How to take control of perfectionism and procrastination


Nothing, and nobody, can be perfect, because perfect doesn’t exist. Even though we’ve all probably heard that at some point in our lives and acknowledge that it’s true, it can be difficult to stop ourselves from trying to reach perfection anyway. 

The word “perfection” is often associated with character traits like ambitious and organized. But the truth is that striving for perfection can often lead to procrastination, which can make it difficult to achieve the goals you’re constantly striving for. It can also lead to feeling anxious and stressed. The good news is that there are ways to sever the bond between perfectionism and procrastination.

We’ll talk about how perfectionism and procrastination are linked and how you can take control to reduce your procrastinator-perfectionist tendencies. We’ll also talk about how to tell if perfectionism is the root cause of your procrastination. Then we’ll dive into how Executive Function Coaching at Beyond BookSmart can help.

Free resource: On-demand webinar

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The connection between perfectionism and procrastination

Research shows that there are several different behavioral styles of procrastination, such as the dreamer and the overdoer. But the perfectionist is quite common. In fact, the likelihood of having a procrastination issue is increased by 35% if you have a perfectionist mindset.

While people will often believe that perfectionism means getting every task done immediately with 100% of their effort, it can sometimes have the opposite effect. People who aim for perfection will often have a fear of failure. If you’re worried about completing a task incorrectly or below the standards you’ve set for yourself, it’s easy to talk yourself into putting off the potentially unsatisfactory outcome by putting off the task itself. 

Perfectionism-procrastination is a term that’s been coined to describe the loop of anxiety that you may be stuck in if you have a perfectionism mindset that fuels procrastination as a habit.

To put it simply, perfectionism stems from a fear of inadequacy. That fear leads to procrastination because you don’t want the chance to be inadequate. When something isn’t being completed, it can lead to anxiety and worsening your fear.

Procrastination is directly linked to anxiety. That's why it’s common for people with mental health distress or disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder or major depressive disorder to procrastinate. It’s also possible to have clinical perfectionism. 

Clinical perfectionism refers to the psychological and emotional need to meet high standards and base your self-image on your achievements. which leads to other mental health disorders that contribute to procrastination behaviors.


How to control the link between procrastination and perfectionism

Procrastination is a habit that can be encouraged by a perfectionist mindset. Many people will call themselves a perfectionist and accept it as part of their character. However, there are ways to take back control of it to reduce your procrastination.

If you’re trying to break the perfectionism-procrastination cycle, here are a few things to keep in mind the next time you put off a task:

  • Don’t let the results define you — It’s easy to link the tasks of your results to your self-worth, especially if you set high expectations for yourself. Procrastination helps delay those possibly negative results. But you can still be intelligent and get a poor grade every once in a while. You can still be a good friend even if the surprise party you planned has a ton of no-shows. Having some losses is part of life, and they don’t define you as a whole person.
  • Be realistic — Perfectionism puts a lot of pressure on the outcome of every task. Those outcomes aren’t always realistic. Try to adjust your expectations. Come to terms with the fact that the results may not be as high quality as you hoped, and that’s OK. For example, if you have a final exam in a challenging class, it’s OK to accept that you may not get an A+ based on the difficulty of the material. This helps you quit procrastinating because you’re able to start studying without fear of letting yourself down.
  • Stop all-or-nothing thinking — A common thought pattern for perfectionists is “all-or-nothing” thinking. It means that you’re looking at a task and thinking that the only possible results are perfection and complete failure. But there’s a way to continue forward while looking at the task from a different perspective. Try to ask yourself, “What can I learn from this that will help me in the future?” By looking at what you can gain from the process instead of just the results, you can fight your procrastination.
  • Be kind to yourself — The anxiety of perfectionism can put intense pressure on yourself that can feel like a physical burden. The anticipation of guilt and shame of imperfect results can lead to procrastination. It’s important to have self-compassion and not punish yourself when the results don’t turn out “perfect.” Choosing to take pride in your work, even if it doesn’t meet your high expectations, can make it less intimidating to start a task. 


How to tell if your perfectionism is causing your procrastination

If you’re used to procrastinating, it’s not always easy to determine the root cause of the problem. However, if you don’t nail down the issue, it’s impossible to make the proper adjustments you need to improve. If you’re unsure about whether or not you’re stuck in the perfectionism-procrastination cycle, here are a few signs to look for:

  • You put off starting a task out of fear that it won’t be good enough.
  • You have an idea that involves detailed planning and research, but you put off initiating action because it might not live up to how it looks in your head.
  • You focus on the emotions behind a task and procrastinate until you feel like you’re in the “right” mindset.
  • You focus on tasks on your to-do list that don’t have a high impact on your self-image, and let high-priority tasks fall by the wayside because of the potential negative impact.
  • You make to-do lists that are unrealistic based on time, resources and difficulty level.
  • You struggle to make decisions for a task out of fear that they’re the wrong choice.
  • You’re constantly changing and revising your tasks to make them perfect.


Beyond BookSmart has Executive Coaching services to address your perfectionism and procrastination

Procrastination can have a notable impact on many aspects of your life, both professionally and personally. It can interfere with your ability to meet deadlines at school or work, have a clean home, and make social plans with your friends and family. When procrastination is supported by perfectionism, you feel like who you are as a person depends on your results, making it impossible to get through day-to-day tasks. That’s why Executive Function coaching can make a difference.

Addressing your Executive Function skills is one of the most effective courses of action for improving your procrastination and perfectionism. Executive Function skills are life management skills that we all need in order to be effective in planning, initiating and achieving goals at home, in school and in the workplace. With skills like time management, organization and emotional regulation, you can combat your perfectionist instincts and stop procrastinating.

Executive Function skills are coachable, trainable and can be applied for success. Whether you have a learning difference, such as ADHD, an emotional challenge, such as anxiety, or you’re just struggling to reach your Executive Function potential, Beyond BookSmart services can help you see what you’re capable of.

Contact our team today for more information about Executive Function coaching!

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