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Is Perfectionism Stalling Your Productivity?

We’ve all been there … You sit down to write a post. You get the opening line down, but half-way through the second sentence, you go back to tweak the first. A bit further on, you decide to chop up the paragraphs you’ve done so far and rearrange them … but on second thought, is that really the better option?

In two minds, you “finish” the post, then spend a half-hour writing and rewriting the “ideal” headline.

Finally, happy(ish!) your cursor hovers over the Publish button … but you just can’t press it. You decide to give it some time, and come back tomorrow, when you know you’ll end up rewriting the whole thing from scratch using the same “process.”

Meanwhile, your blog’s getting more dated by the minute. Your regular publishing schedule has gone out the window, and you’re miles behind on your blogging goals.

Perfectionism: the ultimate time drain?

Back in the days of print, things had to be perfect before they were published. There are certainly plenty of great reasons for making sure your content is as good as it can be before you publish it. Yet die-hard perfectionism holds many a blogger back from achieving their full potential.

I’ve seen it many times online—and discussed it with plenty of bloggers, from all walks of life and areas of the blogosphere, over the years.

In How to Stop Procrastinating and Start Your Blog, Jennifer Blanchard lists perfectionism as one of the main reasons why people procrastinate.

As someone who’s started more than 20 blogs in my time—and wound up quite a few too!—it’s safe to say I’ve got a pretty good handle on perfectionism now. Here’s how I managed to overcome it.

  • Realize that the web is flexible: The web isn’t print. You can very easily add to, update, and tweak a published post later, either based on feedback from readers or on additional information that’s come your way since you wrote the post.
  • Understand that your readers know you’re human: Your readers don’t know just know it—they respect it. Bloggers like Jon Morrow and Leo Babauta work closely with their readers, and are happy to show their human sides. And their readers are all the more loyal for it.
  • Recognize the value you can get from using reader feedback to improve your posts: Reader feedback can add depth and perspective to your posts, and boost their usability for other readers. But the process of working with readers on your posts—crowdsourcing the icing for your blog post “cake”—can also boost the sense of community, collaboration, and engagement around your blog.
  • Respect the importance of your publishing schedule: Your posting schedule isn’t just about content—it’s about meeting reader needs. Showing up—publishing great content—is square one for bloggers. That’s where blogging starts. No content, no blog. So by using your publishing schedule as a guide—and sticking to it—you respect your readers and you’re ticking the first box on the checklist for achieving your blogging goals.
  • Realize that an incomplete post will probably attract more comments: By “incomplete,” I’m not suggesting that you stop writing before you get to the end of the post and publish it as-is! But the Blog Tyrant makes the very good point that a post that exhausts its topic “leaves readers with nowhere to go.” You don’t need to cover off every aspect of the post’s topic in order for that post to be “good.” A post that doesn’t exhaust the topic may receive more comments—and shares if the conversation becomes particularly interesting or illuminating.

Of course, we all want our posts to be factually accurate and typo-free—that’s a given. But there are also considerable advantages to letting go and seeing where a less polished post might lead…

Do you struggle with perfectionism? How is it holding your blog back? And how have you overcome it (if you’ve managed to do that!)?

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. This post has my name written all over it. I didn’t think we’d ever met…LOL! My style for creating excellence sometimes paralyzes me. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Heather says:

    I have not managed to overcome the perfectionist yet. It doesn’t matter if I have the blog written ahead of time, it still takes me nearly two hours to post it because I polish it. And polish it. And polish it.

  3. Lama Ajjour says:

    There’s no such thing as a perfect blogger. One is in a continuous experience of “becoming” a perfect blogger. We never become; we’re always “becoming”. And so, thou shalt not be afraid of perfectionism. :)

  4. Shayna says:

    I actually run into this problem with product development more than with posts. Maybe I feel like if I’m asking people to pay for something, it has to be the absolute best, most comprehensive, most helpful, most unique product EVER! Although paid products should be excellent, I’m learning that they should meet a reader’s need. No need to try to produce a waterfall if they’re asking for a glass of water.

  5. Don says:

    Fantastic post. I needed this today. I know perfectionism has stopped me many times and I call myself a recovering perfectionist.

    I keep trying to remind myself of my motto “Done Trumps Perfection, When Perfection isn’t Done”. Thanks for the kick in the pants to get me going so I get my next post done and out!

  6. Yep I can relate to that Darren (love the phun in point #10) . Although, I am getting much better at it, this is after I realized that I needed to get lots of content out there to build traffic to my blog and now I at least aim to get 10 posts out a month!

  7. Kari Scare says:

    Yes, I definitely struggle with perfectionism. However, it’s not so much it writing posts where I struggle. They aren’t easy, but they usually come out fairly well in comparison to other areas in my life where the work doesn’t come out so easily. Your points above are how I’ve overcome letting perfectionism stop me from posting. I know I can edit the post, and I often do, and I know that I don’t have to talk about every aspect of a topic. Readers want to be left with something to add to and to delve into on their own. However, perfectionism is holding me back in two other ares: Planning and the technical side. I’m a huge planner, but I struggle with it constantly because I want everything to be planned out perfectly or I don’t like to plan at all. With the technical side, I want to understand what I’m doing before I proceed, and it rarely works that way. I have not figured out how to overcome those yet. Suggestions?

    • Darren Rowse says:

      Not sure I have too many great suggestions off the top of my head – except to say that there comes a point where you’ve just got to ‘do’ rather than plan. I’m probably the opposite on the planning front (I could do with more planning at times rather than rushing in) but I’ve seen those paralysed by that before – so you’re not alone. Perhaps setting some deadlines or timelines that give you a reasonable time to plan/learn/prepare but which also propel you past that phase into implementing?

  8. Kenny Fabre says:

    Darren

    I use worry about perfection the beginning of my career,

    but now when I sit to write an article blog post I already know what I want to write, which keyword I want to rank for and what I want my readers to learn.

    So when I write the blog post I write it very easy without wasting time, and you right we can always go back and edit informations

  9. Henneke says:

    Darren, I love your suggestions to overcome perfectionism. I especially like “realize that the web is flexible”.

    With a busy blogging schedule it’s easy to forget the need to review and update old blog posts. Especially if blog posts target organic traffic (and are meant to be evergreen), it’s useful to go back to review optimization, to improve internal linking, to check that the info is still up-to-date and to see what can be done to reduce bounce rates and improve conversion rates.

    It’s great that the web is flexible and changes can be made to make blog posts even more successful!

    P.S. There’s a small typo (“realize than” rather than “realize that”) – good way to proof the point that the web is flexible :)

  10. I think we’ve all been there. We want everything to be perfect, when in reality…anything we do can use a little tweaking.

    It was a little difficult in the beginning. But, as you mentioned, it gets easier if you just accept the fact that you’re human and that, in most cases, the work is good as is.

    Thanks for the reminder and those excellent tips.

  11. This is my biggest “fault” and the last point is the one I keep trying to learn – as a personal development blogger I am always trying to include all I know on a subject and end up with a long post. Not only does it mean people need time to read, but I have come to accept that yes – it is better to leave some information out and let it come to light in the comments if people want to explore further. It requires letting go of the fear that someone reading along thinks I am an idiot for leaving out what they believe to be a critical point. My aim this year is to chop 300 words off most of my normal posts (tend towards 800-1000 words each).

  12. Marilyn Kay says:

    Yes. I had an entire website I kept tweaking and never launched. It still got hacked and left me with a mess and nothing to show for it. I love your points, especially about keeping to the publication schedule. It’s so easy to tweak and get way behind. When I was a journalist the deadlines kept me on track. That’s the way it should be now, too. Thanks again.

  13. Bryan Ring says:

    Thank God the internet is so flexible! I am simple therefore so are my posts. For me inspirations for writing anything come from other articles. If I get stuck, I just read an article or post first
    .
    Blogging is not really my niche, but of course reading about blogging helps with writing about my primary niche’s. I am always inspired by other peoples blogs, which is probably the main reason I have so much content stuck in my Word Documents right now and not on my own websites…I got to make it perfect sir! haha

    Thanks for being a true inspiration Darren!

  14. I can feel with what most reactions to this post have been. I for one prefer to think that I need to work more in order to achieve what I define as perfection quicker.

    It’s not that we’re striving for perfection it’s just that we need to be happier with what we do. There’s a number of reasons for why we think we didn’t do enough, turn out things faster and so on but each of them can be ironed out. Especially if you end up reading such a wake up call.

    I once again a wake up call from you, thanks mate :)

  15. Yup, this is me.

    I cannot write a draft. I nitpick as I go. And yes, I come back to it the next day and re-work the whole thing. I’m not a full-time blogger, I just do all kinds of blogging, copywriting, e-mailing, etc. for marketing purposes. Thanks for the advice/encouragement, Darren!

    I love Shayna’s quote: “No need to try to produce a waterfall if they’re asking for a glass of water.” Never heard that one before. Love it. :)

  16. Rania says:

    Great post, Darren! I really need this.. I always struggle with perfectionism. Thank you for sharing this :-)

  17. Hi Darren,

    Super points you make here.

    Perfectionism is a form of fear, fear of criticism. Why else would you pour over your post, over and over? You fear readers who will criticize your work. This is why you are afraid to hit publish, and this is exactly what holds you back.

    Folks, hit the publish button. You learn your most valuable lessons when you hit publish, get your work out there in front of the public’s eyes, and receive all sorts of feedback. Most will be positive. People admire someone who has the courage to put their stuff out there.

    All successful people screw up again and again. They publish great stuff sometimes, OK stuff other times, and poor work at times. It’s called being human. Get comfortable with your human-ness, and you will grab the fear of criticism – aka perfectionism – by the throat, and strangle it.

    My growth as a blogger accelerated rapidly when I stopped being a perfectionist and simply became comfortable with messing up. Everybody makes typo’s, or writes a post which isn’t quite up to snuff, because everybody is human. Accept this idea and you can begin to grow, and build confidence, and skyrocket your productivity.

    I have over 800 youtube videos. Many are far from perfect. But I uploaded them because I know that life is a lab; the more experiments, the better.

    Thanks for sharing your insight Darren.

    Ryan

  18. CypherHackz says:

    I think I am one of the perfectionism type. Although I have write the whole article, but then when I read the article one last time before hit the Publish button, I select all and delete it. And rewrite the article…

  19. I am lucky I do not suffer from this syndrome. Its not like that I compromise with quality but you need to make sure that you do deliver something rather than just perfecting it.

  20. Sid says:

    Perfectionism affects my project delivery times. Your post has given a great insight into how to give perfectionism the back seat. Thank you for your article.

  21. You got me. I’m a total perfectionist and I miss deadlines all the time. Sometimes I just don’t have my priorities straight :O(

  22. Perfectionism can paralyse.

    Perfectionism can isolate.

    Perfectionism can produce despair and even depression.

    It is like a bitter-sweet poison: sweet because it promises a false hope of ‘happily ever after if I just…’ and poison because it cannot deliver its promise. It is a mirage leading you deeper into the desert of deception. And you just get thirstier as you reach for the dream…which moves again as you get closer. Its like you are a magnet and the dream is the same polarity – and you all know what happens when you put two magnets together…

  23. Pat Machin says:

    I had that creepy feeling yesterday that someone was looking over my shoulder – was that you?

  24. Slavko says:

    Thanks a bunch Darren for this post. This is a perfect timing for me- a blogging newbie.
    Sometimes it seems like this mind set has a defensive mechanism on its own. The more you strife for perfection, the more you are engaged in pointless reediting. This is certainly good for adding up to quality, but if you think about it, being a blogger on the long run most likely will require tight schedule, and unique personal approach (one that is the same in every line you write). So it’s downright stupid to spend so much time on one thing, and expect to spend less on others (like comments, other material that you write and so on). If you go for that perfection in only a paragraph, chances are that you’ll be scratching your head each and every time before you hit submit on anything else…And being a blogger is writing much more than just posts, so keep that in mind.

  25. “Realize that an incomplete post will probably attract more comments” – thanks for saying that, it is very reassuring. One of my recent posts generated more comments than usual, some of which were quite lengthy and detailed, and it left me feeling that I hadn’t covered the topic as thoroughly as I should have. Now I see that although it wasn’t intentional, that was probably the reason for the increased engagement. I’ll keep it in mind in the future!

  26. Great post, Darren. I am a perfectionist and I have several half-written posts on my dashboard. To get over that, whenever I think I’ve done a good job with a post, I just hit ‘Publish.’ I can always go back to edit later if there’s something I want to add.

  27. Yes, yes and yes!
    Perfectionism is really hitting the brakes on my publishing. There are quite a few posts that are still waiting to be published, but I still feel they still don’t make the cut.

    I tried to write posts faster so I can limit myself spending more time on polishing posts.

    I know writing a lot of posts is good, but quality matters as well.

  28. Ferb says:

    I should forget school with those assignments and tests when comes to blog. I was disagreed with last point you made, but I agreed because when blogging–we’re trying to be more community with others and as well no one can cover the entire table of ideas at once.

  29. I have to admit, Perfectionism is one of my main flaws. I’ll get 500 words or so into an article and when I come to it the next day to finish I’ll often just delete the whole thing and start all over again, either because I’ve suddenly decided to take the article in another direction so it would be better or simply because it did ‘look’ write.

    I’m worse when designing and developing websites.

  30. “Realize that an incomplete post will probably attract more comments”

    This seems to be the most overlooked positive aspect of non-prefectionism in blogger and also the most powerful. Blog posts are most successful when they answer the reader’s questions but allow for further growth in the topic. If you answer all questions, you not only confuse the reader but you also take away the opportunity for them to begin the brainstorming process. It’s through this process that innovation and creation occur. Don’t stop the conversation. Begin it.

  31. Thank you for the info . I thing you have really nice and knowledgeable blog.
    I am glad i found that info on line.

  32. Steve Tracy says:

    It’s called the Froot Loop effect! The Froot Loop box has changed 10, 12…15 times in the past 30 years. Tracking the differences from version to version is difficult to follow and spot. Not much has changed…and the end consumer is none the wiser by the new look.

    The point – you had it the first time.

    Thanks for sharing…valuable insights!

  33. Sharyn Sheldon says:

    Darren, you have me pegged! After moving from designing and writing learning programs (where thoroughness is key) to writing plr content (where it’s better to be incomplete), I’ve definitely needed to readjust.

    I especially appreciate your last point about thoroughness leaving nowhere for the reader to go. Hadn’t thought of that. Thanks!

    Sharyn

  34. There is no doubt that this affects me. I think I may have 2 or 3 posts in draft right now that I’m still tweaking. I can put out a short post without much issue, but there are several topics that I seem to just want to write novels instead of posts.

  35. This is such helpful info. I tweak every one of my pages to within an inch of its life. Arrgghh!

    Mine’s not a blog but a website, so I don’t really worry too much if I don’t post anything for a day or even a week. But that just makes things worse. As I don’t feel the pressure to produce a new page every day, I fiddle and tweak even more.

    Being an English teacher doesn’t help, either — I’m my own worst enemy! Getting positive feedback and comments from others helps, though.

    Thanks again for this!

  36. Deb Sturgess says:

    My perfectionism was honed through decades as an English instructor (gasp). I still feel as if anything less than flawless writing fails. My mind recognizes perfection is an unrealistic goal. It also nags me to make it perfect every time.

  37. Joanne says:

    Hi, I couldn’t agree more that being a perfectionist is really impeding my productivity. I seek to post a bologna post every day but I end up posting only one article per month. My full time job and my habit of seeking perfection is really slowing down my progress of earning money online.

  38. Joanne says:

    Hi, I couldn’t agree more that being a perfectionist is really impeding my productivity. I seek to post a blog post every day but I end up posting only one article per month. My full time job and my habit of seeking perfection is really slowing down my progress of earning money online.

  39. sabrina says:

    Exactly where I’m at. Although in my case, sometimes I’m so much of a perfectionist that I can’t even start a blog post if I can’t come up with a catchy or witty title.

  40. Kent Chen says:

    I think I have the same feeling like most people do. I’m guilty for being a perfectionist! :)

  41. Dion Lynk says:

    I definitely feel this song is about me! In the past I’ve hindered my progress time and time again because I wanted it all to be perfect. It was so bad at one point, I’d start something one day, work on it for countless hours, then burn it because I didn’t think it lived up to my preconceived ideas of perfection. I wasted a lot of time being too picky when all along the answer has been to just keep it simple.

  42. AKeitz says:

    Really great advice, I know I struggle with perfectionism at times. Even when using Twitter I check and double check my tweet before I post them. Realizing the web is flexible is a great key to not letting the perfectionism slow down productivity.

  43. rakesh kumar says:

    This is a great writeup, I am the victim of this “perfectionism”. I was developing wordpress theme for the last 3 month and never ever was able to upload on my site as to add some more feather in it.

    Your article has forced me to publish it. Thanks for this beautiful article.

  44. Melinda says:

    I was the victim of Grammar Nazi’s a while back regarding a review I wrote on Scream 4. The comment left by the Grammar Nazi was very painful, calling into question my teaching abilities (I’m a Social Studies Teacher). The fact remains that I know I’m human, I make mistakes, and teaching teenagers for seven hours a day can really take a toll on my grammar since I’m trying to teach to their level.

    Before the Grammar Nazi, I would write 24 hours in advance, edit that moment, take time off, edit before bed and schedule the hour for publish. But as my teaching credibility came into question regarding my grammar, my writing self esteem fell and the perfectionist side came out. I forget that the web is flexible, but sometimes with trolls such as the one mentioned, it is hard sometimes NOT to be a perfectionist.

    Melinda

  45. Ana says:

    My perfectionism is holding me back from even starting the blog!

    It hasn’t become a running joke amongst my friends yet, but I think it’s on the verge of being so.
    I might even start referring to it as My Imaginary Blog.