At a glance
However, many of us grapple with the pressure of a constant drive for often unrealistic standards, falling into a trap of overthinking.
This can be especially true of those in small accounting practices, where many tasks, and outcomes, are one person’s responsibility.
In fact, owners of small- and medium-sized enterprises are an at-risk group when it comes to burnout.
“Being trapped in your head and preoccupied by doubts or worries about whether what you are doing is good enough makes it very hard to focus on the here and now and achieve satisfaction for yourself and the client,” says psychotherapist Shirley Hughes.
“Overthinking means you never have your full attention on what’s happening around you.
“Your mind becomes so busy that it is hard to focus, and this is a deterrent to the quality and productivity of your work.”
The root cause of perfectionism
Research has found that there are two types of perfectionist behaviour.
The first is about seeking excellence and demanding it from themselves and others; the second is about avoiding failure or loss of respect.
One of the consequences of globalisation has also been that, in the face of increased competition, organisations are detail-obsessed and less tolerant of mistakes.
For perfectionists seeking to avoid failure, overthinking, procrastination and eventual performance are driven by stress about what may not go right, says Hughes.
While it’s understandable that, for accountants, this can be a real issue – one figure out of place can be potentially catastrophic – perfectionism is unobtainable, she says.
“It will always demand more of you because, no matter what you do achieve, the goalposts keep moving.”
Dr Amantha Imber, an organisational psychologist and the founder of the behavioural science consultancy Inventium, agrees: “Perfect is the enemy of done. If you find yourself not finishing things, it’s important to reflect on your behaviour and whether perfectionism is serving you.”
Seven ways to overcome stress-creating perfectionism and overthinking
1. Learn to recognise when you are overthinking
Work out when and why you procrastinate or overthink a job, to identify your trigger points, says Hughes.
Overwhelmed by a task? Break it down into small steps or eat the elephant one bite at a time.
In the face of a complex challenge, completing a mundane task, getting up and going outside for fresh air, or even stretching and hydrating, can all be valuable.
2. Change your focus
It’s crucial to both productivity and mental wellness that you try to remain in the present.
Efficiency and spiritual gurus call this “mindfulness”. What it simply means is focusing on the task at hand.
In this vein, don’t multi-task. Do one thing at a time and do it well, but not necessarily “perfectly”.
“Working to a deadline is always helpful,” says Imber, who is also host of the How I Work podcast.
“If you only have a certain amount of time for a certain task, it’s a good mechanism to avoid procrastination and perfectionism.“
Learn to recognise the point of diminishing returns, or when spending more and more hours on a task does little to improve the outcome.
4. Create a checklist
Making a list of the tasks you need to complete to finish a job can give you a sense of mastery and eliminate the worry that you haven’t ticked all the boxes.
Crossing items off a list helps reassure you about the process, gives you concrete challenges to focus on and helps you get the job done.
Productivity apps may also be worth considering.
5. Ensure your environment supports productivity
Since the pandemic, more of us are engaged in hybrid working arrangements.
Being surrounded by noise or interruptions can cause stress, especially if you are the type of person who worries about work quality, says Imber.
A calm, organised environment, whether that is a home or work office, is more likely to help those already battling perfectionist tendencies to feel productive.
6. Focus on what can go right
“Remind yourself about all the previous times you have been successful,” says Hughes.
“If you are imagining a negative outcome, you are causing yourself unwarranted stress and also increasing the risk of overworking and procrastination.”
7. Learn to let go
Releasing yourself from the pressure and tyranny of perfectionism will allow you to work smarter and gain more satisfaction in your work and your life, says Hughes.
“Your best is always good enough and getting things done is not only its own reward but can spur you on to healthier habits.”