Perfectionism & Procrastination – The Perfect Storm (GutwiZdom Episode-013)



Do you think of yourself as a perfectionist? Are you a procrastinator? Do you think these two concepts are related?


Perfectionism: when you try to achieve the ideal as a minimum requirement


Procrastination: refusing to take action until you can guarantee an ideal result


At first glance, these two words don’t appear related. If someone is a perfectionist, it would seem unlikely that they would put something off that could help them create perfection. However, avoiding imperfection can sometimes lead someone to procrastinate. Taking action can sometimes be messy, and if we’re pursuing perfection we don’t want a mess!


Are all perfectionists procrastinators?


To answer this question, let’s look at the two kinds of perfectionists:


  • Healthy perfectionist: sets high standards, seeks excellence, is flexible in their strategies
  • Unhealthy perfectionist: sets impossible to meet standards, seeks absolute perfection, is inflexible in their strategies


A healthy pursuit of perfection involves balancing the costs and benefits. An unhealthy pursuit of perfection is when the costs outweigh the benefits.


A healthy perfectionist gets an assignment to create a document, starts it right away, completes the document and ensures there are no mistakes and that it is well formatted. The document gets delivered on time.


An unhealthy perfectionist delays starting the assignment because he’s worried that he doesn’t think he can do it perfectly. When he finally works on it, all he sees are imperfections so he keeps working on it, perhaps even putting off other work that needs to get done. The document gets delivered late (and so does the assignment that follows).


Balancing a healthy pursuit of perfection with a healthy pursuit of productivity can keep us from procrastinating.  Some procrastinators do it either directly or indirectly as a result of their pursuit of perfection, while others do for reasons that are unrelated to perfectionism.


Are all procrastinators perfectionists?


To answer this question, let’s look at the typical reasons we procrastinate:


The task/”to do” is just too challenging


The more difficult a project or responsibility is, the more likely we are to feel that we don’t have what it takes to succeed. It’s true!  We don’t know everything and sometimes we are challenged with the challenge of having to figure something out that doesn’t come naturally, or easy, to us.  Hence, no rush to start that one!




We get used to the way things work. We get comfortable with procedures for getting things done and the tools we have to do them. When those procedures or tools change, we may get hesitant to take action because we’re suddenly less comfortable that we know what the end result will be. Do you ever put off running the latest software update on your phone because you don’t want to have to learn a new way of doing something?


Unwillingness to make an “educated guess”


Making a decision – any decision at all – is ultimately the process of making some sort of intuitive leap. Between what is the “right” decision and what is the “wrong” decision, there is a gap of knowledge that you try to fill with research. If you try to fill that gap completely, however, you can find yourself in an endless process of research while you wait for some divine sign that you now have “all” of the information needed to make the decision.


Do you always read reviews before buying something? How often do those reviews provide the absolute final 100% yes or no answer to your ultimate question of “should I buy this?” A final decision of any sort contains some measure of “cross your fingers and hope this works.” When you click that “buy” button, you are making a guess – no matter how educated that guess is.


Lack of motivation


Let’s not deny this one it’s due: sometimes people simply are unmotivated to do something. Is it possible that this lack of motivation is due to one of the other reasons mentioned above? Perhaps, but it still deserves to be called out separately.


Desire for adrenaline


Do you love the thrill of pulling things together at the last minute? Adrenaline junkies may procrastinate simply to experience the excitement of last-minute action!


WiZdoms: How do we curb our proclivities for perfectionism?


Chances are good that you either think you are a perfectionist or you may have professed to be one. We say it because we like to think of ourselves as being careful and doing good work, and we want others to think that of us as well. However, pursuing perfection can keep us from seeing the bigger picture or pursuing more creative options. The pursuit of perfection can be the enemy of innovation!


Perhaps we can stop thinking of ourselves as perfectionists and instead focus on the pursuit of excellence. There is nothing wrong with pursuing excellence, and in doing so you may get inspired and energized! Pursing excellence can free us to be more open to thinking of new possibilities, learning something new, and taking more risks (and by taking more risks we gain more confidence). Strive to be a healthy perfectionist by:


  • Just do something. It may not be perfect, but you’re taking action that that is what’s important.
  • Does it really have to be perfect? Not everything you do is “mission critical” and therefore it doesn’t have to be perfect.
  • Check in with your gut: As you’re completing a task, remember to ask yourself if you are pursuing excellence or if you are demanding perfection.


WiZdoms: How do we pull the plug on procrastination?


The first step to helping us get off the couch and get moving on those things we’re putting off is to ask ourselves why we’re putting it off. Is the task boring? Difficult? Too complicated? Does the thought of getting started simply overwhelm you?


A few ways to break out of your procrastination habits:


  • Organize! Use to do lists, set and track deadlines.
  • Avoid an “all or nothing” mindset: Not everything you do has to be “go big or go home.” Some tasks are small and they can stay small.
  • Eat the hot pepper first: Get the most unpleasant thing over with first, then the rest is smooth sailing.
  • Sweat the small stuff: break out an overwhelming project into small bite-size pieces
  • Don’t expect perfection: Sound familiar? See above list on how to tame your perfectionism!
  • Just do something. This might also be a repeat, but it works in both lists! Take a small step and another will follow much more easily.


Do you think of yourself as a perfectionist? Are you a procrastinator? Do you think these two concepts are related? Let us know by leaving us a voicemail at 646-653-9278 or sending us a message here.


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