The one word you need to stop saying to overcome perfectionism

The one word you need to stop saying to overcome perfectionism–this one word makes women feel guilty all the time, but you can choose to stop saying it to overcome perfectionism and guilt. (This post may contain affiliate links.)

A few weekends ago, Jarrett and I collapsed on the couch. It was supposed to have been a restful Sunday, but we’d just spent the day doing laundry, attending service, cleaning, grocery shopping, organizing the closet, taking Pepper to the dog park, and prepping food for the week.

We were ready for bed. It was 5:13 pm.

And we had one last thing on our list: cook Sunday dinner.

We’d already defrosted a roast, bought cauliflower and brussels for sides, and picked out a recipe from Meat. We were COMMITTED. No way out of it now.

The one word you should stop saying to overcome perfectionism

So the shoulds started.

We should cook a nice Sunday dinner. We should use the defrosted meat. We should have something healthy. We should stay on track with our meal plan for the week. We should not be slobs and lay on the couch all night like sacks of potatoes.

Apparently, only Pepper is allowed to lay around all day like a sack of potatoes.

The one word you should stop saying to overcome perfectionism

(Forget Pepper about getting a job. I want to apply for her job.)

As the shoulds piled on and yelled at me about how disappointed they would be if we didn’t execute our flawless dinner plan, another voice rung out.

“Guilt is to the spirit what pain is to the body.” — Elder David A. Bednar

I’d read that quote the week before because my author, Erin Falconer, had chosen it as the opening for her section about the word should in her book, How to Get Sh*t Done.

As Erin writes,

Should is a word that implies obligation and expectation and often comes as a box set that’s gift-wrapped in guilt and even shame. It’s also a word that implies open-endedness and the absence of a decision. It describes possibility rather than reality. ‘I should go to the gym’ is not the same as ‘I’m going to the gym.’ …

When you find yourself saying should, you’re not anticipating something great, but rather remind yourself of that never-ending to-do list you should (there it is again!) be chipping away at.”

As Erin points out, should is an energy drain because it forces us to be in two places at once. We should be cooking dinner, but we are feeling guilty about it on the couch instead. So we don’t feel good about cooking dinner, and we don’t feel good about NOT cooking dinner. Pretty miserable, right?

That’s why should is the one word you need to stop saying to overcome perfectionism. Instead, what we can do is banish should and get to the bottom of those should-tasks.

The one word you need to stop saying to overcome perfectionism, and how to stop saying it

The one word you need to stop saying to overcome perfectionism 1

As soon as you hear the word should come out of your mouth or pass through your thoughts, pause for a moment. This task you should be doing–is it really important? Here are the 3 questions you should ask yourself to overcome perfectionism and guilt that you’re not doing everything.

3 questions to help you debunk should and overcome perfectionism

Is your task essential and time-sensitive?

If your task is essential and must be done right then or truly bad things will happen, tell yourself, “I will get that done now. It will feel great to get it out of the way.” That way, you’re focusing on the good that will come out of this unexciting task, and you’ll feel more motivated to just get it done.

If your task essential and not time-sensitive?

If your task is essential but can be done later, create a reminder on your phone or add a time slot to your calendar for when you will do it. Remind yourself why you’re doing it. “I will call the insurance company because I want the peace of mind that everything is okay.” “I will edit my manuscript because I will be so proud of myself once it’s done.”

Is your task nonessential?

If it doesn’t matter and you really don’t want to do it, don’t. Think of it as saying yes to the things that matter (your family, your self-care, your creativity), and no to the things that don’t (keeping up with others, perfectionism, guilt, resentment).


That day, as I sunk into the soft couch with a sigh, I realized that I did not want to cook a complicated meal. Hell no. Not tonight.

So I remembered what I’d read in Erin’s book about the one word you need to stop saying to overcome perfectionism. And channeling Erin’s courage, I decided to kick those shoulds right out the door.

What I really should do, I decided, was respect the reality of margin. (Start with this book on margin if you want to learn more about that!) I would not start the workweek exhausted and unable to give my best to my authors and colleagues.

I was going to eat something simple so I could have more time and energy to hang out with Jarrett (marriage > fancy meals, every time.) I was going to skip cooking one night so that I’d be more excited to cook the next.

I was going to stop feeling guilty about completely silly things and let the smart advice from my badasser-than-I authors sink into my life.

So we scrapped the fancy dinner plan and boiled spaghetti. And we ate it in our jammies, on the couch, with no guilt at all.


If you want 2018 to be the year you stop feeling guilty and start getting sh*t done, pick up How to Get Sh*t Done: Why Women Need To Stop Doing Everything So They Can Achieve Anything. In it, Erin shares much more about should–the one word you need to stop saying to overcome perfectionism–as well as hundreds of other tips for achieving more while doing less.

As one Amazon reviewer wrote:

“As a multi tasking, working, single mom, I could really use insight on how to do less yet achieve more. It is like she is in my brain. I love this book! So, while everyone around me is thankful I won’t be running on empty anymore, I am thanking Erin for writing this book and sharing her stories as well as her useful system of productivity.”

Erin is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-Owner of Pick the Brain, one of the most widely read and well-respected self improvement blogs on the web, and Refinery 29 named her 1 of 10 Women Changing the Digitalscape for Good.

She’s also one of the kindest, bravest, most badass women (she delivered a beautiful baby just two months before releasing her book baby!), and her advice has done a lot to help me stop feeling so darn guilty all the time. I hope you find it helpful, too!

For more productivity tips, keep reading:

how to start writing a book

how to get more writing done

how to be more productive writer

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What I’m Reading This Week

24 Books You Can Read in Basically One Sitting (Terri Pous for Buzzfeed): Binge-reading: activate!

How To Stop Being “Busy” And Start Getting Stuff Done (Erin Falconer on GirlBoss): If you want more Erin (I do!), here’s an excerpt from How To Get Sh*t Done that was excerpted on GirlBoss.

7 Ways to Make It Easy for Publishers to Offer You a Book Contract (Chad R. Allen): It’s true: every publisher (and agent) wants that easy, slam-dunk book to say yes to. While exact numbers may vary based on category and house, these are all sure-fire ways of perking up attention for your project.

Two dying memoirists wrote bestsellers about their final days. Then their spouses fell in love. (Nora Krug for The Washington Post): This story is so beautiful, it almost makes me teary.

Best Book Marketing Advice for Authors: The Best of 2017 (Jane Friedman): This article is jam-packed with incredible resources and insight for smart book marketing. This is where I’d start if you’re ready to promote a book!

What We’re Eating This Week:

Well I just told you this whole story about how I struggle with shoulding myself in the kitchen (and really, lots of other places), so be gentle as I tell you about how sad, sad, sad our meals were this week.

Monday: Don’t let Monday fool you, but we did cook a real thing: Chicken and Veggie Lo Mein. I was so proud!

Tuesday: I’m in NYC so ???

Wednesday: Street cart? Chipotle? Panic and dismay?

Thursday: Airport food. Yeah.

Friday: We’re in MIAMI! I’ll take one thousand fish tacos, please.

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how to have the best writing year

Why a goal setting system is more important than the goals you set, and my favorite realistic and easy goal-setting system for writers who want to publish books. Affiliate links may be included below.

I keep looking at it in my calendar. It’s highlighted, in bold type, and has way too many exclamation points. It says:

Goal-Setting Day!!!!!

It’s the most wonderful day of the year.

We spend so much of our time in the thick of things, so busy getting everything done, that we straight forget what we are actually trying to accomplish across our whole life.

We see the immediate to-dos looming today and tomorrow. We see the tasks waiting for us at home and at work. When we look into the future, it’s a blur of vague hopes. When we look back, it’s a blur of already-forgotten days. Man, it’s stressful.

And the busier life gets, the harder it is to remember what we already accomplished and what we are trying to accomplish.

This is especially true of writers and creatives who work for ourselves or have a side hustle. There’s no boss to sit you down at the end of the year and grade your performance. And there’s no mandated time to set goals for next year and think about the big picture of your career and life.

 literary agent blog goals for writers lon

That’s why you need to take goal-setting time for yourself.

Because the truth is, no one is going to tap you on the shoulder and nag you until you schedule in goal-setting time. (I’ll nag you a little right now, but only because I love ya!)

I can’t stress enough how important this is for writers, bloggers, everyone. If you’re involved in any creative endeavor, even if it’s just a side project, then you owe it to yourself to be intentional about how you spend your time.

Even more, you owe it to yourself to celebrate your accomplishments of 2017 and get excited about the adventures of 2018.

Your creative life will feel richer and more meaningful if you can see the big picture of why you do what you do. It’s an easy way to become mindful of your strengths and weaknesses, and to be thoughtful and intentional about what you want to accomplish and what you will set aside.

Do you know how to set goals the right way?

The problem is: most of us have no idea how to set goals the right way. (And yes, there is definitely a right way.)

Yet, goals are high-stakes. We feel awful when we don’t meet them, and we feel amazing when we crush them.

So setting them at all becomes a highly emotional process. How do we know our goals aren’t too easy? How do we know if they’re unrealistic? How many goals should we be setting? And the big one: how do we actually accomplish those goals? (Because we all know it’s not as easy as making a list of things we’d like to do.)

The truth is: no one is born knowing these things. Just because you’ve successfully knocked out goals in the past doesn’t mean 2018 won’t throw you some curve balls. Just because you’ve missed some goals in the past doesn’t mean 2018 won’t be the year you hit it out of the park.

But as I talked about here, books and classes pull us off the isolated island of our own experience and immerse us in the stream of collective learning. There’s no reason we have to struggle on our own when there are hundreds of resources out there for learning important life skills. And you betchya that goal-setting should be one of them.

So this year, I highly recommend making “Set up a system for making and meeting goals” as one of your goals.

Yes, a goal about goals. It’s weird. But I promise that it’ll be fun to learn a new goal-setting process, and it’s going to lay the foundation for many, many years of accomplishments.

Personally, every year I get excited all over again about one goal-setting system: Michael Hyatt’s Best Year Ever. I’ve been a huge fan of all things Hyatt for many years (he was the former CEO of Thomas Nelson at HarperCollins), and he builds better resources for advancing your career and creative life than anyone out there.

The thing that really amazes me about BYE is the success stories: you hear everything from people losing 30+ pounds, to tripling their income, to finally setting things right in their relationships. This is hard stuff we deal with, and if you ask me, we can use every bit of help we can get.

I’ll let Michael tell you more about the class here (reading that makes me excited all over again!), and if you feel like it’s right for you, you can sign up here. Enrollment closes this Monday, December 19th, so check this off your to-do list now! And at least that will be one goal you’re already crushing. 😉

Click here to sign up for Best Year Ever!


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What I’m Reading

How to Land a Book Deal (Me on the Food Blogger Pro podcast): The nice folks at Food Blogger Pro (one of my favorite resources!) invited me to be on the podcast to share the inside details of how to get a book deal. As much as I find the sound of my own voice weird (are we all wired to think that?), I hope you’ll at least find it a helpful listen!

7 Crazy Successful Instagrammers You Should Pay Attention To (Deidra Romero for Platform University): I loved this list because I, for one, learn by watching. I instantly followed some of these Instagrammers so I could be inspired by the best.

How to Find and Attract Editors for Pitching Articles (Devra Ferst and Dianne Jacob): One of the best ways to build your author platform is to start building your writing portfolio and collecting bylines at top media outlets. This is a great piece with practical insider tips on how to start getting “yeses” on those pitches.

Printable bookplates for all your gifting needs (cooks & books): Here are two nice things to do this holiday: gift a book and donate a book. Either way, a nice inscription is always welcome, and I love using these free printable bookplates for it. (After all, some people are a little funny about writing directly in the book!)

A Book Launch Plan for First-Time Authors Without an Online Presence (Jane Friedman): Don’t know where to start and don’t have any online base? Well, Jane is here to walk you through what you can do, even if you don’t yet know your Instagram from your Twitter.

What We’re Eating This Week

We are hoommee! Thank you to all you sweet folks who wished us safe travels to El Salvador last week. I got a little sappy in an Instagram post about how much the trip meant to me and how grateful I am for the work Habitat for Humanity is doing in the world. I won’t prattle on about it, but if you’ve ever thought about doing a build with them, I’d love to talk your ear off about it!

nonfiction books blog

Now, let’s eat:

Monday: Well, the whole eat-less, work-more plan for El Salvador didn’t quite work out because pupusas and beer. So Monday we threw together a sheet pan dinner of brussels, mushrooms, and sausage and another one of drumsticks and cauliflower. All I could think about was pupusas.

Tuesday: Salad! We did it. A healthy thing. I’ll pat myself on the back for a month now.

Wednesday: The Stonesong team is off to celebrate two clients: Julie Gaines of Fishs Eddy who is hosting a signing for Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen. We love making connections, talking food, and doing dishes.

Thursday: Please send Chicken Lo Mein and Wonton Soup to Desk #4, Stonesong Offices, NY, NY.

Friday: Home and out to dinner with friends! We’re trying Jose Andres’s China Chilcano for the first time. Methinks me will likey.


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A 1-minute exercise to help you stop procrastinating

How to stop procrastinating and write: with this easy, 1 minute exercise you can overcome procrastination, stop struggling to start writing, and finally just start writing without stopping.

It’s like carrying a goat on your shoulders. Have you ever seen someone sling a full-grown goat over their shoulders?

(Maybe not, but let’s use our imaginations here.)

It weighs them down and pushes their head toward the ground and makes them generally wish it weren’t there.

That’s how I think of big projects I’m procrastinating on. Everything’s going dandy and then—bam—I remember I have to write something big tomorrow or finally face editing a tricky section of a proposal. It’s a bummer. Not because I don’t like the work of writing and editing (I love it), but because the anticipation makes me anxious, and every time I wonder if I’ll be able to actually do that writing and editing and do it well.

Instead, I’m tempted to distract myself with the easy stuff: emails, phone calls, contracts, and whatever else is less intimidating. And that goat of a project keeps weighing me down subconsciously, bleating to be done and generally stressing me out with how difficult it seems.

All procrastination is fear

Steven Pressfield calls this burden “resistance” in The War of Art. It’s resistance to start the difficult work. Elizabeth Gilbert said “All procrastination is fear” in Big Magic, and I don’t think I’ve ever underlined a sentence in a book so many times. We’ve all felt it, and every writer I’ve ever worked with has struggled with it at one time or another.

But what are we really afraid of? I’ve heard every fear you can think of from writers and bloggers, and here’s just a little sampling from the cornucopia:

Fear of not being able to stay focused. Fear of giving up and escaping to something easy instead. Fear of never finishing that book. Fear of it not selling. Fear of no one caring. Fear of having lost the magic that allowed us to write last time. Fear of being untalented. (But talent is a myth, and here’s why.)

Essentially, fear of it being hard—really, really hard.

But over the years, I’ve learned a few techniques from my authors and from plain ol’ trial and error that has taken the wind out of my procrastination sails. Now, I feel anxious if I procrastinate at all, and I try to do the hardest things first thing in the morning, when I can.

easy stop procrastinating writing

How can we stop procrastinating and finally write?

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How to waste time in a way that makes you more creative

3 ways to flex your creativity and stretch your brain, even if you don’t have energy to read or write.

“I am SO tired.”

I had just finished working, and I was collapsed on the couch, feeling dazed from staring at the screen all day. We had dinner to make, laundry to do, a million to-dos still pending from the work day, and all Jarrett and I wanted to do was zone out in front of the TV.

So we did just that. We poured some wine, scrambled some eggs for dinner, and planted ourselves onto the couch to watch House Hunters. (Have you seen Tiny House Hunters? I’m in love!)

But that feeling of guilt, that I was “wasting” time when I should have been reading the millions of books on my TBR list or writing my next piece? It wasn’t there.

In fact, I waste time like this every week. Even though I work on books about productivity, creativity, and personal growth, I totally veg out sometimes.

And that’s okay.

In fact, science shows that you’re at your most creative when you’re tired at the end of the day. So wasting time—either by doing nothing at all or doing something not goal-oriented–will actually make you more likely to make novel connections between things and to refresh your perspective for the next day.

And you don’t have to feel guilty about it. Because isn’t that the double-edged sword? We feel guilty when we “waste” our time going down rabbit holes online or channel surfing, but we also feel unhappy and exhausted when we pack every minute of our days with useful, productive things.

The reality is: even those things we think of as time-wasters are incredible for our creativity and learning, as long as we’re engaging in them the right way. What’s the right way? More on that below!

3 ways to transform your time-wasting tasks into creative rocket fuel

(even if you don’t have energy to read or write)

how to be more creative anytime

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