Perfectionism is the catch all for paralysis. "I haven't shipped it because I want it to be perfect" or "I haven't started yet because I want the perfect beginning" or "I haven't stopped working on the idea because it needs to be perfect." This confused me, since I knew actual perfectionists - and I wasn't one of them. The techniques used to combat perfectionism weren't quite working for me, either.
Then I realized I wasn't a perfectionist, but a completist. You may be one, too.
Perfectionists are afraid of judgment
Social scientist Brene Brown compares perfectionism to armor: It is a futile attempt to protect you from criticism. You want to make something so great that no one can pass judgment, point out errors or otherwise diminish your work. This, of course, is an impossible standard.
Understanding this concept is even more important in the creative fields like art, writing and even entrepreneurship. Not everyone is going to like your idea, product or service, simply because your thing isn't for everyone. It is impossible to succeed in making a product every single person likes. This is why you should aim to be as close to perfect as possible within a set framework rather than just shipping something when it is perfect. Perfect will never happen.
Completists are afraid of failure
Completists need to finish what they start; otherwise, it is viewed as a failure. They don't wrestle as much with the outer critic as they do with the inner critic. It needs to be the best possible execution, but finishing it, rather than perfecting it, is the real priority. To be frank, I'm still haunted by those ideas I wasn't able to finish, not because they were great, but because I may never know what impact they would have on the world.
The problem is that having several sort-of complete things on your to-do list will make you less productive, as it will require more brain power for you to actually focus. However, if you actually complete the items one-by-one, you are more likely to forget about the finished tasks and give more attention to the important remaining items.
I think many of us forget the power of our incomplete ideas, which was the point of the talk. However, for completists like myself, we can't forget the power of our incomplete ideas, for their strength is too great for us to concentrate well without finishing what we already started.
How to be a stronger completist
My books, particularly The Bite-Sized Entrepreneur series, have many of the tools I use to combat my completism.
A few specific things help. First, regularly set aside a few hours, if not a day, to complete your loose ends. I call these blank days or minimal viable days. Not only do you have the chance to complete your tasks, but you give your mind the room to strategize rather than do (a major technique Bill Gates learned from Warren Buffett).
Second, create an honest, strong support group. I call them a brain trust. We aren't always aware of when we are obsessed with an idea or, frankly, when an idea is better off being left behind rather than completed. A brain trust will help you keep that impulse in check.
Lastly, if you have been working on something 24/7, then try putting down for a day. Are you still drawn to it? Does it still matter to you? And, if it does matter, is it because you are genuinely interested or because you want it off your plate?
For perfectionists, they struggle to let things exist as they are. For us completists, however, sometimes the best course of action is to let things go. Not everything was meant to be. And, by doing so, both perfectionists and completists make room for even better opportunities.