Are you a perfectionist? If so, you’re certainly not alone in the content marketing world.
Maybe you’ve noticed someone on your team letting unrealistic standards derail deadlines and delay goals.
Content marketing professionals feel plenty of pressure to achieve perfection in their work. Building content that delivers results requires attention to detail which can seem like a barrier to getting things done.
But perfection isn’t a realistic or helpful expectation for your or your team’s work. The problems it causes includes procrastination, avoidance, and declines in creative thinking, according to Psychology Today.
A healthy desire for quality can motivate great work. But its more extreme version, perfectionism, can sabotage content initiatives and careers.
On a content team, perfectionism might manifest in one of these ways:
- A writer spends an absurd amount of time finding the perfect word or crafting the most engaging headline, causing excessive revisions and delays.
- A content manager obsesses about planning and actualizing the most impactful ideas, delaying decisions about what work to tackle.
- An agency lead seeks to deliver flawless work that exceeds their client’s expectations and misses internal or client deadlines.
- An SEO content specialist spends a day perfecting a keyword strategy without making any progress in creating content.
But you can keep yourself (and your team) focused on the best possible outcomes without letting the pursuit of perfection paralyze your work.
Weigh the cost of outperformance against the value
Delivering the best work matters. But no one can deliver their best on every project. Expecting the best regardless of the value of the task is a prescription for burnout.
One way to calibrate your effort is to weigh the cost of overperformance against the value and visibility of the work. In other words, evaluate if the level of effort is justifiable given the value of your output.
For example, if your efforts are tied to a high-impact project for you or your client – like improving a high-traffic landing page or planning strategic content initiatives for peak seasons – then investing extra time and effort into perfecting your work makes sense.
On the other hand, an internal report or a project whose potential seems nebulous may deserve good work but not the extra hours required to deliver near-perfect work.
You have to make that judgment call. Consider these factors in your assessment:
- Who will review or consume your content?
- Will it be published to a broad audience or just a few stakeholders?
- Will it have timeless value and substance?
- How easy or difficult will it be to update the work once it’s delivered?
Content marketing requires balancing the drive for excellence and the available time and resources.
Assessing your audience and the value at stake can help you adjust your effort level while protecting yourself from diminished output, creative blocks, or burnout.
Set realistic expectations and achievable goals
Everyone, not just perfectionists, will struggle without clear, sensible expectations and content marketing goals.
Content leaders should make sure everyone understands the short- and long-term goals for specific initiatives. And managers and individual contributors should agree on expectations for performance.
But the underlying idea to put into practice is being realistic about what you can achieve in a given amount of time.
To help you overcome these perfectionism barriers, keep in mind these expectation-setting and goal-setting strategies:
- Break goals into digestible, attainable tasks with milestones: Editorial calendars, process workflows, and templates. They make it easier to stay focused while making consistent progress.
- Prioritize your work: Prioritize your tasks to help you make progress on what’s most important first. For example, if you need to write article A before anything can happen in B and C, you’ll know where your priorities lie.
- Set realistic deadlines and time expectations: Deadlines can help keep you motivated and accountable. But be sure they allow adequate time to complete tasks without making yourself (or your team) feel overwhelmed or burned out.
- Learn to say no to additional commitments: Perfectionists often feel pressured to take on too much work. Focus on the tasks you’ve already committed to and say no when you’ve reached your work bandwidth. If no isn’t an option, review your priorities with your manager and ask what you can drop to make room for the new project.
- Practice self-compassion: Perfectionists tend to be hard on themselves. Be compassionate when you’re imperfect.
- Seek feedback from your peers: Asking for feedback from your colleagues, clients, and peers can help you identify areas where you need to improve and cultivate a more realistic perspective on your work.
Collaborate with an open mind
Collaboration can help perfectionists by providing a sense of community and connection – most of your colleagues likely have wrestled with similar struggles.
Be careful not to let your perfectionist tendencies color your expectations and interactions with colleagues and direct reports.
When working on projects as a team, don’t expect colleagues to match your level of meticulousness. (They should live up to team standards and expectations, so make sure these exist).
Instead, think of collaboration as a way to keep perfectionism in check by embracing a “we are greater than me” approach.
Collaborating means sharing the work, which can help you detach from your desire for perfection. Working with others can also provide a fresh perspective and new ideas, which can help to stimulate creativity and prevent stagnation.
Collaborating allows perfectionists to earn feedback and support from team members, which can help to improve the quality of their work and identify areas for improvement. This dynamic can also provide an opportunity to learn from others and loosen their rigid standards.
Adapt – or watch your career die a slow, perfect death
Content marketing is constantly evolving – what works well today might not be the best approach tomorrow.
This can be one of the hardest concepts for perfectionists to accept because learning new things takes them out of their comfort zone.
But the repercussions of failing to change are steep. A content marketer who’s not willing to learn and embrace new processes and technologies or adapt to content marketing trends won’t last long.
Winston Churchill once said, “Perfection is the enemy of progress.” The modern translation: Don’t let your inner perfectionist prevent you from being productive.
You can fight back against unrealistic standards, avoidance, and procrastination with these practical approaches:
- Set time on your calendar to devote to time-consuming content projects in your queue.
- Establish solid communication between you, your leaders and team, clients, and peers.
- Agree with your manager on the most relevant and impactful measures for success and performance.
- Resist the impulse to nitpick every detail in a content brief or email – focus on the elements most likely to influence success.
- Touch base with your team to bring clarity and direction to a project.
- Have systems in place to minimize decision fatigue.
Remember, perfectionism can lead to fixating on detail at the expense of the bigger picture. And that’s far from perfect.
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute