What You Must know about perfectionism and Overcoming Procrastination

Building your dream requires not just your heart and your time but your focus. This is true whether it’s a business that allows you to be your own boss, a nonprofit that will make the world a better place, a ministry or even bringing your art to the world. Perfectionism and procrastination work together to steal your focus and your dream from you.

And here is the truth that all of us who are builders need to know--perfectionism is not excellence; it is procrastination based in fear.

Let me ask you these questions...

What are you waiting for?

Are you waiting for the time to be right?

Are you waiting for the moment you feel you have all of the puzzle pieces?

Are you waiting for the phase when you have enough uninterrupted time?

Are you waiting until you feel like it?

Or are you going to keep waiting, all the while feeling bad about not doing anything?

When you chase perfection, you set yourself up for disappointment, and all too easily it is used as a form of procrastination. There's never a perfect moment that you will feel completely ready.  

No one feels completely capable and has unlimited funds, time, and energy to achieve their goals. And everyone is terrified of failure, looking foolish, and letting others down. 

It's not about waiting for the time to be right. It's about taking action because your vision is worth it.


1. Do something.

And if it is not perfect, focus on the fact that you actually took action. The crucial step in breaking the cycle of perfectionism is to simply start doing things and be gentle to your yourself in the process.

2. Re-examine your standards.

My guess is that you are overly critical of yourself. Do this exercise often-pretend your friend is asking your opinion about his performance at a certain task or her project results. What would you say? I bet your assessment of someone else's performance would not be so critical. Sometimes we just need some distance to be able to have the right perspective.

3. Look at the big picture.

Ask yourself if what you're worried about really matters. Will it matter next week, next month, next year? Probably not. So criticizing yourself over the situation won't help you either.

This is also a great way to look at tasks and judge if they are important. Because we want things done perfectly, even small tasks that aren't important can get treated like critical matters we must attend to. Ask yourself, "Is this really that important?" if not, let it slide.

4. Share your works in progress.

Yep, that's right. Share the drafts that have mistakes and typos, just make sure it says DRAFT. Consider this therapy that will help you fight the urge to make everything perfect before anyone sees it.

One of my most popular articles of all time,“30 mistakes entrepreneurs make” was published on my site and I didn't notice for hours. A friend emailed me and gently said, “Alli, were you sick with a fever when you posted that?” I had drafted in using voice dictation and somehow posted the first version! When I published the most recent version of the article all my typos and unfinished sentences disappeared. Of course, when I noticed what happened the room started spinning and I was tempted to change my name and run away. Guess what? It's over. I survived and it doesn't matter now. I had to just learn to let it slide.

5. Set more realistic goals.

Rather than having my clients set the goal of “I will write a bestselling book" and then getting overwhelmed with the big dream and freezing up, I used to work with them to break down the big dream into manageable steps. When looking at your big dreams, reverse engineer them and define what you need to do at each stage to achieve your goals.

Often I led my clients through a process of defining large goals and breaking them down into weekly action steps. I do not give huge overviews of all the concepts and strategies we will tackle ahead of time because that can trigger an onslaught of worry and overwhelm, and can risk the business owner getting frozen anticipating so much work in her future.

6. Break the addiction of comparing yourself to others.

From a psychological standpoint, people who compare their lives to those of others, lead to unhappiness, jealousy, and envy. Dan Ariely describes this in his brilliant book, "Predictably Irrational" with “the more we have, the more we want." Instead of focusing on the success and seemingly perfect life of someone else, focus on what gives you joy, what you feel proud of, and makes you feel content in your work.

Side note- This is yet another reason to stay off Facebook. Don't compare your real life to anyone else's curated image of life.

7. Do a gut check.

Ask yourself daily. "Am I striving for excellence or demanding perfection?" Excellence is a worthy goal that energizes and inspires, perfectionism wraps us in guilt and ends our progress. Ending the cycle of being unreasonably hard on yourself is a process that takes daily practice.

Here are some ways that have worked well for others I've worked with. Work these steps into your life:

1. Write the above seven questions and seven tips out on note cards or sticky notes where you will see it often.

2. Set a reminder to check in with yourself daily and ask, "Am I focusing on the 20% that provides 80% of benefit or am I trying to make the details perfect?"

3. Team up with a fellow recovering perfectionist and share drafts with typos and share examples that will help you re-examine your standards and get comfortable sharing things that aren’t perfect yet.

4. Break down big goals into manageable sections. Each quarter, each month, and define what needs to be done. This will keep you focused on constant progress and decrease feelings of overwhelm.

What you have to offer the world is important and only you can bring it to life. Do not let perfectionism rob the world of what you have to give it. Now, take a deep breath and start taking action. And remember this one last thing… Every masterpiece started out messy. 

Alli Worthington

Alli Worthington is the author of Breaking Busy: How to find Peace and Purpose in a World of Crazy, speaker, blogger, and the Executive Director of Propel Women. Alli has helped individuals, small business owners and Fortune 500 companies be more successful. She lives outside Nashville with her husband, Mark, their five sons, rescued dog and cat who moved onto their doorstep. You can connect with Alli at AlliWorthington.com


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