Procrastination: Your Perfectionism may be the Problem

So… you have been called a perfectionist.

Sure, your friends may joke about your overachieving and highly organised lifestyle, but hey, your perfectionism may have served you well over the years! There is nothing wrong with wanting to do things to the best of your ability and staying organised. You were probably really good at school and successful in your extra curricular activities. Being a perfectionist may have actually lead you to some incredible opportunities over your lifetime.

We live in such an over achieving society that we like to praise the perfectionists. Perfectionism is one of those perfectly likable but unlikable traits. There is a reason that the number one answer to the job interview question of “What is your biggest flaw?” is perfectionism. High achieving and perfection is rewarded in the workplace and in society. If you have ever been called a perfectionist, you probably just laughed it off… I mean it is kind of a compliment really.

But there is a darker side to perfectionism. One that is often overlooked. There is a strong correlation between perfectionism and anxiety. Often this anxiety surfaces in procrastination.

Sometimes procrastination can hold us back from being able to complete projects in a timely manner, or even worse leaving us avoiding the project altogether. It is great to set high standards but sometimes perfectionism can make tasks at hand seem way to unattainable. We can begin to feel paralyzed by the overwhelming task at hand when your goal is perfection. This is when we start to do other tasks, maybe more enjoyable things that are less overwhelming.

The problem is that perfectionism is a fixed expectation. One person’s idea of perfection may not be universal. Perfectionism is flawed because perfection does not take into account any contextual factors like what else is going on in your life. In the real world, “perfect” may actually not be achievable at all. Facing these realities may actually leave us avoiding a project entirely, or waiting last minute and cause more stress when we have to pull an “all-nighter” to get it done.

Perfectionists are unknowingly the masters of the art of procrastination. They may receive a task and then fantasize about how perfectly they would like to complete this task. They have then set a standard so high, that attempting to complete this task is so overwhelming that they choose to complete other, less meaningful, mundane tasks. Then the deadline approaches, and now the time restraint is the perfect excuse to not have to reach that unattainable perfection. Unfortunately the entire cycle can cause a lot of stress and anxiety.

Here are some helpful questions that may give some insight as to whether or not you are struggling with perfectionism:

  1. Do I have trouble meeting my own standards?
  2. Do I often feel frustrated, depressed, anxious, or angry while trying to meet my standards?
  3. Have I been told that my standards are too high?
  4. Do my standards get in the way of finishing a task, trusting others or doing anything spontaneously?

Now we all suffer from some level of procrastination, but sometimes procrastination can seem really out of our control and overwhelming. The good news is that perfectionism is not a fixed trait, meaning that even if you, your mum and her mum are all notorious perfectionists in your family, you can still make changes in your thinking and behavior that will keep your perfectionism and procrastination at bay. If you are interested in speaking with a psychologist to learn some of these techniques call us on (02) 6262 6157 or book an appointment online).

Related reading:

Common Traits of Adult ADHD
What is ADHD?
Stress: How to Manage (or even benefit from) it.

Looking for support?