Is Perfection the Enemy of Productivity?

workplace workstation

by Moira Dunne, Productivity Consultant & Founder,

Most people pride themselves on the high standards they achieve in their work lives. Aiming for perfection helps deliver quality work but there can be a down-side too. It can cause stress if we feel we don’t have time to achieve the standard we want. It can impact our schedule too as we often spend longer on tasks than we planned. Is perfection the enemy of productivity?

In today’s hectic workplace, many people have more work to do than they have time to do it. So, it is important to make the right decisions each day to use time in the best possible way.


Spending too long on one task may mean missing a deadline on another. So it can be very counterproductive. There are many reasons we do this including:

  • The desire for perfection
  • Enjoying the piece of work
  • Fear of criticism
  • Uncertainty about what to deliver

When Good is Good Enough

Sometimes the standards we aim for are not required. While quality is important, it can be more productive to progress two tasks to an acceptable level rather than perfect one task to a very high standard. For perfectionists this can be hard to do. It can help to get agreement in advance from a manager or a client about what exactly needs to be delivered. This gives the perfectionist “permission” to complete something even if the standard reached is not 100% in their eyes.

Effort versus Impact

Every piece of work takes valuable time out of our day. So it is important to consider the value being added. Is 80% of the current effort enough? Is the last 20% the “nice to have” aspect of the task?

Ask yourself:

  1. Will anyone notice the final 20% of the work I do on this task?
  2. Will this extra effort add any benefit for my clients or my colleagues?
  3. Am I adding extra features because that’s the part of the work I enjoy?

It can help to split the work on a task into : 1) the essential part/features (80%) and 2) the additional extras (20%). Work towards 80% completion in the time you allotted for the task. Then add the 20% if time allows, or move on but return at a later point, again if time allows.

Be Decisive with Time

To be productive it is important to have a plan for each day. Put time blocks in your schedule to work on key pieces of work. This helps you limit the time spent on each task. Use a timer if necessary. When your time block is up ask yourself – what is the best use of my time now? To continue with this task or move on to my next priority? If you have 80% of the work done it may be enough.

The key here is to make mindful decisions instead of getting engrossed in one task and losing track of time.

Manage Distractions

Technology distractions and interruptions can really impact our ability to stay focused. Try to minimise this as much as possible to get your work done in the planned time. For tips on how to manage distractions read our article on Attention Management.

Be Productive

So is perfection the Enemy of Productivity in your work life? It doesn’t have to be. Embrace the high standards that come with perfectionism but try these changes to make sure you can still get things done.

About the author

At they run team workshops and webinars on Productivity & WellbeingIf would like to book a session, contact their Productivity Consultant Moira Dunne to find the best solution for you.