This is the second post in our series about perfectionism. You can find the first here.

This might surprise you, but there is a strong link between perfectionism and the tendency to procrastinate. It sounds a bit counterintuitive at first, doesn’t it? Wouldn’t people who strive for perfection want to avoid that last minute scramble?

But, this comes up again and again with my clients.

And if you’ll allow me to indulge in a little armchair philosophizing, here’s my take on why these 2 tendencies are so often linked: If you are up against a deadline, then the lack of time explains why the end result isn’t perfect. But if you have lots of time, and it’s not perfect, then the explanation for the imperfection is that you’re not good enough. In short, procrastination can be a coping mechanism for perfectionism (and unpleasant guilty feelings that often go along with it).

But here’s the thing: This isn’t true because you ARE good enough. (And no, you’re not perfect. Because no one is. Perfect is an impossible goal.)

So, if you’re someone with perfectionist tendencies, who finds themselves procrastinating quite a bit, let’s talk about some strategies you can try to help get yourself out of that vicious cycle.

Break it down

Have you ever had something on your task list that was new to you, or a little amorphous or vague? You keep pushing it off, day after day. Now it’s due tomorrow and you have to get started. So you do. And that thing you’ve been worrying about and procrastinating takes all of 20 minutes. You made a molehill into a mountain. And it didn’t have to be that way.

This happens to all of us.

But here’s what you can do to help stop that procrastination in its tracks: Break it down to the very first step.

What’s the first, small step you need to take to get it done? Make that first step so small you can’t convince yourself not to do it.

Use a timer

In advance, decide how much time you’re willing to spend on a task. Then set a timer. If you need to, check in with yourself at the mid-point to gauge what you need to do to get it over the finish line in the time allotted.

Use templates

Often times we procrastinate because we don’t have the perfect words to say. And it feels like a lot of effort to figure that out. So we just don’t respond. Or we don’t reach out. And then we feel bad about it.

Instead create some templated language you can use for common situations or responses.

I find this is particularly useful when it comes to pushing back or saying no. Those are communications ripe for procrastination.

Use “Schedule Send”

We think about that “schedule send” feature in our email mostly used to avoid sending people email during their off hours, or to accommodate works schedules. But you can also use this feature to help beat procrastination.

If you’re avoiding sending that email because you don’t have the perfect response, just write an imperfect response and schedule it to send in a few hours, or tomorrow. This give you time to revisit if you happen to think of more perfect words, but likely, you won’t bother and your email will be sent. Better done than perfect, as they say.

Think of it as a way to side-step that perfectionism-procrastination loop.


And finally, what if you were to engage in a little mindset shift? What if, every time you sit down to work on something, you imagine it as an experiment? And your goal is to iterate. Mistakes and imperfections aren’t as terrifying when they’re an expected part of the process. If the goal is to experiment then, by definition, the goal is not perfection. And how do you improve and get closer to your goal? Experimentation!