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  • Diana Schneidman

Is it possible to be too conscientious?

The answer is YES!

I enjoy taking quizzes that classify people by their personality type. And when conscientiousness is a rated characteristic, I always always rank high.

I have thought this is good. I tend not to let tasks fall between the cracks and I meet obligations to others, including paying clients, consistently.

However, now it occurs to me that this may not be such a fine trait.

I have been conscientious all my life. In grade school, I would frequently recopy completed but messy assignments on a fresh sheet of paper using blue-ink cartridge pens and assuring wide, straight margins. I thought of myself as fairly smart but primarily in fluffy subjects (the liberal arts) rather than serious things like math and science. Even in my poster-girl subjects, I felt kind of so-so in intellect, necessitating attractive, girly-looking reports to compensate for my self-perceived lack of genius.

Just today I came face to face with the fact that this level of conscientiousness—though definitely not worthy of the label “perfectionism”—takes a lot of time that I could invest elsewhere.

I carefully write, edit, and proofread paid copywriting assignments for clients, as well as my blog posts, newsletters, and marketing for my businesses. That’s OK, even excellent.

However, I also carefully write, edit, and proof one-off emails, comments to other people’s blogs, comments to LinkedIn groups, the occasional Facebook update, questions to customer service sites, and miscellaneous communications of every type.

And don’t mention texting. I can’t wrap my head around it because each message is so short. (I conscientiously edit and re-edit tweets to attain unappreciated brilliance.)

A friend recently observed that I have tendencies that hold me back rather than keeping me moving ahead full-steam with my projects. At first, I thought of the deep-seated internal mind impediments that put me at war with myself.

Yes, I have some “issues” as the psychological types say, but a bigger issue is conscientiousness that prevents me from accomplishing as much as I otherwise could.

Every day I read an incredible quantity of poorly written and unproofed emails, blog content, web content, etc., not to mention terse emails that miscommunicate and sometimes even hurt my sensitive girly feelings.

I feel superior to these uneducated slobs, but today I am rethinking this whole thing. How does it benefit me to have the very highest quality in everything I do regardless of each item’s relationship to profit, income or reputation?

Maybe it’s time to step into the 21st century with everyone else and write average communications that are deleted like everyone else’s instead of the online equivalent of notes on flowery stationery with beautiful penmanship and well-considered self-expression.

Relevance of this topic to freelancing and consulting

This theme relates to business issues in two ways. First, when I have trouble billing a freelance client for all the hours spent on a project, it may be because I have spent so much time editing and proofreading. This level of quality is required for paid work, but perhaps I am going too crazy at it more as an expression of self-esteem and conscientiousness issues than as a true work requirement.

Second, if you are as conscientious as I am, phoning is the perfect way to connect with clients. I say what I have to say without focusing too deeply on each word. Then I hang up and go on to the next call. There’s nothing to edit or proof or do over again. On the other hand, written communications take too long because of my sky-high standards for email or postal letters.

Originally posted 5-5-14

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