Actually, not me. I am far from being a perfectionist. I do feel a little sad though, when I meet people in my coaching engagements and workshops who tell me that they are perfectionists. Perfectionism after all, is simply a strategy of procrastination. And it’s a strategy that can work ‘too well’ allowing people to put off doing and achieving the things they should.
Before I continue with this article, I would like to clarify: the type of perfectionism / procrastination I am referring to here is not the procrastination of ‘starting quickly and continuing slowly’ as described by Adam Grant in his TED Talk The surprising habits of original thinkers. There is great value in this concept of starting work on something and then taking a break (procrastinating a little) before continuing. I have learned the value of slowing down and have found my best ideas come to me when I have a problem or a concept to work on and then let it sit in the back of my mind for a day or two. The type of procrastinating I am referring to here is when you know you have something that you need to do or should do and continue to delay getting started, like Tim Urban describes in his TED Talk, Inside the mind of a master procrastinator.
So, why do people procrastinate?
There can be many reasons. Sometimes it is because people want things to be ‘just right’; the right time, the right environment, the right person. Well, guess what? If you keep waiting for the right time, the right situation or the right person, it or they will never arrive. Never. Ever. You will always find some reason to put off what needs to be done. The stars are not going to align perfectly, signalling that now is the right time to do whatever it is you need to do. And think of all the potentially great opportunities and adventures you may be missing out on!
Let me give you an example. I have a friend who was engaged by a small business owner to market their products and services. This was an existing business that had done well for a while, and now they were struggling. There was one particular product that this business owner wanted my friend to market, as it had the potential to provide a great return on her investment. My friend dutifully began her marketing campaign and literally within days, enquires and sales for this particular product completely skyrocketed. The business owner then called my friend in a panic. She wasn’t sure that she wanted her to market this product anymore. My friend was perplexed? ‘But this is what you asked me to market. This is what you have engaged me to do.’ It turned out the reason the business owner was concerned was because she didn’t think her product was ‘perfect’ yet.
Oh my! It is incredibly unlikely that any product or service you ever produce is going to be perfect! Look, deep down you really do know that nothing will be perfect, don’t you? Sure, aim for excellent or fantastic or awesome, but the only way you are even going to achieve that is by getting out there and selling your products and services, starting to climb that mountain or writing that book/memo/report. It won’t be perfect. In fact, the only way you can get to excellent or awesome is to get started, do what needs doing and learn from the mistakes, feedback and suggestions you get along the way. My blogs and articles are not perfect and I don’t expect them to be perfect, but if I felt I couldn’t write and publish them until they were perfect; well, you already know the answer. They would never be finished and they would never be published.
If you do find yourself procrastinating, the first thing to do is to identify why you are doing so. There are generally three reasons for procrastination:
- You are concerned that the finished product won’t be to a high enough standard (yours or someone else’s standard)
- You don’t know how or where to start
- It is just too boring or unpleasant and you would simply rather do something else
Awareness enables choice. One we are aware of our own behaviours and thought processes we can then choose to do something about them. If you recognise that you do tend to procrastinate, reflect on the reason why and then consider strategies to overcome this reason.
If you are interested in learning more, strategies for overcoming procrastination will be covered in my Working Smarter workshops, which will be available in 2019.