Just Do It, Badly: Break Through Perfectionism by Doing Bad

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Are you waiting for perfect to accomplish your goals?

perfectionist cutting grass with scissors

It’s a common block to getting it done: perfectionism. When you set rigid expectations or standards of performance for yourself (and others).

We live in an achievement-oriented, competitive society that holds perfectionism as a high social value. We believe that if we can be perfect in some way, then good will magically come our way.

The problem is that perfectionism causes paralysis. Blank spaces. Stuckness. Procrastination.

Blank journal on table with coffee

Fortunately, perfectionism is a learned behavior. We are not born with it.

That’s good news because it means we can learn to overcome it, work around it, and break through it.

Break Through By Doing It Badly

Whether you are a perfectionist or just suffering from a bout of perfectionism, there are strategies that can help you when you are stuck because of perfection.

One strategy I call: Do It Badly.

Do it Badly? What?

Stay with me.

There might little gremlins in your head whispering (or even shouting), “If something is worth doing, it is worth doing well,” or “Always do your best.” Or, “If this isn’t perfect, people will think I’m incompetent. (Or stupid. Or sloppy.)”

Desk with messy papers and phone

Let’s face it, that’s the internal commentator that keeps you from doing what you need to do. It can drown out even the best idea or strongest motivation. That fear of being judged and found lacking prevents you from starting, from creating, and from getting work done.

To outwit the commentator that criticizes each time you even think about beginning, instead of shooting for a masterpiece, allow yourself to just do it badly, and then revise and rework.

Make a Mess

For example, my development process is messy and chaotic. I have had to learn that not only is it okay to let the mess and chaos exist, it is a necessity. It took me years to learn that, because it’s not what most experts teach, especially in the field of writing.

I have never been able to start by writing an outline, in spite of the many teachers who have urged the technique. If I try to create in that linear fashion, it is a laborious, painful, and often, fruitless process.

Perfectionist businesswoman sitting at her desk with blank notebook and crumpled paper

If instead, I let myself follow my tendency to start writing in a messy, circular, jumbled process – to do it badly – without expectations of linear transitions or the perfect words, I can eventually write my way to a product I can point to with pride.

Sometimes it is just a matter of re-labeling something to give myself permission to start out messy. When I use the words “draft” or “musings” in the early stages, it makes it easier to accept the messy or disorganized beginning and get my creative thoughts on the table (or on the screen).

Another way I write “badly” is to write a draft that is a combination of paragraphs, phrases, and single words, knowing I can go back and fill in the blanks on my second pass.

puzzle with last piece almost in place

Obviously, Do It Badly doesn’t mean I do a crappy job and just leave it. It means I give myself permission to do a (very) rough draft and then go back and revise and polish.

What Can You Do Badly?

What project or task have you not accomplished because of perfectionism? Pick one project or task from your list, and give yourself permission to do it badly.


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