Perfectionism and procrastination often go hand in hand. Thoughts like “Unless I can do this well, there’s no point doing it at all” can really drain our motivation to get going. Perfectionism is also a big driver of stress for many people.
Perfectionism is setting standards and expectations of ourselves and of others too high. If you lean towards perfectionism, you probably find it difficult both to accept mistakes from yourself and others, and to live with a less than perfect result. Letting go of perfectionism means that you need to learn simply to do your best, make some mistakes along the way, and accept your best, even if it is not perfect.
Break down the task
Breaking the task down and just getting started, as well as changing perfectionist thinking, can be helpful here. Think: I can have a go at this, I can always come back to it to improve it later but the most important thing is to get started. This approach is especially helpful for work that involves writing, such as an assignment or even case notes. Feeling like we have to get it just right the first time drives a desire to avoid doing it. Instead, focus on getting the gist written, allowing yourself to be free from making it sound just right or have the grammar and spelling perfect. You can always come back to edit it.
Are you over editing?
Editing and checking is another prime time for perfectionism to show up. How many times do you need to edit an assignment (or even an email before sending it!)? Pay attention to how much you are changing each time, and if those changes are substantial enough to warrant your time. Often by the third edit you might just be changing wording you already changed on the second edit!
Be flexible in your thinking
Remember, aiming for “good enough” can often be a helpful antidote to perfectionism. It can also be useful to experiment with setting yourself different standards and seeing what happens. Many people fear that they won’t do well if they “drop” their perfectionist standards, but often the result is higher quality and more efficient work. One reason for this may be that by relaxing your focus on fine details, the anxiety that accompanies fear of failure reduces, and you allow more flexibility and creativity in your thinking. Ask yourself these two questions: What am I worried will happen if I don’t do it perfectly? In the cold light of day, is that outcome I am concerned about very likely?
Be kind to yourself
Changing perfectionist attitudes can be difficult. If you find yourself getting stuck, it can be useful to discuss perfectionism with a professional. Try your student counselling service, or if you are on a work placement, find out if you can access your organisation’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP).