You’ve heard me say it before, but I have perfectionist tendencies. I don’t say that in a joking manner either, because perfectionism is not always an easy thing to deal with. Luckily, it is not a pervasive part of my personality or mental health, but it impacts my life in one very annoying way:
Yep. Google it. It’s a thing. Some people call it a myth, while others say that the two are definitely related. I don’t care too much about the various opinions…all I know is that I deal with perfectionism and I deal with procrastination. In my world, the two seem to go hand-in-hand, so I call it “perfectionist procrastination.”
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So, what is it?
I often put off getting started on even the simplest of tasks because I want to make sure that the conditions will be perfect in order to maximize success. This can be something as simple as doing the dishes; until I have time to wash ALL of the dishes the way I like and get them dried and put away all at once, I will wait to deal with them.
It’s like the “touch it once” rule on steroids.
Or, I will put off doing the laundry until I have time to ensure that I have gathered all of the dirty clothes from the whole house, because I want to make sure that I don’t miss a dirty towel for the load of towels that I’m about to wash.
I can NEVER just do a load of laundry with whatever is in the baskets in the laundry room.
I won’t start a home improvement project until I know that I have decided on the “perfect” method and materials.
Do you see where I’m going with this? The true annoyance comes when waiting around for perfect conditions leads to straight-up procrastination. Does this sound familiar to you?
So I suppose the next question is: How do we deal with this? I haven’t mastered it, but I have been working hard at overcoming perfectionist procrastination. Here are some of the things that work for me (and will hopefully work for you):
Use a Timer
I have a blog series in the works about this idea, but for now I will give you a sneak peek. I learned this tip from a very wise woman. She shared that she gives herself one hour to clean her house every day and after that hour, she is finished. No matter the condition of her house. Then she tells herself that she has accomplished her cleaning for the day.
To a perfectionist, cleaning is NEVER done. The house is NEVER fully clean. So this idea intrigued me; I COULD be perfect in the task of house cleaning if I had a measurable goal every day. The perfectionist in me can never truly check off “clean the house” from my to-do list since it is never completely done, but I could check off “clean for one hour.”
Using a timer works wonders!
Set Short Term Goals
For longer term projects, I have started setting short-term goals for myself. This encourages me to make decisions about the project instead of leaving it until the last minute while I wait for perfect conditions.
For example, if we were to remodel our bathroom, I might set timelines for myself regarding the different material decisions that need to be made (paint, tile, etc.). I will often procrastinate these decisions because I want to check “just one more place” to see if they have something better. Setting short-term goals helps me to prevent that.
I am married to a man who balances me out well. Mr. Blue Eyes grew up in a family that owned a commercial janitorial business, so he learned that a room can be cleaned AROUND the “stuff” (since they weren’t supposed to be messing with the personal items in the businesses they were cleaning).
As you can imagine, this is not how I clean.
I will look at a cluttered and dusty bookshelf but put off cleaning it until I can get all of the various bits and pieces back to where they belong before I can dust.
Mr. Blue Eyes, on the other hand, will just get a cloth and wipe down the shelves (picking up the items that don’t belong and then putting them back on the shelf). Yes, it drives the perfectionist in me absolutely crazy, but then I realize that my procrastination still left the bookshelves cluttered AND dusty while Mr. Blue Eyes had cluttered shelves that were at least dust-free.
My point in sharing this is that I have learned to stay quiet while Mr. Blue Eyes does his thing. I accept his help instead of discouraging him from doing the job until we have time to do it “perfectly.” Why draw people into my world of perfectionist procrastination when they are ready and willing to help?
Perfectionists are awesome at making lists, so I have learned to use that skill to my advantage.
Part of my perfectionist procrastination stems from seeing a task that I already know will not be finished in the time I have to devote to it. So…I might look at my messy bedroom and see all of the various tasks that need to be dealt with, but I only have the length of Ladybug’s nap time to tackle those tasks. I know that getting my bedroom totally clean won’t be feasible, so I move on to a different task that I CAN complete in the time I have to myself. Now, this might sound reasonable until I discover that I NEVER have enough time to deal with it all at once, so my messy bedroom gets pushed lower on the priority list over and over again.
One way that I work around this is by being strategic with my list-making. Instead of procrastinating the task of deep cleaning my bedroom because I don’t have time, I will focus on one or two tasks that I CAN complete in that shorter period of time. The key for me, though, is to write those tasks on a checklist that can then be crossed off so that I feel like I’ve accomplished something.
Normally, the perfectionist in me wouldn’t notice the small progress, but would instead get overwhelmed at everything that is still left to accomplish. The perfectionist in me likes the satisfaction of completing what I start and wants to finish in one go, no matter how unreasonable it may be for me to expect that of myself.
A checklist really helps with this because I can check off those smaller tasks as “complete” even though the overwhelming big picture still seems like something I want to put off until later.
The key is to not put ALL of my to-do items on the checklist at once. I have to be realistic, so I only put on the list what can be reasonably accomplished that day. The more I learn about bullet journals, the more I think that it could be an amazing tool for beating my perfectionist procrastination.
Learn to Say “Good Enough”
I am a firm believer in always giving 100% of my best effort if I’m going to do a task. However, the perfectionist in my mind equates effort with output.
If the results of my effort are not going to be “my best”, then I need to wait until they WILL be.
Perfectionist procrastination at its finest.
I can’t tell you the number of half-finished projects that I have put aside because I could already tell that they weren’t going to end up the way I had envisioned. I had definitely tried my best, but I just couldn’t accept that it was good enough.
This is probably the hardest part of having perfectionist tendencies. I have had to work really hard at being able to tell myself that things are “good enough.” That the results of my efforts are good enough. That I am good enough.
Are my kids going to be happy and healthy even if the quilts on their beds have crooked seams? Absolutely.
Will the laundry still get clean even though it’s not perfectly sorted? Sure thing (as long as we keep the reds out of the whites).
Getting sick really opened my eyes to the fact that life is too short to put things off until they can be done perfectly. Sometimes “good enough” is good enough.
Now, those of you who don’t deal with perfectionism might have read this post and felt a little sorry for my having to live with this particular character trait.
I have embraced my perfectionist tendencies because they have helped me so much in other aspects of my life (like in my work as a special educator, where paperwork has to be done “just so”).
Also, I like knowing that people trust me to help them with important things because they know I’ll get the job done right.
They just might not see the kick in the pants that I have to give myself in order to get past the initial perfectionist procrastination. 🙂
Do you live with perfectionist tendencies? What other tips would you share for overcoming perfectionist procrastination? Leave me a comment below!
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