by Dr. Linda Sapadin
Perfectionism and Procrastination?
They Don’t Seem to Fit
Most people picture procrastinators as lazy folks who don’t give a damn about accomplishing anything. That’s definitely not you! You care. You have high standards. You do great work. So how come you have a tendency to put things off? It doesn’t make sense. But in a twisted kind of way, it does. Here’s why:
The same attribute that is your strength (you want to do a “knock ‘em dead” job) is also your nemesis.
It’s tough to start a task when you perceive it as a humongous, time-consuming undertaking before you even begin.
It’s tough to complete a task when it doesn’t satisfy your high standards and/or the high expectations that you believe others have of you.
It’s tough in the middle of a task when you’ve put in so much time and effort and still there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. Overworking, paradoxically, is an unrecognized form of procrastination. Though you may work hard, you don’t always work smart.
As you can see, being a perfectionist does not inoculate you from procrastination. Indeed, it can actually fuel it.
Procrastination: An Approach-Avoidance Conflict
Before we go further, let’s take a look at what procrastination really is. Some people believe it’s nothing more than laziness. Sorry, not true – especially not for perfectionists. You know how hard you work!
The crux of procrastination is that it’s an unresolved “approach-avoidance” conflict. A part of you knows you need (or even want) to do a task but another part of you resists doing it. Like a Hamlet in the world of action, you’re torn between two impulses: “to do or not to do.” So what happens?
You feel helpless, powerless, frustrated. You may direct these feelings inward, regarding yourself as incompetent or direct them outward, regarding others as the source of your problem.
You rationalize your lack of action, believing that there’s nothing you can do about it. You explain away your tendency to procrastinate as a fact of life, immutable as eye color, rather than as an acquired habit, capable of being modified.
You forestall criticism by laughing at or even boasting about your procrastination tendencies, ignoring what’s at stake for you when you fail to meet your personal or career goals.
You obsess about what you’re putting off yet you don’t take sustained action. Obsessing may initially feel productive until you realize you’re like a dog chasing its tail, expending much energy, achieving little.
You feel recurring regret that eats away at your capacity to work at what’s important to you. Such regret may escalate into crippling guilt or humiliating shame that makes altering your pattern seem ever more difficult.
Can Procrastination Be Creative?
Some procrastinators defend their stalling tactics by calling them “creative.” It’s good to procrastinate, they claim. Why do things on time when you can put them off till later? It’s amazing how some people can fool themselves about almost anything. If you’re tempted to spin your procrastination into a laudable trait, don’t. If there’s one thing you owe yourself, it is honesty.
But aren’t there ever good reasons to put things off? Absolutely! Here are three:
You’re Overcommitted: You’re juggling so many balls that you just can’t handle one more and do justice to it. If that’s true, be honest about your predicament—both with yourself and with others. Rather than simply procrastinate (say you’ll get to it but don’t), create a time in the future when you won’t be spread so thin. At that point, you’ll have the resources to do a better job.
You’re Overemotional: It’s not the best time to take care of matters when emotions are soaring. In the heat of anger, it’s easy to regret what you do. True even for joyful emotions. Best not to get married when you’re on a cloud-piercing love fest. When your emotions come down to earth, then you’ll be able to consult both your head and your heart before you make your decision.
You’re Impulsive: You’re impatient. You want things to be done, fixed, completed right away. The more technologically sophisticated you are, the faster you expect things to happen. Yet acting impulsively (i.e. tweeting without thinking) is a precursor to tomorrow’s remorse.
“The greatest of faults, I should say,
is to be conscious of none.”
— Thomas Carlyle