Delivering perfection on impossible deadlines is making me burn out


I work in a demanding job for a supervisor with high expectations; however, hers are no higher than my own. I’m a perfectionist and I like doing things right the first time.

This isn’t possible in this job because my priorities change daily and occasionally hourly. I get started on one project only to be told I need to switch to another project with a short deadline and to leave my half-completed work to others. If I don’t immediately stop the project in which I’ve already invested planning time, I won’t make the new project’s deadline. Because I’m forced to work unreasonably fast, I make dozens of mistakes. I agonize over these, but my supervisor always says, “No sweat, just keep moving fast.”

I’m stressed out all the time. Despite the fact that my supervisor tells me I’m doing great, I worry that’s because she doesn’t realize how many mistakes I’m actually making. I’m afraid she’ll turn one day and tell me I don’t measure up. I’m afraid something’s got to give and am afraid it’s me.


If you want to avoid a meltdown, you need to understand the truth of your position and to stop manufacturing additional, unneeded pressure.

You appear to occupy a triage position in which you regularly start projects and leave secondary work to others. During massive emergencies, primary doctors take care of the most crucial emergencies and leave non-life-threatening medical issues to others. These primary physicians can’t afford the time it takes to set broken legs if it delays their saving another person from bleeding out. If this first-responder, triage description fits your reality, stop beating yourself up for not completing every project. You’re the “starter.”

Next, you need to let perfectionism go. Perfect takes time you don’t have and gets in the way of fast, good enough and done.

Along with this, stop second-guessing your supervisor’s assessment. When a high-expectation supervisor says you’re doing great, you probably are. If you fear she’s hiding her true feelings, just say, “Hey boss, you can be honest. I want to do the best possible job for you. In what ways can I improve?”

Finally, let her know you’re at over-capacity. One common mistake otherwise terrific employees make is accepting more and more assignments until they ultimately crash. Don’t let that happen to you.

© Dr. Lynne Curry is author of ”Beating the Workplace Bully” and ”Solutions” as well as owner of the management/HR consulting/training firm The Growth Company Inc. Follow her on Twitter @lynnecury10 or at

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