It is clear that the majority of us want to do our work well, but when we invest obscene amounts of time and effort into something without achieving a satisfactory "result", we can find ourselves faced with a problem of perfectionism. 

How many times have we obsessively checked work before submitting it for fear that it might have some inaccuracy or that it might be missing a certain detail?

The fear of failure and the obsessive search for excellence often goes hand in hand with perfectionism; this makes us slaves to the task instead of looking at the activity as one more step in our learning process.

According to the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning at Princeton University, the challenge involves finding the appropriate measure of effort we invest in striving towards excellence without excellence becoming an obstacle in the way of achieving our goals. Experts recommend several practical strategies to manage perfectionism:

Make a list of advantages and disadvantages of being a perfectionist (for example, constant self-criticism is an obvious drawback).

  • Monitor your use of time. How much time do you actually invest in your projects compared to the time you spend worrying about and redoing the same work?
  • Prioritize, organize and set aside a time limit to complete each activity. If you go over the set time, move on to the next task.
  • Seek help when you have a mental block. Support from your fellow students, lecturers and tutors is a very useful resource when "we are going around in circles". When writing a piece of work, instead of deleting paragraphs, you can save the ideas or sentences that you are changing in a separate file to go back to at a later time. Perhaps you can use it later and save time. Keep realistic expectations of your progress. Of course we can strive for the best, but always adjust the relevance according to your current situation.

In short, it is about doing it as well as you possible can taking into account your capacity and time available, not about doing the best exam ever! Even though it seems paradoxical, by dropping your level of demand you will also reduce your anxiety levels and in turn possibly improve your results.