Avoiding procrastination and getting out of the perfectionism trap
I wanted to pull together some helpful information for those looking to deal with productivity, procrastination and perfectionism and be more productive. I also want to highlight a couple of key issues that have often come to the surface when working with clients who have this goal that we have been able to address in therapy through various ways. I hope that it serves you.
Simple ways to be more productive.
Here are some of the ways that I have utilised for myself and with my clients to increase productivity, whether it be at work, at home or for study…
- Set clear goals & explore your WHY for these goals – how will achieving them positively impact you and your life short-term and long term
- Break goals into smaller more manageable chunks – we need to be real with ourselves about how much we can achieve in a space of time, having realistic goals are important whilst creating enough of a stretch to not limit ourselves either
- Get clear on your personal values – and use these to determine what is important and what is not important
- Avoid procrastination – Easier said than done I know (more below)
- Challenge perfectionism – Another one that is easier said than done (more below)
- Write a To-Do list (then cull out anything not urgent or important)
- Limit distractions in your workspace
- Give yourself deadlines (enough time to not feel overwhelmed, but not so much there is no sense of urgency)
- Develop your time management skills (do a seminar or course, or lean into strategies that have worked for you in the past)
- Take 10-minute mind breaks (mental fatigue is not helpful when trying to be optimally productive)
- Meditate & Exercise (has been shown to improve concentration and reduce stress which we know impact on our productivity)
- Limit caffeine and sugar + Nourish your body with longer sustained energy sources = less lulls in energy and concentration throughout the day
How to stop procrastinating.
Procrastination is getting a special mention given it tends to be a common and far-reaching difficulty that affects our lives across various contexts.
What is procrastination?
First, let’s get clear on what procrastination is and what it is not. Procrastination is not laziness, it is a learned behavioural response to a particular trigger. As such we know through the research in neuroplasticity that we can learn new responses to these triggers?
Why am I procrastinating?
When it comes to overcoming procrastination we need to look at why we are doing it to figure out what is going to help us limit procrastination in our lives. Some useful questions to ask yourself…
- When am I procrastinating? Are there certain times of the day when I am more productive than others?
- What sorts of things do you do when you procrastinate? Are these things important to you? Are they in alignment with your values and goals? Is there a conflict in values?
- Am I being overwhelmed by how much I have to do and so am avoiding doing it (for short-term relief)?
- Do I feel like I have to do it (whatever it is) perfectly and have thoughts about my capacity and resources to get that done perfectly right now?
- Am I easily distracted when something is boring or not particularly interesting to me?
- Am I heavily reliant or focused on immediate gratification? Difficulties with addiction?
- Do I have a fear of failure? Or fear of judgment?
Perhaps you can clearly see the answers to these questions for yourself or perhaps you aren’t quite there yet, and that is okay. You could work with a mental health professional to identify the underlying cause of procrastination – whereby we explore these sorts of questions and determine what the “trigger” for the behaviour is. Types of interventions that may be utilised to assist (depending on the causes identified) include…
- Increasing our distress tolerance
- Challenging our underlying core beliefs
- Learn & reprogram for delayed gratification
- Increase present moment awareness to allow for conscious decision making
- Develop self-compassion and gently redirect ourselves back to the task rather than beating ourselves up
- Or just getting deliberate about the structuring of our day to maximize high-energy times
- Plus many more…
How to let go of perfectionism.
Perfectionism is also getting its own special mention as it is often a barrier to productivity for those of us high achievers who want to do well in our work.
What is perfectionism?
There is no perfect definition for this term. To me, ‘Perfectionism’ is having the expectation of ourselves that everything we produce, everything we do, and how we appear to others must be perfect, flawless. We strive for this high (mostly impossible) standard despite the fact it makes things take a lot longer, impacts negatively on our self-worth (because we inevitably make mistakes, as we are only human) and usually creates unhealthy dynamics in our relationships.
Some of the perfectionism behaviours to keep an eye out for include…
- Reassurance seeking
- Excessive organizing
- Giving up too soon when you are not good at something right away
- Not knowing when to stop when preparing for something
- Trying to change others
- Avoidance of potential failure or rejections
- Everything takes longer for you to do than others
- Failing to delegate tasks that could be done by others
- Checking or correcting
- Overcompensating (overly, unnecessary detail)
But I like having attention to detail and doing good work.
Or maybe it is something else. What positives do you see with being a perfectionist?
This paradox is one of the reasons people can find it so challenging to overcome perfectionism on their own. Whilst their unrelenting standards and working incredibly hard all the time on everything is unsustainable, and often harmful to their productivity and performance, they self-identify as a high achiever and want to excel in what they do.
I have learnt and taught my clients that there is a huge difference between the healthy and helpful pursuit of goals and excellence vs. the unhealthy and unhelpful strive for perfection.
We must learn to lean into our strengths and utilise our skills when they are helping us and recognise when they aren’t helping us so we can lean out.
What can I do to address perfectionism?
Everyone’s journey is a little different, however, some of the work I have done, and often do with clients involves the following…
- Identifying why we are perfectionistic. What is it helping us to avoid or protecting us from (short term)?
- Identifying the benefits of making this change. How will my life improve if I lean away from unhelpful perfectionism (longer term)?
- Address behaviours. What behavioural shifts can I make when I notice myself trying to be perfect in an unhelpful way?
- Work with our thoughts and feelings. Developing strategies to interact differently with our thoughts and feelings so that we can effectively shift away from perfectionistic tendencies.
- Getting clear on our values and goals so we can utilise them as guideposts for decision-making rather than unhelpful rules, assumptions or expectations we have
- Ensuring our self-worth is not dependent on achievement; even if we value achievement and wish to continue striving for goals
…Just to name a few
If you feel productivity, procrastination or perfectionism is something you would like to work on. Feel free to make a booking with me or discuss with your current mental health practitioner.
Author: Samantha Sheppard, B Psych (Hons).
Samantha is a registered psychologist with experience working with children and adolescents (and their families), young adults and adults. Samantha empowers others with their mental health using a non-judgemental, compassionate approach, and particularly resonates with the social and emotional wellbeing framework.
To make an appointment with Samantha Sheppard try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call M1 Psychology Loganholme on (07) 3067 9129.