I’m the perfectionist of perfectionists. At least, I was. Until I made a surprising choice that ended up helping me with overcoming perfectionism.

My Original Coping Strategy

Since a young age, I’ve displayed all the typical signs of anxiety—intrusive thoughts, unexplained episodes of panic and excessive sweating (ew).

To help cope, at least with the first two, I made to-do list after to-do list. I had paper to-do lists, digital to-do lists and to-do lists for my to-do lists.

If there was something to be done, no matter how small, it was on my to-do list. Even watching Netflix was on my to-do list!

This excessive to-do list making was a band-aid for the real issue—anxiety—which needed something more along the lines of a tonsillectomy (I had one of those, and it wasn’t any fun; don’t get one!).

The creation of to-do lists became a compulsion.

Sure, these to-do lists helped me cope with the intrusive thoughts and unexplained episodes of panic in the short even, and possibly even helped reduce the sweating, but they were only temporary solutions for my anxiety.

The Liberating Choice I Made

Last year I threw out—both literally and metaphorically—my beautiful, amazing, multi-page, color-coded to-do lists.

I traded them in for a simple, amazing, single-page document titled, ‘Things I CHOOSE to do today.’

Through lots of hard work, and long talks with my therapist, and myself (I’m a great listener), I’ve learned that my previous to-do lists were necessary. Yes, a perfectionist saying to-do lists are necessary.

I choose to work. I choose to respond to emails. I choose to have meetings. I choose to hang out with friends. I choose to watch Netflix.

If I choose to do all of these things, why did I have to-do lists? Why did I have all of these self-imposed deadlines?

I don’t have to do anything. I CHOOSE to do all of these things. They’re just things after all.

With my new ‘Things I CHOOSE to do list,’ I only place those things I really want to do on it. Those things I love to do.

Each time I go to add something to the list, I first reflect on whether I really want to do that project or task. If I do, I add it to the list, without a deadline. Shit, deadlines are often self-imposed anyways.

Each time I add something, I also make sure it doesn’t cause the list to go onto a second page. If it does, I first remove another task (perhaps this is this my contribution to helping save the environment?).

Each morning, I go through the list and complete what will bring me most joy (and sometimes, what helps pay my rent in the expensive SF Bay Area). If something on the list just doesn’t look fun or appealing, I take it off.

Because at the end of the day, everything in life is a choice.

“Attitude is a choice. Happiness is a choice. Optimism is a choice. Kindness is a choice. Giving is a choice. Respect is a choice. Whatever choice you make makes you. Choose wisely.” – Roy T. Bennett

Will you choose to join me in overcoming perfectionism? Try swapping out your to-do lists for a ‘Things I CHOOSE to do today’ list as one simple but powerful step!

Kyle Elliott

Kyle Elliott, MPA, CHES runs CaffeinatedKyle.com. His goal is simple – to help people find jobs they LOVE (or at least tolerate). Kyle loves coffee (if you couldn’t tell), writing and eating the same thing at different restaurants.


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6 thoughts on “The Surprising Choice that Helped Me With Overcoming Perfectionism

  1. Michelle Farris says:

    Hey Kyle, what a simple yet powerful lesson! I think the mental to-do-lists are also a challenge. It’s liberating to choose what you want and your post is a great reminder that we are at choice for what we create. You don’t have to follow the pack, by being true to yourself, you encourage others to be true too!

    • Kyle Elliott (CaffeinatedKyle.com) says:

      The mental to-do lists are really a challenge. I constantly have these ideas in my mind of what I “should” do. I’ve found writing them down on a Post-It and then throwing them out (well, recycling them) to be helpful!

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