaten all day!” or “Just 5 more minutes and I’ll call it a night.” Then you look at the clock, it’s an hour later and you don’t really have much work to show for it.

2. Save And Step Away Immediately

Save a version of your work, then drop the mouse, close the laptop, set aside the tablet, whatever. Just pull yourself away from your work for a while; you’re too close to it. Unless you’re on a really tight deadline, I’d recommend that you step away for several hours. If not take the age-old advice of sleeping on it.

If you are on a tight deadline, do something else entirely for a period of time: Take a 20 minute walk, get a snack or a beverage, visit a co-worker, check your snail mailbox, go to the store. Get your mind into a mode other than “work, work, work”.

3. Reset Your Frame Of Mind

Come back to the project with as fresh of an attitude as you can muster and the idea that you’re not going to invest too much more time in this. It might help to remind yourself of other projects you haven’t been able to work on because you’ve been so tied up with this one.

You may find after you’ve returned that you’re feeling less critical of the results you have and only need a few minor adjustments. You may also discover that you’re mentally finished with the project and ready to send it off without another thought.

4. Don’t Get Sucked Back In

Whatever you do, don’t let it tempt you again. If you’ve already recognized that you’ve spent too much time on something, you need to cut yourself off.

Besides, you don’t know yet that your client or boss won’t love it. If you send it off, you can find out, then get feedback to either fix it or mark it a win, but you’ll never know if you just keep toiling over it hour after hour.

5. Adjust Your Behavior

If the pursuit of perfection has become a problem for you and you’ve recognized it, try to see it in yourself in the future and adjust your behavior (very important for step one!). Simply acknowledging such problems even exist in the first place can go a long way towards helping you solve them.


The compulsion to keep working on a project until it’s perfect can strike anyone, on any task, even the most experienced and confident of creative professionals. Considering the tips above can help you work through it and reduces the chances of it happening again in the future.

As you begin to complete projects more efficiently, instead of being obsessed with perfection, you’ll start seeking out the satisfaction of marking off another task in your list and enjoying the feeling of a job well done.

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