Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Double-Edged Sword of Perfectionism

I’m curious how many other small business owners feel both compelled and trapped by perfectionism.

On the one hand, my desire to present a polished final product to customers is driving me to pay attention to the smallest details. This is a good thing because the attention will yield a result that makes me proud and that people will respect.

On the other hand, it’s taking so long to learn about those details and to make every minute decision so carefully, that I wonder if I’m making it harder for myself to do what I need to do. It’s a bad thing if I’m not able to move forward on other objectives and higher priorities because I’m “sweating the small stuff.”

For example, I’m spending a surprising amount of time trying to create business cards that represent my commitment to quality—without spending a fortune on four-color offset printing. I’ve been on the phone with my graphic designer and a friend of mine who manages a print shop. I’ve driven out to look at Pantone books and spent close to an hour with both of them trying to explain the difference to me between Pantone colors and CMYK blends for digital printing.

I’ve reviewed one set of proofs, was unsatisfied, and now have to go look at another proof sheet, even though the machine that created the second proof sheet can’t use the heavier stock paper that I want.

Ultimately, I may end up choosing a specialized digital printer from California, and then flying proof sheets up to me in Oregon.

And all of this is will be to create a product that isn’t even up to the high standard that I want—recycled card stock paper printed with environmentally-friendly ink.

My way of coping with my own perfectionism: I allow it to exist and give it space, but I reign myself in, too. I set a time limit for how much I’ll work on the source of vexation and at the end of the time, I move on to more important priorities.

A waste of time? Or a valuable commitment to quality? What do *you* do when your perfectionism crosses the line from being useful to being an impediment?

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