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Completionists Can Be Really Annoying

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As a perfectionist, I annoy the completionists around me who just want to get the task done. Over the years, I’ve learned to give up some of my tendencies. I know I’m far from, uh, perfect.

This morning I approached my office to find the work table outside the front of it missing. That might not be problematic, per se, but in this case my mind went to the 3 small jigsaw puzzles on it that students had completed over the previous days.

I’d seen a puzzle table in the foyer of another academic institution which I thought was a great idea for relieving stress, so I set up a table outside my office for students to work on. When the puzzles get completed, I disassemble them to reuse another year.

The puzzles were 300, 300, and 100 pieces each and had been sitting there, completed, decorating the table awaiting the start of another one. The box was sitting on one of the chairs and the table was nowhere in sight. I discovered later that someone had used it for an event setup. Reasonable.

What killed this perfectionist is that the someone who took the table just swept the pieces of the 3 puzzles together into one box.

Did you get that? The pieces for 3 different puzzles were now all mixed together. In one box.

A perfectionist would have figured out a way to separate the pieces when putting them away. They came as part of a set of individually wrapped puzzles in that one box. (A different kind of perfectionist had thrown away the original bags. A true completionist would have just left the bags in the box.) But surely the person completing the setup could have taken a few seconds longer to heap the pieces of 2 of the puzzles on the remaining 2 chairs and the 3rd in the box, right?

Completionism is when a person’s goal is simply to get a task done. It doesn’t really matter how. (Why thrown away the bags rather than just leave them? Get on to the puzzle making.) Perfectionism is when a person’s goal is to get the task done a very specific way.

But completionism and perfectionism are a false duality. There are degrees and the dualism is actually a gradient. One completionist needing the table could actually have found another one somewhere else. (There was an identical one in the next room.) Another could have swept the pieces on the floor.

The completionist who took the table didn’t even bother moving the chairs out of the walkway. But s/he had just enough perfectionism to make sure the pieces didn’t get lost.

The positivist in me is glad they were small puzzles.

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