perfectionism procrastination

How To Overcome Perfectionism Procrastination

You’re in a job interview. Your interviewers ask you a predictable question: What is your biggest weakness? “I’m a perfectionist,” you answer. It may be true, and it may be a good answer in that scenario. Unless you or your interviewers are aware of the fact that perfectionism can come with a pretty big productivity pitfall– procrastination.

If you’re a perfectionist and you also tend to procrastinate and you now suspect that those two things may be related, don’t fret. “Procrastination doesn’t mean that you’re lazy, incompetent, or otherwise flawed. It’s a normal reaction in your brain as a result of your beliefs and expectations. It’s very common among people with perfectionism, and it’s fixable,” says certified professional life coach Amy Schield

Signs you have perfectionism procrastination 

According to her, perfectionists who struggle with procrastination tend to feel overwhelmed when they think about the amount required to produce results that meet their (very-high) standards. “That overwhelm can cause them to shut down mentally, and they procrastinate instead of getting started,” she adds. 

If you’re a perfectionist who tends to procrastinate, you may also be afraid of failing or not living up to your own expectations or the expectations of others. Procrastination, in that sense, gives you the illusion of putting off that fear and stress until later. Unfortunately, it often backfires and results in even more stress and pressure when you have to meet a deadline at the last-minute. 

Overplanning is another telltale sign that your procrastination is actually perfectionism in disguise. Schield says perfectionists often want to control every variable and anticipate every potential issue before taking action. The problem is, a perfectionist’s plan is almost never “good enough,” which creates an endless cycle of brainstorming, planning and overthinking. “Perfectionists often don’t feel confident getting started until they believe they can complete each step correctly the first time – which is unrealistic for any human, no matter how skilled they might be,” says Schield. 

Tips to overcome procrastination if you’re a perfectionist  

“While procrastination might stave off negative feelings temporarily, its net effect is harmful in the long run. Procrastination eats away at your time to work on a project, increases stress, and can negatively impact your self-confidence,” she adds. 

Thankfully, the reverse is also true. Combating perfectionism-related procrastination reduces your stress and increases your confidence

1. Separate yourself from your results

The first step is to separate yourself from your results. “People with perfectionism often make failure or imperfection mean something negative about themselves as a person – that they aren’t whole, worthy, or complete because they haven’t lived up to their own high standards,” says Schield. 

When you practice adopting the belief that you are not your wins or losses, you reduce your fear of missing the mark when things don’t turn out perfectly. As Schield puts it, “when the prospect of failure isn’t as scary, procrastination isn’t as attractive to the brain.”

2. Reframe your relationship with failure

This means that reframing your relationship with failure is key. “The perfectionist brain loves to frame failure and imperfection as catastrophic events, but that’s almost never the case. As humans, we fail all the time,” according to Schield. 

“By working to accept failure as normal and even productive, people with perfectionistic tendencies can reduce procrastination twofold: By reducing the urge to push off fear of failure through procrastination, and by reducing the felt need to overthink or over-plan.” 

3. Let go of the idea of a perfect start 

As a perfectionist, you may be obsessed with the idea of starting a project in the right way. The truth is, there is no perfect place to start. Imperfect action is better than no action. Schield recommends choosing a starting point, taking one step, and continuing to move forward even if you need to adjust course along the way. “Remain flexible and adjust your plans as needed, especially if you’re doing something for the first time. No matter where you start, trust yourself to figure it out,” she says. 

4. Treat yourself with kindness 

Let’s say that something doesn’t go according to plan. Even worse, you fail. It’s a pivotal moment to treat yourself with kindness and combat the urge to beat yourself up – a common perfectionist tendency. 

“Take special care of how you treat yourself when you fail or don’t produce your best work.  Sometimes, the anticipation of self-contempt after failure can be a big source of procrastination. Approaching yourself with compassion and love makes failure much easier to deal with,” adds Schield.“Your relationship with yourself is key to overcoming procrastination and perfectionism, and choosing to love yourself (even when you fail) is the first step on that journey.” Feeling disappointment is normal and okay. Punishing yourself is another story, so stay aware of your inner talk.  

5. Avoid all-or-nothing thinking

All-or-nothing thinking is the fuel that gives procrastination momentum. If you’re a perfectionist, you may often procrastinate because you don’t want to bother doing something that you can’t do “perfectly.” Replacing that mindset with curiosity and compassion is key. Schield suggests you ask yourself the following questions on a regular basis to avoid falling into the trap of all-or-nothing thinking: 

  • What can I learn from my efforts and results? 
  • What did I do that was great?  
  • How can I support myself in moving forward in this process?  

6. Adjust your expectations 

According to her, adjusting your expectations is important, too: “When you give yourself the grace to produce B- work, you significantly reduce the stress and pressure you’re placing on yourself.  You’ll also save time and energy, because you won’t be working 50% harder to make something 10% better.” 

This may feel counterintuitive at first, but remember that your B- is probably someone else’s A+ because of the natural tendencies you’re working on recalibrating. 

7. Be mindful of mental gymnastics 

Do you often experience urges to decide later, plan more, or get yourself in the right state to produce some work? Your brain is playing tricks on you to convince you to procrastinate further. “Once you have a reasonable plan, start taking action. The sooner you start, the more time you’ll have to learn, adjust, and ultimately, produce stronger results,” says Schield.

In other words, you want to keep moving while managing the root feelings and fears that are causing you to procrastinate in the first place.