The Paradigm Shift That Helped Me Defeat Perfectionism Once and for All

There’s nothing more useless than unfinished projects. But it’s easy to watch them stack up, isn’t it? So what can we do to wrap them up and ship them out?

Break out of the Prison of Pefectionism

Photo courtesy of

I’ve been thinking a lot about unfinished projects since watching this video by my friend, Jeff Walker. Don Miller has also talked recently about completing things. It’s tougher than it looks, right?

I can tell you where my difficulty comes from.

I’ve been in the publishing industry practically my whole professional life. And if there’s one thing that defines the business, it’s the slow, methodical process of taking an idea to market.

Not only does an author’s writing process consume a lot of time, but the editorial, design, and production processes also slog along.

The Perfection Trap

The reason makes more sense than frustrated authors and readers might think at first.

The truth is it takes considerable coordination to get it all right. Everyone’s in the kitchen: editors, proofers, designers, printers, marketers, publicists, and salespeople.

Once you print something, it’s as good as in stone. Any error or mistake could live for more than a century. And until recently the practice was to print a massive quantity of a new title. So our biggest fear was producing a book that was both wrong and plentiful.

All that to say, I was trained in an industry that was slow on purpose.

But that doesn’t work for me now—any more than it works well for traditional publishers in the new digital world. When you sit on something until it’s “perfect,” you miss a lot of opportunities.

Maybe you’re not from the publishing world, but there’s a good chance you still suffer from some version of the Perfection Trap. Thankfully, I finally found my way out.

A Whole New Freedom

What helped me was to think of my work like software. When I started doing that, it was like the shackles came off and the iron door inside opened up. Here’s how it works.

All software contains bugs, but, as those imperfections are reported, developers correct them and issue updates. Users expect this cycle as a normal part of the process.

In fact, the more successful and useful the software is, the more likely it is to go through numerous iterations. The best programs are practically in a state of permanent beta.

When I started thinking along those lines I was finally freed to finish. My projects didn’t have to be perfect. They just had to be good and useful today. I could always update it tomorrow.

What’s useless, however, is an idea that never gets off my hard drive.

Last fall, I was brainstorming a goal-setting program: 5 Days to Your Best Year Ever. And I knew it had to launch at New Years. The trouble was that New Years was literally just weeks away.

I’d already given up starting when my daughter Megan and friend Stu challenged me. “If you can create the content,” they said, “we can get it filmed and launched on time.”

We worked like crazy from the second we decided to move, but we got it launched on time, and it has helped a lot of people. I hear from them all the time.

Was it perfect? No, but here’s what’s liberating: I have the opportunity to improve it!

In fact, I just did.

We recently finished filming a new version for next year, and it’s full of new and helpful ideas for getting what you really want out of your goals.

Three Ways to Escape the Perfection Trap

This new approach keeps me out of the Perfection Trap. And it lets me be more productive as a result.

Earlier this month, for instance, I spoke at the World Domination Summit. I put everything I had into my presentation when I gave it. Though I received a standing ovation, I knew it could have been better. And it will be. I have another opportunity to give the same speech this fall, and I’m totally energized now to revise and improve it.

Here are three ways you can adopt this new paradigm and break free from the Perfection Trap:

  1. Change your perspective. We need to reframe the way we approach our projects. Almost nothing is permanent; why would we think our projects are? In a world where things change as often as they do, it’s a strategic advantage to adapt and update a project as needed.

    This is especially true in information products. But it’s true for other projects too, even art. Finishing means you’re free to add value with a new project sooner.

  2. Narrow your focus. Perfect is the enemy of the good, but so is distraction. If you have too many irons in the fire, you’ll get burned out. It’s better to focus on what matters now and see it through. Then you can turn to the next thing.

    A lot of time when something’s not perfect, we put it aside and work on something else. But we lose focus, and when we try to do too much our quality suffers along with our output.

    It may not be grammatically correct, but good is better than best, especially if we’re trying to do too much.

  3. Don’t confuse perfection with excellence. Anyone who knows me knows that excellence is a high value for me. But it’s not the same thing as perfection.

    Perfection doesn’t take into consideration of the cost, time, or significance of something. It’s just an illusive, unreal, unattainable goal.

    It’s better to do good work really well. That way you’re contributing to people’s lives, instead of locked in your own head about whether your work measures up an impossible standard.

We need to stop asking ourselves, “Is it perfect?” and start asking ourselves, “Will it move the needle in people’s lives?” If yes, then let’s wrap it up and ship it out.

The sooner we do that, the sooner we can get onto the next project.

Question: What’s one project you need to wrap up, so you can move on to others? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • Andy Traub

    That’ll preach. Well said my friend.

    • Daniel Decker

      What he said. : )

  • John Richardson

    That’s the great thing about eBooks and print on demand. If you find an error after publishing, you can make changes and upload another copy. It definitely helps you get your work out faster. My latest book is a good example. I had a professional editor go through it tooth and nail, I went over it at least ten times with different software and correction tools, but after printing a few proof copies and handing them out to beta readers, little errors showed up. I spent a week with some very grammatically correct people making final corrections. Is it perfect? No way. Is it a fast and fun read? Most of my readers think so. And as a writer and reader, I think that is what it is all about. I haven’t found a perfect book yet, especially fiction, but I have a whole bunch of titles that were very enjoyable to read.

  • Lisa Starbard

    Just the wisdom I needed to hear today. Thank you !

  • angelacacc

    This is a really incredible blog post!!!! You always seem to send the right message right when I need it. Thank you.
    Question for you…Is the click to tweet that is inside your email blog post a perk of your new Get Noticed Theme? If you could please let me know when you have a moment I would appreciate it. Thank you

    • Michael Hyatt

      It’s not part of the theme yet, but we are testing it. So far, it seems to be working incredibly well.

      • Sarah Beckman

        yes! We need it in there! : )

      • Kimunya Mugo

        Can’t wait to see this integrated into the theme. Currently, I am using ClickToTweet for my tweets..

      • angelacacc

        Yet?? Does that mean you will include it if you are happy with the testing???
        That woukd be incredible!

        • Lewis Faulkner

          Yes! I have the theme and man I would like that Tweetable thing in there. I was wondering if that was coming!

  • Jason Richardson

    Such a valuable skill to develop: SHIPPING (and doing it consistently)

    Two quotes that have helped me push PUBLISH more than once:

    90 percent perfect and shared with the world always changes more lives than 100 percent perfect and stuck in your head. – Jon Acuff

    If you have something to say, SAY IT, and think well of yourself while you’re learning to say it better. – David Mamet

    Here’s to Shipping Michael!

    • Sarah Beckman


  • Alison

    Thank you, that was just what I needed to hear today! After years of battling to overcome procrastination and starting to get going with a project that matters to me, those perfectionist thoughts have been coming to visit. But as you say, if we never get to good enough, we never get it done! And there is no way to anticipate all the possible “bugs” that could pop up. Love the software metaphor and the yardstick for checking whether a project is ready to wrap up.

  • Kwin Peterson

    My background is in theatre where a remarkable thing happens over and over again. We announce that a show that we have no idea how to stage will open on a certain day (maybe a year or more in the future)…and it does.

    Is opening night perfect? Not always. Does it change lives? Yup.

    Set a deadline and provide an amazing (even if imperfect) experience and you can rock the world. Thanks for the timely reminder Michael.

  • Stephanie Stear

    My one thing that I need to wrap up and ship is my darn theme! Your super-awesome wordpress theme is on my wish list and I’ve been holding off on taking my site live until I can buy it. I’m currently on a fiscal fast, so I can’t make purchases quite yet. But after reading your post this morning I’ve decided to go live with the theme I’ve got and just switch it up later. It’s not perfect right now, but it’s pretty good and it’s not doing me *any good at all* just sitting there in ‘construction’ mode. Thanks for the motivation. :)

    • Sarah Beckman

      Go get ‘em Stephanie! Go Live and change lives. Proud of you!

    • Michael Hyatt

      Great application!

  • Emma Davis

    What a great read. Getting over my perfectionist block earlier this year was the best thing I have ever done in my years of business. It meant that I got my website up even though it is not ‘perfect’ and there are still things I need to add, change and tweak but that is happening here and there and does not affect the overall usability and content of the site which means I at least have a website up (which is good considering web development is what I do).

  • Jason Hoover

    Great points Michael. I am a recovering perfectionist :) and have had to train myself to go for EXCELLENCE over PERFECTION. Life is much happier now.

  • Wendel Elliott

    Feeling like I need a pair of steel toed boots this morning. Thanks for the insight. Quick question…How much do think fear plays into perfectionism? Could it be that because I’m afraid it’s going to flop that I won’t ship until it’s perfect? (anyone?)
    Thanks again.

    • Sarah Beckman

      yep. agreed. I’m “anyone” right there with ya. But “perfect love drives out fear” and no one is perfect (except Jesus!) and so… we must just be the best humans we can be.

  • John R. Meese

    That’s such a powerful paradigm shift, and perfect for today’s world! I’m a recovering perfectionist as well, so I can see how taking on the “software” mentality will definitely help.

  • Charles Hooper Jr

    I am working on a telebridge class for pastors who want to ignite a life on life missional discipleship movement in their church and beyond. My perfectionism sometimes shuts me down, other times it makes me procrastinate, other times becoming too nit picky. Good is good enough really translates into excellent in the way I am wired. We have a launch date of Sept 15 and the “software” approach will be helpful to get the first version out and ready. Great book on perfectionism is Perfecting Ourselves to Death by Richard Winter.

    • Sarah Beckman

      can’t wait to read it! and yes, I procrastinate because it’s “so much work” to do the project. But that’s because I want to do the project perfectly. Just doing it isn’t too hard. It’s just the way I want to do it. I’m feeling very encouraged by this post – and I will check out that book!

  • Cole Carley

    Excellent post. The item that resonated most for me was the software analogy. Speakers and writers always have chances to hone the product and present the new version. We need to recognize that and take advantage of it. So I guess it’s going to be Cole 64.8.

  • Sarah Beckman

    one project I’m trying to finish is my first book. I am a perfectionist and this was immensely helpful to me to think about how I’m confusing excellence with perfection. Thank you Michael. I needed this today!

  • Kimunya Mugo

    Interesting I was just discussing perfectionism as we planned a Google hang-out interview on my book an hour ago. Perfection not only stalls progress, sometimes it kills dreams and projects completely.

    I am working on two projects at the moment. The first is sorting out my blog design and content. Finally got the impetus to install the GetNoticed! theme and stop waiting to get my content perfect. The second is a coaching program scheduled for release months ago. Now, I have decided enough is enough. It should be out in a month or so… and a book too :)

    Thank you Michael for this post. Sometimes I actually use the opportunity to comment here as a way to keep myself accountable to deliver…

  • Anne B. Butterfield

    Good stuff. The only time I care about perfection or near-attainment of it is when flaws create stigma. Fact checking, punctuation, diction. Those details can matter with lots of leverage, particularly if ignored in a routine practice.

  • Dan Miller

    I laugh when I look back at the first versions of 48 Days to the Work You Love. The first iteration was done at Kinkos – a simple text hard-stock cover. Then I added a free-standing cassette – and people kept buying it. Then I went to a 3-ring binder with 2 audio CDs and sold over $2,000,000 of that rudimentary product. At that point I had publishers standing in line to do a traditional tradebook. But had I waited until it was perfect I would have missed the development that came from reader feedback and the sales along the way.

    I love the idea of a “minimally viable product” from The Lean Startup. Ship it, then refine and improve it as you go.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I love the way you teach on this topic, Dan. It is so empowering. Thanks for commenting.

    • Woolly Jumpers Farm

      I’m always afraid of appearing unprofessional if there’s an error in my work. And, there are often (at least) minor errors in my work. Loved the interview you gave and completely agree…Just ship it, and make iterative improvements. If customers were with you at the beginning, they’ll stay with you for the ride!

      • Dan Miller

        Woody – you are so right. And those customers like being included in the development process. I just did a major revision of 48 Days to the Work You Love that will be released as the 10th Anniversary Edition in January. I asked my readers for suggested enhancements and got over 165,000 words submitted. I included what I could – and could create another 2-3 books just from their ideas.

  • Beth Lockard

    Excellent, practical tips that I can apply TODAY!! Perfectionism has always been a stumbling block for me. I especially appreciated the software analogy – it clicked for me!

  • Scrivener Coach

    What a breath of fresh air! I LOVE the software analogy. Gosh that really makes so much sense. In the early days of creating my course I struggled with this big time. I wanted everything to be perfect. That almost kept me from launching.

    Something that helped me get over the perfectionism trap was telling myself that I could always go back and update things later. That was 2 years ago and now hundreds of thank you emails later I’m so glad I didn’t let that hold me back.

    Perfectionism is a dangerous quick sand for so many entrepreneurs. Thanks for giving us such great strategies to get through it!

  • Bernard Haynes

    Great post. When you said, Stop asking, “Is it perfect?” and start asking, “Will it move the needle in people’s lives?”, did it for me. It’s time to stop trying to make everything perfect and start shipping.

  • Michael Hyatt

    This is custom coded, but we are hoping to make it part of my Get Noticed! Theme.™

    • Daniel Decker

      Was wondering that same thing.

    • Kim Roach

      Thanks Michael!

    • Justin Trapp

      That was my question as well.

  • Stephanie Langford

    Michael, I did want to comment that both my husband and I really appreciated your speech at WDS. We thought it was excellent and applaud your vulnerability. You really took it to the next level, so thank you for that. As someone who speaks and writes myself, I know how difficult that vulnerability can be and I admire you for that. :) Both of us had some great takeaways from what you said, and I felt that you really confirmed for me a decision I need to make that I had been waffling on for some time, so thank you for that!

    Also, I 100% agree about being willing to move forward and just ship something, perfect or not. I actually loved the idea of being in “permanent beta”. Great thought! We ought to always be revising and improving on our work, but we’ll never be able to do that well if we don’t get it out there in the first place.

  • Njeru Nthigah

    Great post Michael. I am a recovering perfection junkie and I can relate with the points you made. Last month I decided to approach my work from the permanent beta status and I have made more progress in the last 2 months that I have in the last year with regards to specific projects. I am committed to completing my website (get noticed theme) the leaders university by next month. Thank you for the reminder.

  • Justin Chapman

    My friends were just telling me about a new game called Destiny. The ads on TV are promoting “Destiny BETA.” The company has actively engaged its players in making the game better… and made it a hallmark of the marketing effort. Such an interesting and challenging change in perspective. Thanks for the post, Michael.

  • Paul Sohn

    “Stop asking, “Is it perfect?” and start asking, “Will it move the needle in people’s lives?” Love it, Michael.

  • John Patrick Weiss

    Thanks for a well timed post! I sometimes fall into the “too many coals in the fire” trap. I have a tendency to delay a post to “refine” it some more, which makes my readers have to wait. Done trumps perfect!

  • V M Perry

    This blog was so appropriate for me today. Ive been struggling with finishing a book and its all because I can’t stop editing it thinking it needs to be perfect. Thanks for shining the light on this issue.

  • kimanzi constable

    Killer post Michael. So many of us struggle with this and especially in the online space. I have a few projects that I’ve been dabbling with that I know I need to put out there.

  • Vicki Twiford

    We’re setting up our ministry blog (with Get Noticed) this coming week. I am stressed about having it perfect and yet we have never done this before (we hired someone the last time). Maybe I can now sleep over the weekend! Thanks.

  • Candace Lewis

    This is a very helpful post. I’m working on a project w a ship deadline and I like the idea of “will it move the needle in people’s lives”. Yes it will… I will finish and ship!!! Thanks Micheal

  • Carl Rasmussen

    “The Courage of Imperfection” My teacher and world class scholar — who wrote (literally) hundreds of technical articles on ancient history, archaeology, and linguistics — used to tell his students that “you need the courage of imperfection!”

  • FromHisPresence

    Michael, I heard you talk in Platform U once about “Don’t worry, be crappy.” That cracked me up and actually helped me a lot with getting rid of perfectionism and being too hard on myself. I remind myself of that often now. Thanks for the tip. ;)

  • Luke Guy

    “What helped me was to think of my work like software.”

    Words to live by. Just get it out there and start chipping away. As long as the message gets across and people understand that you want to help, you will make it.

  • Craig Trombly

    Great distinction between perfectionism and excellence. Thanks!

  • Sheri

    I read a book about messies. A lot of people with messy houses are really perfectionists! They won’t start something unless they can complete it or get it right. For them, breaking things down into smaller tasks that can be completed in short amounts of time can work. I’m still working on that… I even have children that won’t try something new, because they don’t want to fail. When I think if all I have learned from my mistakes, it’s not so bad…

    Thank you for the encouragement! I’m getting a whole lot more from your posts and interviews than I thought I would. Mostly, I’m a stay home mom and homeschooling, but I also have a part time job and one ministry that involves public speaking. Usually small groups, but still requires a prepared presentation.

  • Rev. Terry and Tammy Reeves

    Awesome encouragement. What’s my one project to finish? My book!!! (in the works for 20 years because I keep changing it :( )

  • Sundi Jo Graham

    This is such a timely post. I’ve been working on an online course for several months. The content was written. The plan was in place. But I kept stalling, because I was afraid it wouldn’t be perfect enough. “I don’t have the budget to make the videos the way I want them.” “I can’t do this because….”

    Then I decided I was being ridiculous! I have a message people need to hear, and if I never start, they’ll never hear. So, yesterday, I took my laptop, iMovie, found a good location and a bench, and recorded the 12 videos needed for the course.

    I’m going to ship, even if it’s not perfect, because next year I can make it even better. Thanks for the inspiration.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Sundi Jo, this is awesome! I’m so proud of you. You can improve version 2.0, but you have finished 1.0!

  • Bianca Gubalke

    Brilliant! And just at the exact right moment! Thank you!

  • malfaris

    Very true, when I tried starting a small business more than once I spent way too much time in the planning stage to perfect it, when its only 10% of the project and 90% is actually the action you take to lunch that business before it dies in the planning stage.

  • Elizabeth Young

    Great post Michael, it made me realize that even though I’m not consciously asking myself, “Is it perfect?” my actions are revealing its in my DNA! Thank you!

  • Etta Wilson

    One of your best–at least for me. Thanks.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Awesome, Etta. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  • djsmps

    I was an American in charge of product development for a Japanese company. I always strove for the most innovative product, a real home run. The president of the company was Japanese. He advised me. “Base hits are OK too.” He was right.

  • Maya Weinhart

    Thanks for sharing and very well said. I often suffer from thinking that some things are not good enough and sit on the projects for a while. A really good trick I’ve learned is to find a coworker or friend that you think does excellent work and ask their input. Often times they make one tiny tweak and something in my head shifts to thinking it’s perfect. Interesting how that happens.

  • madhavi sood

    Wonderful post here @mhyatt:disqus ! I like the sprinkling of Writing and publishing akin to software development and the paradigm you have described so well.
    Thank you so much for sharing this and all this while, I thought I was alone on this boat struggling and trying to simply reach across to the distant horizon ….
    Not to say that my first book ‘From the Silence Within’ got wonderful Book Reviews, yet I have still to officially get it Book Released until I almost gave up the whole idea until I read your post Sir.
    I still have no clue though of how and when it will happen, almost two years have passed since it got published as a paper back book and very much available on Amazon, Goodreads …. Maybe I have to row it onto the other end till my poems can touch many souls across…

  • Maria Angelica Brunell Solar

    Thank you so much for your insights! I will be applying the 3 steps and commenting on my results! From fellow recovering perfectionist

  • Brandy Nielsen

    Excellent tips! I have spent most of my life trying to reach a level of perfection that is not attainable. I appreciate your definitions of excellence vs. perfection. What do you do when you find yourself starting to get caught in the perfection circle?

  • Caryn Barrington

    That pinnacle of perfection can be an isolated and icy place…….. just do what you need to and offer it in good faith, most people are actually more encouraging and forgiving of the minor errors that we all continually make/fall into it! and so what anyway……… 100 years time? I’d love to think I was that important!!!!!

  • Guest

    Wow, Michael, thats pretty much exactly what I have needed to hear. Iv been working on some stuff and just can’t get past this idea, that no matter how good it is, it could be better. The truth is that, this has really stopped me from even beginning. In my head, the ideas keep coming and coming and the project seems to grow and become almost too big. Time to work out the basics and get it to the point where it can make an impact and then… well its a work in progress, like everything I guess. Thanks again

  • Yoel Gischen

    Wow, Michael, that’s pretty much exactly what I needed to hear. I’v been working on some stuff and just can’t get past this idea, that no matter how good it is, it could be better. The truth is that, this has really stopped me from even beginning. The ideas keep coming and the project seems to grow BUT becomes almost too big to start. It’s time for me to work out the basics, and then allow the idea to evolve as it’s really a work in progress, like everything I guess. Thanks again

  • Kent Julian

    LOVE “don’t confuse perfection with excellence.”

    A definition I use for excellence (not original with me) is: “Doing the absolutely best with the resources you have.”

  • Kara Durbin

    Whew, this perfectionist needed to hear that! Thanks!

  • Ando Mierzwa

    This is great, Michael! Every business is a people business. And that means it’s not about YOU, it’s about others. Perfectionism is actually selfish! :)

  • KindMatters

    I love it! We are our own enemy whenever we let our fears hold us back. It really is all about going forward with faith. Thank you!

  • Jackie

    I need to wrap up a novel. It’s been straggling along for months as I “perfect it”. Thanks for the reminder to get it done.

  • Peter Rudrum

    Thanks Michael. Perfectionism has slowed my progress on many many projects. The fear of rejection and a need to be liked also plays a part. Seeing criticism as a normal part of the feedback loop of the improvement cycle is also important. Another article that prompts personal reflection. Great!

  • Classically Trained

    Outstanding. A MAJOR boost in perspective, and a well articulated path of freedom. Thank you.

  • Brennan Davis

    Hey Michael! I’ve only just recently discovered your blog, and I’m loving it! Lots of great tips on productivity, something I’m trying to get better at. This tip is great, by the way. I’m a web developer, and I’ve been working on my personal website for a REALLY long time. After reading your post, I decided to make a big push to get my site up and running, and I’m happy to say I’ll be launching it today! It’s far from perfect, but I’m actually looking forward to getting feedback and comments on it so I can continue to make tweaks and improvements in the future. Thanks again for this post!

    • Michael Hyatt

      Good for you, Brennan. Awesome!

  • Glen Evans

    I like the software analogy (I test software for a living). A meme I think of when I need to begin a new writing task whether it’s a test plan or an email is telling myself to start with a ‘shitty first draft’. It amuses me and before I know it I’m making progress! :-)

  • Steven Whatley

    This is always a struggle. I have this quote on my desktop – for a constant reminder:

    Edwin Bliss once said, “The pursuit of excellence is gratifying and healthy. The pursuit of perfection is frustrating, neurotic, and a terrible waste of time.”

    Since I don’t like wasting time, I mean who does really, this helps.

  • Maxine Dunn

    Hi Michael ~ Wow! Incredible article! I can hardly believe I only just recently “found” you. I literally want to stay up all night reading every article on your site. I love your thoughts on perfectionism and I’m going to get off my you-know-what and get things finished.

    I have two projects that have been hanging in the balance for what seems like ages: 1) migrating my HTML site over to WordPress (it’s half-finished and the new WP site is in “under construction mode” while I fuss about the header and the colors, etc.), and 2) completing a series of newsletter-compilation-eBooks to sell on my site (which aren’t finished yet because I keep fiddling about with the eCover designs). Thanks for the great advice and I’m going to think of my projects as software. Launch, then modify and improve as you go!