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.

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

3 thoughts on “The one word you need to stop saying to overcome perfectionism

  1. So funny. This article rings very true for me. You know the whole, “choose a word for 2018”? This year I knew I had to take one word out of my vocabulary and I chose “should”. I hate this word. It makes me feel like crud and a bad mom, and a lazy person. And I know I’m none of them. Great read!

    1. Oh, I’m so glad you did! I never noticed how much I said it (and how bad it made me feel) until I read Erin’s book. Cheers for a 2018 of not should-ing ourselves! 🙂

  2. I relate so much to your intro! I would love to get Pepper’s job of just laying on the ground and do nothing.
    This weekend, I binged watched on Netflix and played a video game… not very productive and I feel a bit guilty about it. But when I sit down, I’m just thinking I need a holiday or something. Just like Laura, I should delete the word “should” from my vocabulary. Hoopsy.

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