Procrastination Is Really Perfectionism
Are you prone to delaying the start of a task? Is there a project you know you should start, but you can’t seem to motivate yourself to begin? Are you delaying work that really needs to be done for work or for school? Or do you start something, but can’t seem to finish it?
Perhaps you have that nagging voice in the back of your head that you really should be working on a task or project, but you can’t seem to motivate yourself. Even though that voice telling you to get going is LOUD, you ignore it, sometimes so much so that you feel anxious about your procrastination. And even though that voice may be screaming at you to get busy, you ignore it and you don’t understand why. Why can’t you just seem to get yourself going?
You may have a lot of guilt associated with the procrastination and your “inner critic” may be chastising you because of the procrastination. Yet, even though there may be guilt and you may be internally beating yourself up over the procrastination that may not be enough to get motivated to actually do the thing already!
Are you wondering why you procrastinate, especially if this has been a life-long issue for you? When we procrastinate, often the surprising underlying reason is perfectionism.
You may have heard the expression “Do it right or don’t do it at all.” Well, oftentimes, perfectionists are opting to “not do it at all.” Perfectionists hold themselves to incredibly high standards, accepting nothing but the best from themselves. Since they are putting such pressure on themselves, perfectionists will often procrastinate and not start a project or task because of the fear they have of not being able to achieve perfection. If it can’t be done perfectly, they would rather just not start at all. In their subconscious mind, they would rather not do something than do it and getting results that don’t add up to their very high standards. They don’t want to risk the chance of having the outcome wind up imperfect. In the perfectionist’s mind, it is a better alternative to not do something than to do something and have the result or outcome be of a lower quality or standard than they set for themselves.
Perfectionists also tend to spend inordinate amounts of time on tasks because they want the result to be “just so.” The amount of time they spend on tasks and projects can be mentally or physically exhausting. They will spend time prepping before working, then move painstakingly slow when they do work because of their immense focus on getting the work done “right.” Then, the project or task never seems finished, because it needs reworking, refinishing, editing, correcting, modifying, proofreading… It never ends.
The perfectionist knows deep down how much mental or physical energy it will take to do the task perfectly, so they don’t start. Or they start, but become so drained from the effort of trying to get the end result to be perfect, that they quit or stall out. They just can’t sustain the level of energy they are putting into the work. It’s easier to stop than to risk having the outcome not end up the way that they had hoped it would.
If this sounds like you, you may have just had a big insight about yourself. And if you want to be a reformed, perfectionistic procrastinator, you may be wondering how you can liberate yourself from this pattern.
One way for you to overcome procrastination is to lower your standards. Your standards are “above and beyond,” but you don’t realize it. So, if you lower your standards, you are then operating on a “normal” level compared to everyone else who isn’t struggling with perfectionism.
To start, you should lower your standards with something easy. Perhaps you always make your bed every morning. One morning, don’t make your bed. The world won’t implode.
Or try sending an email without proofreading it first. Just send it as soon as you’re done typing your thoughts.
Once you’ve completed some easy attempts at being “imperfect,” move on to something bigger. If you have a presentation for work, allot a specific amount of reasonable time (far less than you normally would) to put together the content. You’ll be amazed at how much you can get done in that compressed amount of time.
Determine what the “bare minimum” is for success on a task or project you’ve been procrastinating. Then, start that task or project and get to the bare minimum for success as quickly as you can. Tell yourself repeatedly while working “This doesn’t need to be perfect. It needs to be just good enough.”
If you work this way often enough, you will find that your procrastination tendencies will slowly slip away. You’re breaking your entrenched perfectionistic tendencies every time you do a task or project “good enough.”
You’ll realize you were spending way too much time and energy on projects and tasks and that, by spending less time, you’re actually more motivated to start and finish your goals. And you’ll no longer be a procrastinating perfectionist, but will instead be far more motivated and happy.