4 Steps To Help Perfectionism and Creative Work – Using The Flowers Paradigm

I have too many ideas, and I don’t know the best one to pick. 

I have to get it right the first time; I can’t mess it up.

I need to do everything at once or I can’t do it at all. 

Do any of these thoughts cross your mind when beginning creative work?

If so, you’re in good company.

So many of our ADHD brains struggle with this perfectionist thinking, which often leaves us procrastinating and not doing the creative work that lights us up.

But what can we do?

How can we think about the creative process so perfectionism doesn’t slow us down so much?

That’s exactly what we explore in episode 155 of the I’m Busy Being Awesome podcast.

You can listen to the episode above or stream it on your favorite podcasting app here:   

Prefer to read? No problem! Keep scrolling for the entire podcast transcript.

In Episode 155: 4 Steps To Help Perfectionism And Creative Work – Using The Flowers Paradigm, You Will Discover… 

  • When creative perfectionism sneaks in
  • How to recognize whether you’ve slipped into the perfectionist trap
  • A powerful four-step process called The Flowers Paradigm to shift out of procrastination and into action so you can share your creativity with the world

Subscribe To I’m Busy Being Awesome & Give Us A Review!

Do you want to be the first to know when a new episode drops? You got it! Click over to iTunes, select “Listen on Apple Podcasts,” and then click the “subscribe” button.

Also, if you love the podcast, would you be a rockstar and leave me a review? Reviews help others find the show and allow me to share my message even further. Thanks, friend!

Episode #155: 4 Steps To Help Perfectionism and Creative Work – Using The Flowers Paradigm (Transcript) 

4 Step Process To Beat Procrastination & Perfectionism (For Creative Work)

Today we are talking all about perfectionism, which is a favorite pastime for so many of us in the busy awesome community.

More specifically, I’m excited to explore how we can navigate creative perfectionism. This is the perfectionism that comes up when we are pursuing creative activities or projects in various parts of our lives.  

I’ve seen this come up in so many different situations for clients recently, and especially with a lot of entrepreneurs and creatives that I work with.

I see a lot of concern about people finishing and sharing their work with the world.

I’ve seen how this creative perfectionism can:

  • Slow down the growth of a person’s business by keeping them from moving forward on their offers and products
  • Prevent us from doing the thing that we really want to do, which is to help people with what we have to offer. 

Now, it’s not just in the creative entrepreneur space where I see this come up.

I see it for people in their work settings.

I see it in regard to volunteer projects.

I’ve even seen it around personal projects where the person is creating something exclusively for their own enjoyment.

As I mentioned, this type of perfectionism can really hold us back in a lot of ways and we might not even realize that it’s happening.

Sometimes perfectionist thinking can veil itself under different thoughts

It might not always be as clear as,

  • “I need to get it perfect.”
  • “I need it to be perfect.”

It can also be hidden under thoughts like,

“I just want to get it right. I need to find the best approach. I need to find the right way.” 

So, today we’re going deep into where I’m seeing this creative perfectionism pop up most often.

We’re discussing:

  • Different ways that it presents itself so you can spot whether or not it’s showing up in your life.
  • A powerful four-step process that I’ve found to be incredibly impactful on my own navigation of perfectionism, and I think will help so many of you when you get stuck spinning in the creative process.
Get The 10 Tips to Work With Your ADHD Brain Free Ebook. Click Here

Where does this creative perfectionism show up most often?

How do we know if we’re dealing with it?

As I mentioned, I tend to see this come up a lot when I am coaching entrepreneurs and business owners.

If they are newer in the business, I hear clients share thoughts like,

  • I need to make the right decision”
  • I need to make the best decision so I get started in the right way.
  • I have to get my website copy right before I press publish.
  • My Instagram graphics need to look perfect and my feed needs to look just right before I move forward. 

Entrepreneurs and Business Owners 

For entrepreneurs and business owners who have been in the space for a little while, I see it come up more often around putting themselves out there.

For example, sharing your voice on whatever platform you use to reach your audience, whether it’s a podcast, YouTube channel, blog, etc.

I see it when it comes to sharing a unique stance or perspective or offering fresh ideas that differ from the industry norm.  

Artists 

I see it come up in a very similar way for writers and musicians and other artists who are literally creating art and sharing it with the world.

Their creative perfectionism sneaks in and stops them because they’re worried that it’s not exactly right yet. 

Worklife 

I also see it unfold for individuals in their 9-5 job.

Maybe you have a presentation to share with other teachers in your school about a new way to approach assessment.

Or you’re presenting a pitch to a new client for your firm and the assignment feels heavy because you’re thinking there’s a lot at stake. You’re telling yourself you have to get it right. You have to make the best pitch, etc.  

I’ve even seen it come up with a client who was building her house. Every decision was pure agony because she was so worried about making the wrong choice.

It had to be perfect.

Everything had to be exactly right.

So again, this type of creative perfectionism can show up everywhere. Not just in terms of writing an article or a book or making art. It can show up in anything that involves a creative process. 

It’s a Process 

The word process here is really important here because the creative process is exactly that – a process.

The perfectionist brain tends to forget this.

The perfectionist brain thinks that creating should be done in one step without revision. And of course, when I say this out loud, it sounds a bit ridiculous.

However, when we don’t check in on our thoughts, and we don’t question these underlying beliefs that run on the ticker tape in our minds, they end up running the show.  

This is one of the most important reasons why we need to figure out the stories we’re telling ourselves.

This is why we need to have a deeper understanding of our minds and coach our brains.

We need to understand why we’re feeling the way we feel and doing – or not doing – the things that we do. Because once we understand what’s happening there, we can make adjustments so we’re showing up in the way we want to do with intention.

We stop living on autopilot uncertain of why we’re not doing the things or creating the results that we want. And this is especially true for our ADHD brains, which have so many thoughts running at 1,000,000 miles a minute.

We wanted to learn how to slow them down and recognize how they’re impacting us each day. 

3 Ways Creative Perfectionism Presents Itself

woman working on laptop

Alright, so we know that this creative perfectionism can show up in so many different areas of our lives.

What does it actually look like?

How do we know if we’re slipping into this trap of perfectionism or not?

I tend to see creative perfectionism present itself in three different areas. There are probably more as well, but these are the three that I’ve noticed most often for myself and my clients.  

1. I have too many ideas and don’t know where to start 

The first happens when we sit down to begin creating, and we’re feeling overwhelmed because we’re thinking I have no idea where to start, what to say, or how to say it.

We have so many possibilities, ideas and concepts racing around in our minds, and the brain feels overwhelmed thinking about all of those possibilities.

So rather than choosing something and moving forward on it, we get stuck spinning in analysis paralysis trying to find the best option or the right idea to explore. 

Essentially, we tell ourselves: I have too many ideas and I have no idea where to start.  

Example:

I lead a small business mastermind called Intention and Impact, and one of my clients was thinking through her program design. As she thought about all of the different things that she wanted to share in the program, she noticed herself starting to spin.

She was thinking to herself, “I need to say this and this. I can’t forget that. And this has to be included. And what about all of these things over here?”  

Sound familiar? 

When there are so many ideas and so many possibilities, the brain wants to freeze because it’s worried about choosing the wrong things or leaving out something important and trying to say it in the best way.

So rather than moving forward, we spin in indecision and creative perfectionism keeps us stuck. 

Image shows Woman working on a laptop. Text reads: How to Stay Focused with ADHD Free Training. Click here to sign me up!

2. I have to get it right the first time 

This creative perfectionism also shows up stemming from the belief, “I need to get it right the first time.”

This builds on my comment about the creative process being a process. Our brain loves to forget this and instead, it expects perfection as you get the figurative or literal words out on the page.  

This was something that I dealt with a lot when I’d write articles or my book.

Frankly anytime I would start writing with the introduction first. I would stare at my blank page, I would type one sentence, and erase it. I type another sentence, I’d erase it.

I would do this all day long never getting anywhere. Because I was expecting perfection right from the get-go.

I wasn’t allowing for the process to unfold, and I stayed in that frozen state unable to move forward. 

3. I have to do it all at once 

The final area where I see creative perfectionism pop up stems from the belief, “I have to do it all at once.”

This is a big one for the ADHD brain, because we are brilliant at seeing the big picture, but breaking things down into smaller steps is a challenge for the brain.

We can see we are at step one, and we know we want to get to step 20, but we don’t know how to get from steps 2 to 19 in between.

So, we see the big project finished in our mind, and we love the idea, but then we get overwhelmed thinking we have to do all of it at once and we don’t know the steps.

We have to get it all done all at once and – by the way – do it perfectly. 

This results in a lot of avoidance.

This might sound like,

  • If I don’t have 4 hours to research, write, and publish my blog post, I can’t start. Because I have to do it all at once.
  • I can’t create my entire slide presentation for my boss today, so I might as well wait for another time when conditions are perfect. When conditions are “right,” and I have no interruptions.  

The brain loves to believe the thought that it “needs to do all of it in one go,” and this can really slow us down.

Rarely are conditions so ideal that we can finish a giant project in one day.

In fact, you can’t finish most big projects in one day – there’s just too much work to do. So, this results in a whole lot of avoidance and procrastiworking rather than getting started on doing the thing. 

How Can We Support Ourselves & Avoid Creative Perfectionism?

woman working at dsek

We’ve talked about where this creative perfectionism can show up in our lives, whether it’s in our business, at work, our personal creative pursuits, etc.

We’ve also discussed some of the main obstacles that get in the way, including our beliefs that we have too many ideas and don’t know where to start, we have to get it right the first time, and we have to do everything all at once.  

If any of these situations sound familiar, you might be thinking to yourself, yep! That’s me. So now what?

How can we actually navigate this? How can we support ourselves through the creative perfectionism? 

Introducing The Flowers Paradigm 

This brings me back to the important point that I stressed earlier, which is the creative process is a process. There are different steps involved. We don’t get it exactly right the first time.

In fact, I’d argue the goal is not perfection anyway since perfect doesn’t exist.  

So with that in mind, the process that I want to explore to help us move through the roadblocks of perfectionism comes from something called The Flowers Paradigm.

This was introduced by English Professor Betty Flowers in her 1981 article “Madman, Architect, Carpenter, Judge: Roles and the Writing Process.

If you’re familiar with these four categories but aren’t familiar with Professor Flowers, this paradigm was picked up and further popularized by Bryan Garner, so you may have also heard it from him in his Guide to Better Business Writing. 

As the title of the article suggests, Professor Flowers divides the stages of writing into four different categories, which she labels as:

  • The Madman
  • The Architect
  • The Carpenter, and
  • The Judge

As I began exploring thie process of The Flowers Paradigm, I realized how you can adopt it and expand it to support not only the stages of writing, but the creative process overall.

As we talk about it today, you’ll notice that I make one slight shift in the terminology. So I like to think about the four stages of creativity as the Idea Machine, the Architect, the Carpenter, and the Judge

how does this process work?

Well as I’ve mentioned, every stage in this four-step process is key. When we can remember this, I think it really helps with the perfectionism that loves to hold us back. So, keep this in mind as we go through all four stages.

Remind yourself, that each stage is necessary.

Each stage is required in order to follow through on your creative pursuits.

And as you will hear, the first three stages are not meant to be publishable. They’re not meant to be client-facing work.

The first three stages of The Flowers Paradigm are simply getting your work out there onto the page and figuring out what you want to say.

It’s not until the final phase that we go in and start editing and tweaking and adjusting. And even then, we’re not seeking perfection, because again perfect doesn’t exist. So, let’s talk about these four phases. 

Phase 1: Idea Machine

This is where you literally get all of your ideas out of your head and onto paper. This is when you have ideas generating constantly. Everything is possible, and nothing is off-limits.  

When you are in the idea machine phase, you’re capturing ideas as they come. You’re open to anything. And importantly, you’re not judging the ideas that come to you.

Remember, the judge is not allowed until the fourth phase.

In her book Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert talks about making fear sit in the backseat. She says, fear can come along on the ride of the creative process, but it has to sit in the backseat.

I think the same is true with the judge who perfects and tweaks and edits. They can come along for the ride, but for these first three phases of the creative process, the judge sits in the back of a 15-seater van with no say.  

The last thing to remember about the idea machine phase is that you’re also holding these ideas loosely.

You have a willingness to throw all of it out if none of the ideas work. They’re just ideas.

As you know, you are an idea machine. There are plenty more ideas where that came from.

So, we want to hold these ideas loosely knowing we always have more if we need them. 

Phase 2: The Architect  

Then we move into phase two, which is the architect.

The architect plays the role of creating structure from all of these ideas.

The architect looks at all of the concepts and ideas scribbled in your planner or your journal or your brilliant ideas list and they start to combine similar themes. The architect helps us create an outline of the main concepts that you want to explore and create clarity in what you’re trying to build.  

For example, let’s say you’re doing a presentation for work. You already spent time in your idea machine phase getting down all the different ideas of things that you want to teach and the information you’ve gleaned from gathering data and everything that you could possibly imagine to share is written down.

Then the architect comes in and starts gathering related ideas and helps create clarity around the presentation you’re building.

  • The architect helps you know your main concepts and takeaways.
  • The architect helps you figure out the order in which you want to share that information what you can leave out that isn’t going to further the message.

If we used the analogy of wanting to get from #1 to 20, the architect comes along and figures out that we need to go from one to five to 10 to 15 to 20. 

Phase 3: The Carpenter 

Once the architect finishes their job, then the Carpenter comes along.

The Carpenter…

  • Takes all of the main concepts that the architect laid out and fills in the details.
  • Crafts sentences and designs concepts in the slide deck.
  • Makes the modules for the course.
  • Fills in all of the numbers from 1 to 20.

During this time, the Carpenter is getting everything out without trying to make it sound good or look good.  

Again, I can’t stress this enough – the judge is not allowed in these first three stages.

The judge, who we’ll talk about in the next stage focuses on the details and the editing, but they do not have a role in these first three phases.

We’ve talked about creating B+ work in previous podcast episodes, right? Well, because the judge is not allowed right now, we’re aiming for D+ or C- work. We just want to get the stuff out there on paper so we can see what we’re creating. It’s supposed to be that way right now. It’s not supposed to be ready for the public. 

Additionally, during the Architect and Carpenter stages, you may also have more brilliant ideas come through.

That’s great. You can add them to your work if they support the overarching structure that the Architect and Carpenter are creating.

We don’t need to bring in new things that don’t relate. If we are building a house, we don’t need to add ideas for an office building to the process.

We want to make sure that these brilliant ideas are adding to the current structure – in this example a house. But if new ideas come in and they support the main idea, that’s great.

They’re welcome during the first three phases. 

Phase 4: The Judge 

Finally, we get to the last phase, which is the role of the judge.

The judge is responsible for the detailed work.

The judge is responsible for…

  • Editing sentences and figuring out the grammar.
  • Thinking about the color scheme and how it fits with the overarching theme you’re creating for the slide deck or Instagram feed.

This is the part where we tweak and edit and improve.  

Here’s an important caveat that is easy to overlook…

The Judge is not responsible for creating. The Judge only edits what is already there.

So, this means that new, brilliant ideas are not allowed in this 4th phase. You can add them to your brilliant ideas list for the next project, but we’re not adding new ideas here, because we need to finish the current project.

We need to get it out there. We need it to edit it from the D+ or C – work to B+ or A- work and release it to the world.

Because for all of my recovering perfectionists, your B+ or A- is more than enough. I promise you. In fact, it is probably A+ work for the non-perfectionist brain. 

Next Steps

4 step process to stop being a perfectionist at work

As you go through this creative process in whatever work you’re doing – whether it’s designing a new product for your business, preparing a presentation at work, writing your manuscript, or whatever other creative project you’re pursuing, I invite you to remember these key takeaways.  

First, the creative process is exactly that. It’s a process.

And we want to let it unfold in that way as we move from the idea machine, to the architect, to the Carpenter, and finally the judge. 

Second, brilliant ideas are allowed in the first three phases.

We want all of the ideas in the idea machine phase, and when we’re in the architect and Carpenter phases, we can also bring in new ideas as long as they’re supporting our overarching structure and goal of the piece.

These first three phases are there for imagining and designing and creating.

With that in mind, remember that the judge is not allowed. We’re simply moving forward in the process of making the creative idea happen.  

Third, remember, you’re only editing what’s there.

We let the judge do its job on the work you’ve created. We let the judge bring the work up to B+ or A- level. 

As you go through the creative process, leave space for all four phases. We need each one of them. So, allow the process to unfold. It’s necessary.

When your brain starts offering those old thought patterns like, “I need to get it right the first time.” Or “I have to do it perfectly all at once,” take a deep breath and remind yourself that nobody has judge-worthy ideas the first time around.

We all go through this four-step process.

  • Notice when the judge wants to start work too early and remind them it’s not time for their shift.
  • See when new ideas try to insert themselves in the judge phase, which is intended for purely editing what already exists. 

As you play with the Flowers Paradigm process and try it out for yourself, I invite you to notice the stages you’re in.

You can even use the phrase from episode 154, “this is the part where…” And fill it in.

This is the part where…

  • I’m in the idea machine phase, and the judge wants to come in and make my idea generation perfect.
  • The judge wants to play the role of the Carpenter.
  • The idea machine comes in during the judge phase and tries to interrupt the flow.

Not a problem, it’s just a chance to course-correct. And then make an adjustment, and move back to the particular role or stage that you’re in. 

This has been a really powerful exercise for me in helping me move through the creative process more seamlessly with less perfectionism slowing me down.

I hope that it’s an effective tool for you, two and I’d love to hear how you use it.

Be sure to connect with me over on Instagram I’m @I’m busy being awesome and let me know the projects you’re pursuing right now in which stage of the four you’re in. 

Links From The Podcast

Episodes Mentioned In The Podcast

Scroll to Top