Black Holes – Busyness and Perfection


For most – if not all – of my life, I’ve been a perfectionist.

And there have been times when that’s come in handy.

Like in coding, learning (but not performing on) the piano, and working at a medical imaging facility.

However, my perfectionism has also led me to waste much of my time on needless meticulousness, and to be unduly critical of some of my work/undertakings in various settings and stages of life.


In addition to my ravenous internal drive for perfection, I’ve also at times struggled with a sense of guilt for not feeling or seeming busier.

Which reminds me of an interesting video I once watched of a presentation by Adam Grant, on the creators of Warby Parker:

They delayed. They “dawdled”. They deliberated. They dreamed.

Then, after all of that, they finally decided and did. After extensive incubation, they executed their plans.

But those plans required a season of awkward appearances and seeming slothfulness to formulate.

To a potential investor such as Adam Grant, these young creators probably seemed, at best, a bit flighty, immature, or disorganized. At worst, they appeared lazy and unmotivated.

A gestational period was required for their ideas and business plan to solidify and transform into the truly intelligent, well-considered, executable strategy that made Warby Parker successful.

Yet to Grant, in the time prior to the launching of their business, these creators didn’t exactly seem “busy” or conscientious enough for entrepreneurs.

However, their minds were busy thinking, gathering data, processing, innovating.

Impressions and Incompletion – Tying Busyness and Perfectionism Together

“The greatest originals are the ones who fail the most, because they’re the ones who try the most. You need a lot of bad ideas in order to get a few good ones.” – Adam Grant

Perfectionism causes us to be critical of our failures and lose the motivation to keep trying, because we’re focusing on what isn’t and what “should” be, rather than leaving the doors of our minds open to what could be.

Busyness prevents us from even allowing ourselves the time to fail or succeed. We don’t have time to come up with rotten ideas or golden ones. We don’t have time to think, because we’re too busy doing what we – and seemingly everyone else – believe we ought to be doing.

Demands upon ourselves or others – for perfection or perpetual busyness – are black holes which can never be satiated. The sense of accomplishment from such efforts will nearly always be missing, and there will always be something more to “perfect” or “do”.

Only when we come to terms with “good enough” – with the concepts of “finished”,  “acceptable”, and “adequate” – can we eventually lose our compulsion to strive, and our feelings of restlessness, apprehension, and resentment when everyone else is too weary or overburdened to contribute any more to the “completion” of our never-ending list of objectives and expectations.

Without this acceptance, it is incredibly challenging to live peacefully within or with others. We may frequently default to tearing ourselves and others apart for not contributing more, achieving perfection, or “staying busy”.

Staying busy can give us the feeling that we are accomplishing something. And of course, true productivity does require a certain measure and form of busyness – even if that busyness transpires primarily in one’s mind.

However, to simply be “busy” is not necessarily to be productive, or to be making optimal use of time.

We can be busy cleaning and recleaning every inch and corner of the bathroom sink and counter – terrified that we might have missed a millimeter. We’re staying busy, but not exactly being productive with our time.

We can stay “busy” with lots of activities and events we don’t even care about – engagements that feel like a waste of time but look good or seem socially acceptable. However, if these activities are not serving to hone or engage our abilities, skills, and interests, then they are generally a waste of time. And such engagements can be doubly unproductive – or potentially counterproductive – if you’re an introvert like I am. As introverts, it is imperative that we carve out ample time for reflection and recharging. Without the allowance of sufficient “lazy”, “quiet”, nonsocial/”inactive” (i.e. thinking, rejuvenating) time, it is difficult to be productive at all.

Sometimes, the most productive thing we can do is say “no” to an engagement or activity, and instead use that time to sit back and reflect (and/or read, research, write down our thoughts). It is this activity which allows us to realign ourselves with our values, goals, passion, and creativity. It allows us to make intelligent plans and ensure that our physical busyness and efforts are worthwhile, and not wasted due to insufficient forethought.

Being busy does not always mean real work. The object of all work is production or accomplishment and to either of these ends there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence, and honest purpose, as well as perspiration. Seeming to do is not doing. – Thomas A. Edison

Plan, prepare, ponder. Then perspire.

And be willing to do it all imperfectly. ❤

© 2018 Kate Richardson All Rights Reserved

4 thoughts on “Black Holes – Busyness and Perfection

  1. Millennial Monk

    I enjoyed this discussion of tying perfectionism and busyness together! It is remarkable how strongly we can be compelled by the *perception* of working, rather than consummate execution. Output certainly does not equal input, and our anti-productivity habits can sometimes reveal the nature of hesitations or other limiting beliefs that may be weighing us down.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That was a very, very good post! 🙂

    Yes, we can drive ourselves nuts with too much perfectionism. But, “quality matters”, too. We want things to come out as effective, useful, beneficial, to solve old problems and not create new ones, right? Or, if it’s something more artistic and not so practical, it’s nice to give something to the world that others will admire, or is beautiful, or is fun.

    But that is where good planning comes in. But planning takes time. We don’t want to go-off-half-cocked and be reckless, but we don’t want to spend so much time planning-and-perfecting that nothing gets done, either. So, I like the idea of “good enough”. Having a streak of efficiency/perfectionism myself, I will say that in my opinion, too many folks who say “close enough for jazz” tend to be a bit too lax for me. But we all “draw the line” at different points.

    This also got me thinking about the myers-briggs 16 Types. Suppose someone were the Type who wanted to cover-every-detail and come up with the perfect solution or plan. But—the risk is, that they could spend sooo much time going over every possible “fix” that the whole thing never materializes. Here, is where “good enough” comes in. Good enough would be “a significant upgrade/improvement (even if not “perfect”) from the present. But there is more—suppose a different tactic were tried. Suppose someone “dived in” and brainstormed a “quick-reference cheat-sheet” of improvements and went to work immediately implementing them. ENTJ? ISTP? ESTJ? (as opposed to INTP or INTJ…?) But, some of these might be good in the short-term only to discover new problems. But so what? Let’s say we are right at that point. And ask a question: Is it, or even WAS it, better, to “make continuous small to medium fixes, and then make new ones, too……OR—-should we wait, until we have the next groundbreaking, generation-changing Grand-scheme? (INTJ?) Not everyone can invent the next i-Pad.

    INTJ’s want to plan so much that having to improvise can stress them. ISTP’s or ENTJ’s may “get on it” right now, but need to jump in and fix something else later.

    Here’s another consideration: While we are all planning for every possible problem, the situation is also changing and fluid at the same time. So will we ever be “caught up”? Good question. Still, looking ahead and foresight is a good thing. And then—there’s the folks who are always in a state of busyness…..

    Some people “can’t sit still”. To ever read a book, or spend a half hour meditating, could make them scream and climb walls. I always think people like that are running from something. Distracting themselves. To avoid thinking about something unpleasant that they don’t want to confront in their lives. They have to chop wood, paint a room, wash the truck, run errands, clear out the attic. If they don’t know what to do with themselves, they start cleaning something. I suspect quite a few of these same types would likely NOT enjoy “light-hearted comedy” or for example, old episodes of “Seinfeld”. I suspect they would criticize it as “fake” or possibly juvenile. Too bad for them! I prefer to enjoy life in a wider variety of ways. And with that said—

    The SUN is out! The air is fresh. Have a good day!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the very thoughtful comment, theOwl30! I particularly appreciated the part about a situation being fluid and constantly subject to change. This often requires us to construct more dynamic and flexible solutions to problems ahead of time, and/or to be willing to improvise and sometimes start from scratch when things change. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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