In today’s fast-paced business world, being an overachiever or perfectionist is considered an asset. Of course all businesses want employees who are willing to put in the extra effort, time, and love to deliver their very best work, on time. But there’s a dangerous dark side when overachieving goes to the point of staunch perfectionism, when one puts unsustainable expectations on themselves and others. It can lead to burnout. And letting yourself fall into that abyss is no good for anyone – not you, your family and friends, or your employer. Smart employers look for candidates who display a healthy “emotional intelligence,” which includes knowing how to keep a healthy work/life balance.

While every worker desires work/life balance, it doesn’t always come naturally. If you’re an overachiever or perfectionist, it probably requires much more of a concerted effort on your part. Here are five things you should do to achieve balance and avoid burnout in 2012:

  1. Know Your Personal Limits. What’s on your daily and weekly must-do list to take care of your health and family? Know exactly what you need, then be flexible. As much as I’ve wished and tried to get by with six hours of sleep at night and skipping breakfast, I know I need eight hours of sleep and a healthy meal in the morning. That doesn’t mean I don’t deviate from this whenever my priorities require it – it’s just that I’m very aware that I’ll have to catch up later.
  2. Prioritize Constantly and “Ruthlessly.” I’ve gone through multiple organization and prioritization systems throughout my career – not because I’m disorganized, but because I keep trying to find ways to fit more into my day. However, since there are still just 24 hours in a day, tough choices must be made – constantly. In your work life, consider each task based on the importance to your company’s values and bottom line, as well as to your team. “There are an infinite number of things to do, and you must prioritize ruthlessly,” CEO Justin Moore said to me on a day I was feeling overwhelmed. It’s hard to make those “ruthless” choices about what not to do. Yet it’s so necessary in order to get done what really matters.
  3. Get Comfortable with Saying No. To do the things that are most important, you will at some point have to say no to things that are very important. With work, you have to be careful here, since “no” is not a great word to say to your boss! But if you have prioritized ruthlessly, put your best time and effort to your job, and still have more on your plate than a person can reasonably manage, then be sure to ask your manager to work with you on a solution – don’t just suffer (and burnout) in silence.
  4. Take Vacations. Those who brag about never taking time off are setting themselves up for lower productivity and stifled creativity in the long run. Whatever you’re giving your best to in work and in life, it requires an occasional step back to see clearly, gain new perspectives, and regain the energy you need to keep going. Whether it’s a day off here and there or a week at a time, use the time off your employer offers so you can rest and recharge.
  5. Drop the Excuses (and Guilt). The classic perfectionist doesn’t ever want something to be their fault, so there’s a tendency to make excuses about why you can’t do something. But no one wants to hear it! And feeling guilty about saying no is incredibly counter-productive. Dropping the excuses and the guilt are key to the previous four tips. If you’re able to do this, you can focus even more mental and physical energy on excelling in the areas that are of the highest priority.

Of course this advice is for me as much as for others. I admit I’m a recovering perfectionist. And I know that making my best (though not perfect) effort to follow these guidelines is what allows me to enjoy working with talented people at a fast-growing startup while having a happy family and maintaining good health. I make hard choices every day on what things I’m going to let go of, but it’s all worth it!


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