Advice Column, Self

Combat the Procrastination that Results from Perfectionism

7 Comments 03 December 2012

Advice to Thrive!

As I wandered through the house one Monday morning not long ago, paralysis gripped me.

Stacks of papers and piles of unfinished projects—everything from crafts to writing—taunted me. (OK, not really, but it felt like it.) I knew I needed to get go through the stacks and assess what I needed to keep and what I could toss. I realized I needed to rid my home and office of the clutter I’d accumulated. I just couldn’t seem to get motivated. Honestly, I wanted to flee my home and not face the damage at all.

Have you ever felt that way? So completely overwhelmed that you didn’t know where to begin?

With Christmas approaching at breakneck speed, it’s easy to let that overwhelmed sensation dominate. But I don’t want to do that. And I doubt you do, either.

The problem lies in a tug-of-war between perfectionism and procrastination. Bottom line: We don’t want to start our task because we don’t think we have time to complete it perfectly—to our rigid standards, to our absolute satisfaction. We reason that unless we can set aside the time necessary to do the job flawlessly, we simply shouldn’t start it at all. But this attitude sends us deeper into that overwhelmed paralysis. When we wait too long, when we deliberate and agonize over decisions for days, when we dwell on potential negative outcomes, we sabotage our best intentions, our best efforts.

So, we know what we need to do. How do we convince our head and heart to do it?

Perfectionists need to four things to help them power through paralysis.

Start and complete something. Even if all you manage to do is unload the dishwasher or respond to three emails, you’ll feel much better about yourself and taking on the day. In addition, you’ll have momentum on your side. And momentum motivates—it conquers inertia.

Make a semi-comprehensive list. (Note that I said semi-comprehensive. If we apply the additional pressure that all will be lost if we don’t get every single item written down on that list, we’ll panic ourselves into further procrastination.) So start with a list of personal and professional items you need to complete. Task apps abound.  Or you can list items on an Excel spreadsheet or on a notepad, if you feel more comfortable with that. The other thing making a list helps with is this—you feel less panicked that you’ll forget an important deadline or event. Go back through the list and prioritize items with A, B, C, etc. It also helps to include a time frame. Something might be of high importance (like shopping for less expensive health insurance), but it doesn’t have a firm deadline. You’ll have to assess this for yourself in order to rank it.

Complete another item on your list. Again, if choose the easiest, you’ll gain additional momentum. It’s hard to underestimate how valuable that force can be in energizing you to move on through your list.

Celebrate periodically. You may choose to do this after you complete a certain number of tasks (3 or 5, for example) or after an hour of work. Select whatever works best to motivate you. But acknowledging what you actually finished prompts you to continue moving forward. It inspires you to see what else you can knock off that To Do list.

Repeat these steps as often as you need to keep whittling down that list. And rest in the knowledge that completing these four steps can propel you forward like you never thought possible.

Happy Monday!

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Your Comments

7 Comments so far

  1. Donna says:

    Thank you so much for this very timely post for me…I found you via a Google Search..because I am experiencing just this…a pre-Christmas Procrastination Perfection Paralysis!

    Last year I did everything, well, perfectly…as my Mother-in-law was going to be there For three weeks I had no one at home (Husband on a business trip…all three children at university. I didn’t have to make dinner.literally lived on salad and tuna straight from the can!..I could stay up ’till the wee hours decorating, wrapping presents..etc..

    This year I unfortunately don’t have that luxury…One adult child home..searching for entrance into another university (yet she is seeing a therapist for depression/isolation) and for some reason this seems to bother me as I cannot be the Christmas “Whirling Dervish” I usually am when no one is around!

    I received so many coméements about how “perfect” Christmas was last year, and by nature I am extremely hard on myself…so I find I am incredibly BEHIND this year and truly paralyzed by the needing to decorate/bake/purchase gifts/writing sending gifts that I have unintendedly stopped myself from getting any (well, practically) of it done…So scared am I!…

    Would you know of any Christmas “TO DO” lists for the Paralysed Procrastinator people such as myself? It’ embarassing to even write this!

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I belong. To God, to Bret (my husband of 23 years), and to my precious children—Charlie, Molly & Reese.

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I’m called. To thrive in life—to find contentment where I am and with what I have.

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