PETTY-PHOBIA: A Productivity Killer

PETTY-PHOBIA: A Productivity Killer

A while back I was involved in an infuriating (to me) conflict that seemed to be made up of a lot of little niggly nothings that got blown up into bigness.  It stopped me in my tracks and got me riled up…badly.


In reaction to it (and also out of my, I admit, boundless impatience), I coined a new word for a phenomenon I was noticing at the time:  PETTY-PHOBIA.

I say it means “the fear of all the little things in life”…all the myriad little concerns and dust-mote details of the World….things like whether some form was filled out properly or some rule was followed in exactly the prescribed manner or…well, you get the picture, I bet.

“Arc” by Mike Green via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
Petty-phobics — people who are afflicted with this seemingly chronic condition — often have major anxiety attacks caused by the massive overload of petty details and the perceived importance of each and every one of the durned dingleberries.

They spend a lot of time trying to get every single little thing just right.  They insist that everybody else around them have to get the things right before anybody can move on to more productive concerns.

Another name for these guys is “Perfectionists.”  (They probably call the rest of us more doofus sorts “Scruff-balls.”)

[I’m sorry, but I have to do this.  This is a You-Tube video of the Starrkeisha Cheer Squad @TheKingofWierd by TIU Campaign.  It is just too joyous not to share….]


Meetings led to stalemates and dead-ends.  Conflicts erupted and kept erupting over and over again.

A lot of good work kept getting stalled or had to be re-done again and again.  Redundancies proliferated.  A lot of trees died and mountains of paper grew.

It caused me incredible heartburn for a while until I got my head turned around.


I finally figured out that these people were really hurting.  What seemed like a minor thing to me was, for them, something that was of apparently earth-shaking proportions.

It boggled my mind.  I thought, what happens if they have to face something that is really earth-shattering?

Yeesh!  I mean, really.  If every situation you face is life-and-death, you are going to be suffering through lots and lots of deaths.

And I thought, how often do you make it to Perfect in this life?

For me, the answer to that question is just about never.  Something is always going to go aglay.  It’s the way of the world.

I wondered, then:  How can you even MOVE in the face of that?  OMG!

“Defeat” by Andrew Yee via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]


I finally figured out that rather than trying to pound some sense into the nut-heads, I had two other choices:  I could either (a) adjust and help them feel more comfortable, or (b) opt out of the game.

I could use either one of those two choices, depending on how important it was for me to be able to get on with my own dance.

It did occur to me that petty-phobics probably rule the world.

It is my opinion that this is because people who are busy doing their own thing let the petty-phobes get away with so much nonsense rather than doing the sensible thing (which, in my fantasy world, is picking up my light-saber and whacking off their heads or something).

But, I also figured out that you really can’t go around being like the Red Queen in “Alice in Wonderland.”  Doing a bad Bette Davis imitation all the time is just…tacky.

“Crown 2” by The Manic Macrographer via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]


So, how do you deal with all the petty-phobics littering your landscape?  Basically, it involves the same three steps you need to make every time you come up against fear or anxiety or insecurity.

ACCEPTANCE.  You can accept that this is the reality with which you are faced:  There is a petty-phobe in your face and you get to deal with that.

ADAPTATION.  You can adapt to this circumstance in whatever way seems to work best in the situation and then go on from there.  You need to help that petty-phobe feel comfortable and safe and secure.  It will not be easy.

Remember that this person is a good person trying to do the very best he or she can.  Your job, if you want to get around the roadblock in a civilized manner, is to make their job easier.

CHANGE.  If the situation becomes untenable for you, then you have two choices.

You can change your response.  (In my case I had to stop blowing my top and losing my temper and come up with compromises and suggestions and solutions.)

Or you can change your environment.  (Walking away and finding more amenable situations is better than going postal, I say.)

“Walkaway Squared Circle” by Fred R via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0] Design by Banksy.


Now comes another big question:  Are you a sufferer of Petty-Phobia your own self?

Do you like it being in that space?  Do you like the results you are getting as a result of being in that space?

Would you like to move away from that?  Are the results you are getting unsatisfactory?  Would you like to change your behaviors and get different results?

For you, too, the same three steps apply.

ACCEPTANCE.  Know that you are a sufferer.  Know that you will never be an easy-going sort.  Petty-phobia and the quest for Perfection is never-ending.

Know that you’re going to worry and get anxious and afraid.

Know that other people are not going to understand your issues.  Accept that other people are going to get enraged at you for doing that thing you do.

Remember that the shlub of a wild-eyed maniac who is standing in front of you is a good person trying to do the best he or she can.  Your job, if you want to get the fool out of your face, is to make their job easier.

This does include being sympathetic about their distress.  Getting all self-righteous will exacerbate an already-bad situation.

ADAPTATION.  Notice when other people start to act weird around you.  Pay attention when things start getting hairy.

Check to see what you are doing as well as what other people are doing that triggers behaviors that seem to result in not-so-good results.

Think about how you could make things easier for other people without getting yourself too tied up in knots.

CHANGE If the situation becomes untenable for you, then you have two choices.

You can change your response.  Maybe you can make one or two small concessions without hyperventilating and curling into a fetal ball.

Definitely try to see the other person’s point of view.

If there really is nothing you can do about a situation and you are governed by rules that demand utter compliance, then say that and stick to your guns while helping them work through your dilemma.  Definitely acknowledge their distress.

Or you can change your environment.  Walking away and finding more amenable situations where you are not having to battle unreasonable sorts is always an option.


Notice that the advice is the same for both sides.  It’s always the same.  Humans do human things.  We work together (or not) and we’re all still trying to do the best we can.

Here’s a poem:


You are angry, you are tired,

Caught between the desire to live your own life

And the need in some other’s eyes.

A heavy burden imposed on you

By old connections, old ties, you say,

But admit it:

You chose to swallow it whole

And now the anger festers in your gut.


You say you are tired of waiting for change,

Of picking up after one who is unaware,

Uncaring of the cost.

You say you are angry at holding up one

Who makes his legs rubber over and over.

You are tired, you say,

You are angry,

Yet compassion dictates your next move.


Trudging on, carrying the burden,

You persevere and you endure.

You persevere because it’s what you do.

All the effort that went before means nothing at all

If you don’t follow it to the end.

You say you are tired,

And you say you are angry,

But you go on because you chose to do this once

And you choose again to do it

Every time you feel exhausted.

By Netta Kanoho

Header photo credit:  “Face of the Dragon” by Stuart Williams via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]



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24 thoughts on “PETTY-PHOBIA: A Productivity Killer

  1. Hi Netta

    As I was reading through this article it hit me that I actually suffered from petty phobia, didn’t have a name for it then. Of course I would make progress, but the problem was the time it actually took for me to complete a task.

    The fact that I say it today is an achievement on the ‘acceptance’ part 🙂

    My approach towards change (again unwarily) was the one you described as ‘changing your response’. My target was to tune myself into productivity over perfection.

    Now that you mentioned this, I now know what this creature truly is and can handle it better. Thanks

    1. Hey pro 1:

      Good on ya! Now that you’ve got a handle for it, maybe you’ll be able to make even more progress.

      Thanks for your visit and for sharing your experience. I do appreciate it. Please do come again.

  2. Joana Marie says:

    Hi Netta, I was reading your article and it comes up to my senses that I had petty-phobia because I am afraid to make mistakes even I am following some rules and other people around when they said this is what you need to be done. But I didn’t know the meaning of that before.

    But you know what? I accept my petty-phobia because even though I was afraid to do those thing, I try my best to be productive and focused to whatever things I am doing and not to the people around me saying to me that is wrong and that is not what they want me to do.

    I have had enough of those people and they are making my petty-phobia worse so I need to close my ears to them.
    And right now I am not letting anything and anyone to be a hindrance to whatever things I am doing to make my life more productive than to be more afraid of whatever I want to do in my life to reach my dreams because they don’t want it for me.

    Anyway, thanks for an inspirational poem.

    With a warm smile,
    Joana Marie

    1. Joana Marie…thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts. You do what works for you. Good! I do agree with you: All you can do is your best. Please do come again.

  3. Oh thank you! I really enjoyed this post. What you have said here made me laugh out loud. I have an aunt that absolutely drives me crazy with her pettiness.

    Well, she use to, but I have learned to let it go. Her need for perfection is about her and not me! It is a great lesson once you learn it and it made my life so much better!

    Again thank you for the humor you have injected into this topic. Fantastic!!

    1. Hey Sharon:

      Thanks for your visit and for sharing your aunt-story. Hee! I am so glad you found the post amusing.

      Please do come again!

  4. I love the name! “Petty-phobias”- ha – seriously on point! I have a few of them myself that I am making an effort to curb.

    I don’t know if you are at all familiar with the book Alcoholics Anonymous, but on page 420, I believe, it has a line that hits home. “My serenity is inversely proportionate to my expectations.” ha sounds about right.

    I also have a friend who like to say “Don’t let the paralysis of analysis catch ya!” ha

    Any how thanks for this! It was exactly what I needed right now and loved the little cheer! ha Joyous for sure!

    1. Hey Dawayne:

      Thanks for the visit and for your comments.  I do love the line you quote from the AA book:  “My serenity is inversely proportionate to my expectations.”  It’s so right-on. 

      Often a lot of our suffering comes from our attachment to desired outcomes.  Walking on towards your goal one step at a time gets you there a heck of a lot faster than spazzing over whether where you are is a perfect match for some fantasy you’ve built up in your head, I say.

      I am so glad this post helped.  Please do come again….

  5. This is a very interesting article but the truth  is what you are talking about is so real and so many people are facing what you are talking about. The good news is that this problem can be overcome and you can gain the upper hand on this. Thanks so much off sharing this informative post that is so helpful.

    1. I’m glad you found the post helpful, Norman.  Thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts.

      Please do come again.

  6. Too much time is spent by a lot of people fussing over things that don’t really matter, and that time could be better spent on more important things. And the article is right in that too many people judge their own efforts in life too harshly. A job one has done one’s best on is usually a job well done.

    1. Oh, I hear ya…and I do agree!  Thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts, cpascal.  

      Please do come again….

  7. I am a sufferer of petty-phobia! I have always been a “perfectionist” and it takes me forever to get a task completed, always trying to get it right. My spouse is annoyed by this fact and calls me fickle all the time.

    I realize this is unhealthy and change is needed. Nowadays, I always try to focus on the big-picture first, instead of going down to the nitty-gritty details and getting overwhelmed as a result.

    Thanks for the helpful post!

    1. Joe, thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts.  I’m glad you found the post helpful.

      Please do come again….

  8. gr8megawinner says:

    This a good Post Petty Phobia: A Productivity Killer. 

    We all humans have our own idiosyncrasies. 

    However, there are people who are detailed oriented — serious on tiny things and really get hyped and upset even panicky to the point of psychosis. They may look ridiculous but great leaders, geniuses, artists are master of details and would not let small speck that is wrong in its place would go loitering around for long. They sweep all things they see not worthy to linger on. 

    Three adjustment changes and adaptation we have to face in this world of humans with lots and endless Petty- phobia issues should not be construed as abnormalities but as ordinary as a matter of course of living.

    1. Thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts, gr8megawinner.  I do agree.

      Please do come again.

  9. SeunJeremiah says:

    I totally agree with this post.  

    I can’t count how many times I’ve always wanted to make a day special or a surprise for someone, that something won’t go wrong, I’ve always question myself for the reason until I stumbled on this website. 

    I have come to realize instead of looking for perfection at the cost of getting nothing, I’ll rather take everyday as it comes to avoid negative surprises. Thanks for sharing. 

    1. Thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts, SeunJeremiah.  I’m glad the post was useful to you.

      Please do come again.

  10. This is a good read. I like the phrase “Petty-Phobia” the fear of little things. I really do believe that personal development should be taught in schools at a very young age, because I do believe that this would help people over come those anxieties and comfort zones.

    I also, believe that there should be some type of program to where American kids and teens should have to go visit a third world country so that they can appreciate what they have in America and also, it may motivate some to start their own businesses or campaigns geared to help others in need and to appreciate what we have here.

    By doing this, it will help people to see that what they fear isn’t really that bad and to start working on how they can help others. Thank you for the great read.

    1. Gregg, thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts.  I am intrigued by your idea for having young Americans visit third-world countries.  

      I do know that very often world-travelers who journey with their eyes and their minds wide open do come back with a more grounded and a more humane perspective of the world.  

      However, I’ve also known many world-travelers who might as well have stayed at home.  The ones who travel and end up taking 600 selfies of themselves in front of buildings and landmarks about which they know nothing come to mind.  So do the ones who seem to spend all of their time complaining that the place they are visiting is nothing LIKE what they are used to….ummm.

      Just sayin’….

      Please do come again.

  11. Hey Netta,

    Great article on what you call petty-phobia! I honestly love the name you gave it because it is so true! I too suffer from worrying about the little things in life and trying to get everything in my life perfect. But what I always fail to realize that it is literally impossible to be perfect! 

    Thank you for some great tips to help get over this phobia like acceptance (probably my favorite one). Great work!

    1. Thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts, Pat.  I do appreciate it.

      Please do come again.

  12. Jenni Elliott says:

    Netta, your article on Petty-Phobia was a really enjoyable read. You have a very entertaining writing style that keeps readers engaged and wanting to read to the end.

    I must admit that I don’t think I have petty-phobia myself, but I am surrounded by others that do. Or is that a lack of self-awareness on my part. Who knows?

    Anyway I appreciated your great advice on how to deal with it when encountered.

    Cheers, Jenni.

    1. Jenni, you make me smile!  Thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts.  I do appreciate it.

      Please do come again….

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