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For example, until I know each and everything about a topic, I just don't feel like moving ahead, I get stuck. And I find myself getting involved in very minute details of the topic, which usually others tend overlook at.

Finally with this habit, I just cannot get "started".

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Do you plan ahead before studying a topic? There is no limit if you don't. – Renan Sep 20 '11 at 11:38
@Renan Well, If the topic is X, and I am studying it for the first time, then how should I plan up to which limit to study? – TheIndependentAquarius Sep 20 '11 at 11:43
And To-Do-List borns.. – Soner Gönül Sep 22 '11 at 21:00
up vote 23 down vote accepted

I'm having the same problem, so I can understand you very well.

I'd suggest:

If you find yourself getting stuck in something (e. g. as you are not willing to begin with the "real work"):
* Make a step "back" from the topic/work to see why you want to do it: What's your motivation? What's your goal?

  • Then, remember the 80/20 rule (also called "Pareto's Law") which says that already with 20% of the effort you'll have 80% of the result and for the other 20% of the result you'll have to invest very much time.
  • The next question to ask yourself when finding yourself getting stuck is: is it worth it to invest more time?

With those 2 things in mind it might be easier to begin "really" working on something new. And if you still find yourself avoiding to begin, JUST BEGIN:

  • ask yourself what is the first "granular" action which has to be done to begin.

  • and do it!

That might sound easier than it is - I'm doing this struggle quite often (and exactly now at this moment I'm trying to avoid "eating a toad" ** ...)

If you're easily getting "lost in details", I'd suggest using a timer method (e. g. the pomodoro technique) to get conscious about the time spent with a task. E. g. limit the time for "research" to 25 minutes and then stop digging deeper and start working until you get stuck and maybe need additional information.


** p.s. maybe the ebook Brian Tracy: Eat That Frog! might help you. I've not read it yet, but it looks interesting and already to tell myself "eat that frog!" sometimes helped me to get started with something useful I tried to avoid.

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Thanks, The pomodoro tech. looks promising, please read my comment on Lorenzo's answer. – TheIndependentAquarius Sep 29 '11 at 4:18
@AnishaKaul: I've made good experience with the pomodoro technique as it gives a better "feeling" of time passing while you get lost in details. Good Luck! – MostlyHarmless Sep 29 '11 at 8:55
Thanks Martin, I'll try that. – TheIndependentAquarius Sep 29 '11 at 8:57

I'm a wanna-be psychologist, from the way I understand it, a perfectionist is a person who has higher needs for structure, who thinks that failing of maintaining such order will give rise to mishaps. But really, not being perfect is just being a human being.

Rules of thumb:

  1. Establishing more pragmatic, realistic standards for you and people around you ( standards are doable,not causing trepidation or anxiety)

  2. identify personality traits that promote perfection and notice the patterns that facilitate you to be more like a perfectionist ( may be there are root causes due to family relationship and interaction with peers and teachers)

    • did it freak you out when getting a C and even a D on a nonsignificant quiz, to a degree that you felt helpless and started dampening your self-worth?

    • your spouse forgot to do his/her share of the chores, which he/she was supposed to. Your house was a mess, you felt like you were living in a disarrayed house that was supposed to be ordered and portentous.

    ( you were so attentive to the immediate problem, so much that you had overgeneralized your spouse being irresponsible and annoying)

  3. after you understand what made you prone of being a perfectionist ( perhaps that was the way your parents had acted towards you) , start goal-setting ( you should kick off with something small)

    • one's productivity deals with prioritizing. Can you categorize the tasks that are more relevant and those that are extraneous?

Ex. How many pages does your resume have? Most employers want someone who can prioritize, pay attention to relevant details and someone who can see the broader picture instead of overgeneralizing and seeing in black and white terms.

You want to narrow your resume down to 1-2 pages utmost.

after learning to prioritize your life, you can filter out trivial tasks and being overly perturbed by the minor details. Better use of time, life of simplicity.

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Actually I am a perfectionist is in ALL aspects of my life e.g. cooking, photography, drawing, cleaning. The problematic situation is only my studies. One technical jargon leads to another, and another to another! I feel until I know each and every corner of that small topic, I shouldn't move ahead, as that'll be like being jack of all and master of none. – TheIndependentAquarius Sep 29 '11 at 4:16
@Anisha Kaul - Remember that the full quote is ""Jack of all trades, master of none, Certainly better than a master of one"". I also struggle with the need for 'completeness' before I can move along to something new, but very often all those little extra elements don't contribute to the whole in proportion to the time spent pursuing them. – huntmaster Apr 1 '13 at 20:50

I agree with you Martin, I also use the Pomodoro Technique, this is a good way to avoid getting to exhausted. The root message, I think, is under Pareto's Law; you need to be clear on your goals, so you can stop when you reach them.

People get lost trying to do the perfect thing because they do not set themselves in a Time Box with very clear goals. So they do not know, in other words they do not know when to stop because they do not define the acceptance criteria first.

In summary Anisha: 1. Set your goals 2. Define a time frame for your work (Time Box yourself) 3. Stop whenever you reach your goals or the time is running out 4. Be sure to save your progress (have a kind of versions of it), that will help if you fall short doing a re-factoring; to get the last stable version of your work. 5. Re-factor, only if you have enough time; and also

Tip: remember that is better to do something than nothing

Here is a short resume, about time management practices, is oriented to Software Developers, but there you will find common time management resources like the Pomodoro Technique and the concept of Time Boxing: Time Management for the Agile Practitioner

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Thanks, your reply was somewhat motivating – TheIndependentAquarius Sep 29 '11 at 4:17

I overcame this type of issue by changing my goal. Instead of insisting on learning everything about a topic, I decided that I would learn just how to do the task before me, and that would be that. Now I concentrate on my goals instead of my education.

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Thanks, that'll help. – TheIndependentAquarius Jan 28 '12 at 1:14
+1 for concentrating on task before me... – CoolEulerProject Aug 23 '12 at 6:28

Personal opinion: You don't, you learn how to manage having the incredible strength that is wanting to continuously improve and do things better than they were done in the past.

How could you make this post without reading the millions of pages about perfectionism on the web? Isn't that ignoring information that makes your first statement rather inaccurate? I enjoy researching topics and will go to great lengths to know what I know on things. At the same time, I'm not depriving myself of other things in life like adequate food, fluids and sleep, so I don't see anything wrong with having studying for a hobby. The topics that interest me will vary over time and I have had a number of different phases. In the end, you have to figure out why you'd prefer to stay stuck as it is your choice that is keeping you there. Others may just pick something and move forward. Not every choice will be a big gain but there is something to learn from every move you make and isn't it better to be in the game than watching and hoping you could all the possible moves of your opponent?

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Sounds like you might have too much spare time or not enough to do. Ask you boss for more projects or tasks, or enforce tighter deadlines. If you have to do 2 things by Friday you wont be able to spend a lot of time on them, you'll have to finish the task with something not very good.

If you dont have tight deadlines its easy to spend more and more time on something going over minutae. Just stop working on the project and move on to something new.

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"Sounds like you might have too much spare time or not enough to do." Not necessarily. From my experience, the "need" to do everything at least at a 100% can make people procrastinate and not do anything at all (while more and more (and more) important things pile up and demolish the persons self-respect). – MostlyHarmless Sep 26 '11 at 20:32
Absolutely agree. That way its good have a tight unmovable deadline so that things dont pile up, and that tasks regularly get done non-perfectly or not at all. – Richard Sep 26 '11 at 21:31
but if there is no "real" deadline, what do you want to do? Many people add "wish" deadline dates to their todos and then get used to miss all the "soft" deadlines (and also the real ones). If there is no "real" deadline, the only way (or is there another one?) would be to have the discipline to say (and really do it): "I'll work on that until a fixed date/time and then stop it and "deliver" or abandon the project." – MostlyHarmless Sep 27 '11 at 8:45

Try thinking in percentages rather than in black and white. For example, I have completed 60 percent of a task - rather than whether I have completed/not completed a task. Although not a big help, it could be a start.

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I think that if perfectionism is your nature, you should not try to stop it. You should seek ways to use it productively instead.

First of al. get yourself involved into a profession where perfectionism is of key importance - e.g. a surgeon/ jeweler/ QA/ artist/ etc.

In other situations in life, when you happen to just need stuff done at whatever level of quality, I'd suggest again that you do not go against your nature, again. You can use some kind of a prop to compensate it. For example you could do your job at hand in a team with a buddy who is good exactly at getting things done fast, without high requirements to quality. Simply let her lead in that case.

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