I’ve been thinking about perfectionism and how it relates to procrastination a lot lately. Maybe not just lately—it’s something I constantly struggle with.
Just the other day, someone in a Facebook group I’m in asked for tips on how to just start when you’re paralyzed by the fact that you know something won’t turn out the way it is in your head. The poster said that they know their project won’t turn out perfectly, so they procrastinate. And then when it doesn’t turn out perfectly, they’re able to blame it on their procrastination instead of some other failure.
Something I always have to remind myself of is that procrastination is an emotional response. When I find myself procrastinating, I have to stop and ask myself why. And then I have to think about the appropriate response to the “why.”
- Is it because it’s boring? – If it’s boring, then I should look for and create opportunities that excite me. And also remember that there are boring parts to every project, so maybe just suck it up and get it done.
- Is it because I’m afraid it won’t be perfect? – I’ve said before and I’ll say it a million more times: Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. More on this below.
- Is it because I’m afraid it will send me down a new, unknown path that I’ll have to explore? – New can be scary, but it certainly isn’t boring!
- Is it because I’m afraid I’ll put a bunch of effort into it and then it will turn out to be a waste of time (e.g., no one will read/use/buy it or my client will decide to go another direction)? – Good work is never really a waste of time. I’ll probably learn something along the way, and maybe pieces of it will be recyclable down the road.
I usually procrastinate because of reasons 1 & 4. I’ve spent a lot of time working on #3 (and see others struggle with this one the most, I think), and there’s one experience that I always think of when I need a reminder.
When I was in seventh grade, my history class had this awesome assignment to design a castle. Like, make a floor plan and everything. I was stoked to work on this assignment. I had all kinds of big plans; I watched The Princess Bride, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, and Robin Hood: Men in Tights for research; I thought about ways to defend—and decorate—my fortress as I fell asleep each night.
But as the due date arrived, I had nothing to show for it. I ended up scrawling some designs on my giant sheets of paper the night before it was due and submitting a completely lackluster lair to my teacher. I don’t remember my grade, though it certainly wasn’t the A++ I was planning on.
Regardless of what grade I got, I was so mad at myself. Even then, I recognized that I was paralyzed by my desire to achieve perfection and ended up with a castle that wasn’t fit for any level of royalty.
It’s painful, but thinking back to how I felt when I turned in my castle definitely helps me get out of perfectionism paralysis and off to the races.
How about you? How do get moving when you’re procrastinating? Anything to help me combat reasons 1 & 4?