Your proposal is due at 5pm. It’s already 4pm and you still need to develop some critical content. The pressure is intense, but instead of writing, you find yourself fussing over formatting so the document looks pretty.
Being detail-oriented can be a fantastic trait in the workplace, but can being a perfectionist be a problem?
The short answer is yes.
Detail-oriented individuals struggle to let go. They struggle to delegate. They also struggle to accept that in today’s fast-moving environment, 95% can be good enough. Even when getting that extra 5% comes at a huge cost, they still can’t let go when they reach 95%. Sound familiar?
This expert article explores the pros and the cons of being detailed and provides tips on how to get the balance right.
If you’re detail-oriented, you thrive on perfection. You check and recheck and recheck again. You love ticking every box and won’t stop until you’ve scored 100 per cent.
Pros of being detailed
Some positions demand a high level of detail. A thorough, meticulous and systematic approach is key. This includes positions such as an accountant, paralegal, executive assistant, editor, data assistant, inspector and systems developer.
For employers, the benefits of having detail-oriented staff are far-reaching. It can save managers time and effort, for example. Managers are more confident that work presented for approval or further action is solid. Other benefits are helping with managing risk and saving money.
Cons of being detailed
For employers, however, there are also cons with staff who are too detailed. This includes putting pressure up the chain, say with review or analysis time. Staff who hold onto work for too long can put their organisation at risk of missing deadlines and prevent them from moving quickly to the next priority. They can also cost organisations money and damage reputation.
Reality check the detail
Assess where you sit on the ‘detail spectrum’. If you’re at the top and crazy for perfection, you may need to reality check if that’s good or bad.
Here are tips for checking if you’re too detailed for the task at hand, your position or work environment.
Have a heart-to-heart talk with yourself and ask if the level of detail you’re pursuing is creating problems. Are you pushing boundaries too far? Do you know when to stop and say, ‘I’m done and that’s OK’? Is your perfectionism causing stress?
Ask why you’re a perfectionist
Part of being self-aware is understanding why you’re a perfectionist. Are you afraid and not confident enough to get out of the weeds? Are you looking for approval from others? Is your perfectionism rooted in fear and insecurity? These can be reasons for your behaviour and eventually they will hold you back.
Talk to your boss
Chat to your manager or supervisor about your attention to detail. Say you’re proud to be detail-oriented but want to avoid going over the top. Together explore how to adjust your standards to improve.
Assess the reality
Assess how important the task is you’re working on. Will the world end if you’re work is not 100% perfect? Set realistic goals and balance efforts against the end result. Is it worth investing another couple of hours to finish a draft internal discussion paper? Isn’t it just an internal draft and only for discussion?
Focus on the big picture
Look at the big picture. Are you going overboard given the end goal? Is it really necessary to nitpick? Will the extra effort have a positive impact, or will no one even notice? And if they do notice, will the world end just because you forgot a full stop at the end of a sentence?
Delegate, delegate, delegate
Delegating helps you progress without compromising on quality and deadlines. With the scenario at the start of this article, for example, you could keep developing essential content while a colleague finesses the formatting of the proposal. This approach demonstrates how you triage priorities and manage risk.
The double-edged sword
Remind yourself that while having detailed orientation can produce high-level, quality outputs, perfectionism can be a double-edged sword. As we’ve said, it can be an admirable trait but perfectionism can also have a negative impact on productivity, work relationships and efficiencies. And then there’s your health and wellbeing and the happiness of family and friends who can suffer because of your perfectionism.
If you’ve tried to be ‘less detailed’, but aren’t having any luck, it might be time to seek help. This can be from your boss, someone in human resources or someone from your employee assistance program if you have one.
Also think about taking courses or reading expert articles. These will help you learn more and gain perspective.
Seeking help can support you to re-channel your energy and strengths and take the pressure off. It can also ensure you don’t cling to your perfectionism when it’s counterproductive to do so.