Here’s how to break the loop.
Do you often seek to achieve a perfect standard in your work? Do you feel the need to perfect every single thing you do, even at the expense of your health and wellbeing? Despite popular belief, people who deem themselves perfectionists aren’t really striving for perfection but are in fact driven by the avoidance of failure because they fear they’re not good enough.
Spoiler alert: perfectionism is actually often referred to as “the highest form of self-abuse”. The behaviour of a perfectionist can lead to anxiety, depression and burnout, and result in self-destructive behaviour. Often accompanying perfectionism and contributing to this self-destruction is procrastination, and both have the ability to wreak havoc upon your wellbeing as well as your work.
As a perfectionist you have high standards, and because of this you start to feel anxious about your results and subsequently end up putting a lot of pressure on yourself. You try to escape these feelings by procrastinating — causing a continuous loop that can affect your productivity and confidence.
If you’re a perfectionist procrastinator you’ll likely exhibit these traits:
- You have a clear idea of what and how you want to do something, but your thoughts pull you back
- You keep delaying the start of the process
- You worry it’s not good enough
- You focus on the results more than the process
- You’re afraid of failure
- You have an ‘all-or-nothing’ mindset
- You are your own harshest critic
Because a perfectionist has such high expectations, even simple tasks become an overwhelming challenge. You believe that unless you can do a task perfectly, you shouldn’t do it at all, causing you to procrastinate. Rather than risking your best and failing, you find yourself avoiding the task until the last minute, and if you do it badly you’ll have the excuse that you were rushed. The more perfect you want the outcome to be, the more pressure you put on yourself to get it ‘right’ rather than to just get it done.
Breaking the loop
Both perfectionism and procrastination have long-term consequences on mental and physical health. The unproductive thinking of perfectionism can be harmful, often causing loss of confidence, self-doubt and lead to mental exhaustion. Equally, procrastination wastes time, obstructs attention and focus, and can lead to stress-related health problems such as headaches, digestive issues and insomnia.
Despite the negative side effects of perfectionism and procrastination, unfortunately these things become habitual — a cycle you’re likely to keep returning to, which is why it’s critical to break the loop. Here’s how:
Shift your perceptions
A perfectionist procrastinator fears how they will be judged by others, but let’s get real — people are too busy with their own lives to hone in any misjudgement on your part.
Let go of your need to impress others, and separate how you perform from how you view your sense of self-worth. Address the value of what you’re doing and ask yourself: is it meaningful?
Be realistic and set goals
Set realistic time limits for different sections of your work. Set an alarm for 45 minutes and tell yourself, “I’m going to focus now and try to complete as much as I can in this time.” This sense of urgency and high intensity can trigger the brain into ‘learning mode’, releasing adrenaline and acetylcholine to help with focus, attention and neuroplasticity. Tracking time also ensures you don’t overwork on one task but remember to take breaks.
Lose the all-or-nothing mentality
Keep your tasks bite-sized: break them down and start small. When you take action and achieve even a tiny goal, your brain releases dopamine and activates reward pathways, which makes you feel good. Follow the loop of productivity, where one completed task will give you the motivation to start on another.
Consciously lower your expectations
Free yourself from believing you have to give 100% to everything you do. Don’t be too hard on yourself and check in on yourself regularly: if you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a step back.
Make sure you set boundaries. You can’t commit to everything and that’s fine — it’s okay to say no. Don’t punish yourself for every small mistake you make and don’t wait for conditions to be perfect to get started.
Put your phone away, silence non-essential notifications and close unused tabs to make it less tempting to get distracted. Make sure your desk is clear and tidy. If you’re working from home, ensure your workspace is in a quiet part of the house where you won’t get frequently interrupted.
Be kind to yourself
Start your day with a clear mind. Morning meditation can help you dive deep into your conscience. Have a reward system in place once you complete something — reward yourself with a drink, some downtime or fresh air. Focus on how you’ll feel once you get the job done, and be mindful when you’re overthinking or feel like you’re blaming yourself a little too much. If this happens, think about something which puts you in a place of calm.
Once you recognise the problems that cause procrastination, you can start to practise new habits to solve them. And remember, practice doesn’t make perfect — it makes progress.