Nonperfectionism in a Single Sentence

Nothing is as humbling, to a writer, anyway, as when you've used a lot of words to say something, and then someone comes along and nails it in a single sentence. But also nothing is more of a gift, so I guess it evens out. :-) It happened to me with my book The Lifelong Activist. Somewhere in the midst of writing a 400+ page tome on how to live a sustainable, balanced life that includes a serious political mission, I found this quote by the French writer Gustave Flaubert that pretty much summed everything up: "Live your life regular and orderly like a bourgeois, so that you may be violent and original in your work." (Of course, Flaubert doesn't tell you *how* to do that great thing, so I guess my book is still useful!) These days I spend a lot of time helping people overcome perfectionism. And for my work-in-progress, Joyful Productivity for Undergraduates (due out this year!), I'm happy to say I've come up with no fewer than nine great solutions, which I'll share in a future newsletter. But … [Read more...]

The Difference Between High Standards and Perfectionism

Where does "high standards" end and perfectionism begin? When it starts to cost you. A recent New York Times piece by Karen Crouse recounts the trials of figure skater Gracie Gold, an Olympic contender who suffered mental illness, including eating disorders, in large part from the pressures of competing.  Gold's perfectionism, according to the article, started early. "Throughout [her] childhood, she was fixated on being first, and flawless. In the classroom, she would furiously, and tearfully, erase an entire sentence if she misspelled a single word. By second grade, she had found an outlet for her compulsiveness, taking formal skating lessons at a rink near the family home in Springfield, MO." The absolute hardest thing I have to teach people is that perfectionism never helps and always hurts. The lesson can be hard to take in because: Perfectionism--whether in the form of harshness, punishments, and/or deprivation--has a superficial logic. "Just work harder, Sally!" Or, "No breaks till you're … [Read more...]

The Conversation You Have With Your Work

Creative / scholarly work is actually a conversation between yourself (your ideas, emotions, perceptions) and your materials and influences. Or, as glass artist Davide Penso recently put it in an interview in Glass Art Magazine: "I didn't and don't presume to work in glass, but to support it and assign it the task of molding me. Glass enhanced my best characteristics and emphasized its own. In silent agreement, with respect, we use each other." It's probably the best encapsulation of the creative mindset I've read. Perfectionism can get in the way, however. If you start... trying to control the outcome ("I'd better do fabulous work!") rushing ("It's going too slowly!"), or instrumentalizing (seeing the work as a means to an end, as in, "This should get me an A," or "I really want this to be the Great American Novel.") ...then you derail the whole process. Now it's true that we often do want to do great work, meet our deadlines, and impress our audience (teacher, editor, gallery owner, … [Read more...]

An Extreme Exercise in Nonperfectionism!

A fun exercise for overcoming perfectionism is to send emails with intentional errors and silliness in them. You're basically practicing toleratting your errers, and having others see those errers. (It also helps with time management because once you stop trying to perfect every email you save a lot of time. And yes, of course I know that some emails need to be as perfect as possible. I'm obvusly not talking about those.) The more upset someone gets at the prospect of sending out an email with a few intentional typos, the more perfectionist I know they are. (And some people get plenty upset!) Even *I* would be taken aback by this typo, however: Coping with that would be an extreme exercise in nonperfectionism! Happy holidays, and if you want to send me a silly email I would love to get it. Best, Hillary Related: Why email is such a difficult time management challenge. … [Read more...]

The Best Productivity “Tool”

Just a little Tweet thread I came up with after seeing someone ask what the best productivity tool was. Hope you like it / find it useful! Follow me here, and also on my Facebook page.   So many people searching for the ultimate #productivity tool but no tool works as well as the abilities to: (1) turn down unwanted work (and other obligations) and (2) trim the scope of your projects. — Hillary Rettig (@hillaryrettig) October 30, 2018   Delegation is crucial, too, but still takes time and energy. Saying no and trimming scope >>> delegating. — Hillary Rettig (@hillaryrettig) October 30, 2018   And delegation, done right, takes more time than a lot of people think. It's not simply handing stuff over and "poof" it gets done. You have to train, support, manage, check the work, follow up. More like investing five hours to get ten or fifteen back from the "delegatee." — Hillary Rettig (@hillaryrettig) October 30, 2018   If time is the ultimate luxury, it is also … [Read more...]

What’s the Right Number of Drafts?

"What's the right number of drafts?" Meaning: how many drafts does it take to produce a polished piece of work? When I ask that question during workshops, people usually reply between two and five. (People who are familiar with my work and think they know where I'm heading usually answer with a higher number.) But if there's a journalist, or former journalist, in the class, they always give the right answer: "As many as it takes." I guess journalists are taught this by their teachers and mentors. I was reminded of this by a recent article on writing by the brilliant Rebecca Solnit in which she mentions, "I’ve seen things that were amazing in the 17th version get flattened out in the 23rd." I imagine some readers were all: "Wait--what? 17 drafts?! 23 drafts?!!!" For me, 17 is nothing. I probably rewrite every word of my books two or three dozen times. Even "simple" blog posts like this one get rewritten five or ten times. This sounds like a lot of work, and it is. But it might not be as much … [Read more...]

How to Bingo Your Way to Fun Productivity!

In a recent newsletter I mentioned how I sometimes roll a die to decide which section of my project to work on. When you pick a section at random it’s hard to take the work too seriously or otherwise get perfectionist. Reader Nathan wrote in with another great randomizing technique from Viviane Schwarz: bingo cages (a.k.a., wheels). "One of my most important work tools is a bingo wheel which I throw wooden balls in labelled with the projects I need to work on—I've found it absolutely impossible to run a schedule based on priority, they all need work all the time and thinking about which one is the most pressing is just wasting time. I spin out a project, set a timer and work on it for half an hour or an hour to take it forward, then I spin again until it's time to stop working. It sounds quite ridiculous but it beats every other system I've ever tried for productivity; you just have to make sure the right balls are in the cage, throw in more if a deadline is approaching or take some out if something … [Read more...]