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Perfectionistic Procrastination

As part of our month long conversation about time management, I want to take some time to discuss a type of procrastination that stems from a desire to produce perfect work.

Did you know that a need for perfection can actually hurt your work quality? I know that this sounds counterintuitive. Typically, we think of behaviors that promote perfection as helping to ensure high quality work; however, demanding that your work be perfect (e.g., “My work MUST be perfect,” “I NEED my e-mail to be perfect before I send it,” “All of my work HAS to be mistake free”) can actually lead to procrastination and poor time management. Obtaining perfection 100% of the time is near impossible. Mistakes are bound to happen, a boss may have a different point of view, and a client could be super critical. Also, what constitutes perfection? Often times, we don’t have a consistent definition for perfection- so, you can’t be sure if you’ve met that gold standard. As a result, you continue to rewrite, rework, and revise. The more that we demand perfection, the more stressed we become when we aren’t sure if perfection can be achieved. Let’s take a closer look.

Perfectionistic Procrastination

  1. Revising and Rewriting- Demanding perfection can lead to behaviors such as unnecessary revising and rewriting. Even though the work is getting done, the fear of submitting a work product that is less than “perfect” can lead to poor time management because of unnecessary rewriting and revising. While it’s a great habit to proofread your work and take time to review assignments before submitting them, there is a big difference between proofreading an e-mail and spending an extra hour rewriting an e-mail that was already good to go.

  2. Avoidance- Demanding that your work be perfect can actually lead to procrastination. Let’s say that you’re asked to work on a challenging project, but (A) you aren’t familiar with the material, (B) there is a large margin for error, and (C) you can’t be sure that the end result will be perfect. The fear of not achieving perfection may actually inhibit you from even starting the project. This uncertainty about how the end result will pan out can lead to avoidance and procrastination, which often times means rushing to meet deadlines. As result, you create a self-fulfilling prophecy, because rushing and being crammed for time is a recipe for careless mistakes.

  3. Change Aversion- It feels great to be confident in the work that you’re producing and be comfortable in your role at work! This feeling may signal to you that it’s time for a promotion, or to seek new opportunities for growth. However, along with change comes many new opportunities for mistakes. A need to be perfect, and the need to be certain about how you will perform, may actually discourage you from seeking out opportunities that are marked with uncertainty. Thinking that you might not reach the same level of perfection in a new job or role could lead to an aversion of new opportunities for professional development.

Any of these behaviors sound familiar? While our professional goals may be in the right place, the mentality about how to get there could be having an adverse effect. Even if we know that these patterns of behavior may not be helping us professionally, why do we continue to do them? This is the exact question that we will be answering next week. Stay tuned to learn what to do when you are engaging in perfectionistic procrastination.

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