Perfectionism and Procrastination Leading to Paralysis

Written by: Dr Joseph Kekulawala
(Psychiatrist)

Last updated date : March 31, 2022

In this article, we will explore perfectionism and procrastination, how to overcome perfectionism and procrastination and try to understand which comes first. Before we get there, we will define both conditions, understand the pros and cons of procrastination, and how beliefs can drive both perfectionism and procrastination. When it comes to productivity and time management, both perfectionism and procrastination are potential blockers. Being able to manage your time effectively can lead to optimal performance, better balance in life, reduced stress and anxiety. We hope this article gives you some insight into how perfectionism and procrastination can get in the way.

Chapter 1:
What Is Procrastination?

We all delay doing things sometimes. It is widespread behaviour. However, when this becomes chronic, it can cause serious problems. Procrastination occurs when you delay completing a task that needs doing for no good reason. Not doing the task is associated with negative consequences, but you still choose to do something less important. Generally speaking, more serious consequences indicate a more serious problem with procrastination.

People procrastinate about all kinds of things. Here are some common areas:

  • Work
  • Study
  • Household chores
  • Health and medical
  • Social activities
  • Parenting
  • Appearance
  • Lifestyle and personal development
  • Decision making
  • Bills and finances
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Chapter 2:
How Does Procrastination Impact You?

How do you spend your time procrastinating? Often, people swap doing the things they need to get done for activities that are 1) more enjoyable, 2) less important, and/or 3) distracting. For example, instead of doing her work, Jill sits at her desk all day browsing the internet and dreaming about her next holiday. Think about how you had spent your last two days. Were there times when you were procrastinating about certain things? If or when you procrastinate, how do you end up spending your time?

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Chapter 3:
Pros and Cons of Procrastination

Procrastination can have a number of positives but also a fair few negatives. In fact, both perfectionism and procrastination have pros and cons. Firstly, let’s explore the pros and cons of procrastination so that you can understand it better.Procrastination works in the short run. It provides a short-term escape or relief from something that would otherwise be quite taxing or demanding. When we watch YouTube music videos instead of working, there is a short-term escape. We avoid the discomfort of having to sit at the computer and be productive. In addition, there is the enjoyment of pleasure that comes from watching funny cat videos online. The pressure is taken off us. We don’t need to worry about ourselves or our work.

Procrastination does not work in the long run. As you delay doing a task, your internal sense of guilt, stress and anxiety are likely to build. Also, the time pressure of having to complete the task keeps mounting. As procrastination continues, eventually, it becomes impossible to finish the task on time. Then there are punishments on losses for not doing the work. Sometimes the loss can be pretty significant. It could be financial disciplinary action at work or for grades or performance reports.

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Chapter 4:
What Is Perfectionism?

Perfectionism can be seen as a trait that increases or leads to success. However, most psychologists would argue that there is a downside to perfectionism. Underlying perfectionistic habits or traits is a self-critical mindset, one that worries about how others perceive oneself.

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Chapter 5:
Beliefs That Drive Perfectionism and Procrastination

Perfectionists often have a deep fear of failure or rejection—they sometimes doubt their self-worth, competence and fear that they are not good enough. As a result, they try to protect themselves from these critical negative self-beliefs. Broadly speaking, there are two ways in which perfectionists try to protect themselves from critical mindsets.

Firstly, they push themselves to achieve high standards. If perfectionist performs well, meet their expectations, there is a deep sense of relief. There is a short-term escape from that deep fear of failure and rejection, which drives their chronic perfectionism. However, this relief is often very short-lived, and the self-critical mindset invariably creeps in.

Secondly, perfectionists fear or worry that the tasks they have to do will expose their perceived flaws or inadequacies. They fear failure and judgement by others. This, in turn leads to procrastination, dealing with starting or completing the tasks. Some perfectionists become paralysed by their own intense fear and anxiety. If they have low self-esteem, they can become overcome by feelings of hopelessness and despair.

Perfectionism and procrastination go hand-in-hand. Perfectionistic thinking can lead to procrastination. Procrastination, then, in turn, can lead to increased anxiety and thoughts about low self-worth and stress then, in turn drives perfectionistic behaviour.

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Chapter 6:
Perfectionism and Procrastination, Which Comes First?

It is hard to say whether perfectionism or procrastination comes first. As we are learning, there is significant overlap between the two. Perfectionism can drive procrastination. It can also work the other way around.

Think about what views and beliefs drive your perfectionism and procrastination. Which do you think is the primary driver? Maybe ask a friend, who you trust and knows you well, do they think you have more perfectionistic worry or that it is more mindless procrastination?

When it comes to overcoming perfectionism and procrastination, it probably matters less which comes first. The strategies psychiatrists and psychologists recommend usually tackle both perfectionism and procrastination.

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Chapter 7:
Overcoming Perfectionism and Procrastination

There are different psychological approaches taken to managing perfectionism and procrastination. Here, at Epsychonline, we have an online course on perfectionism. Week 4 of the course dives deep into perfectionism and procrastination. In Week 4, we cover time management, using pros and cons sheets, developing coping statements, challenging procrastination excuses, and other psychological strategies on how to overcome perfectionism and procrastination

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Chapter 8:
Time Management for Perfectionism and Procrastination

Broadly speaking, time management is about using your time productively and efficiently. It involves prioritising and being able to focus on what needs to be done and leaving the rest. Perfectionists generally struggle with time management. They spend too much time dwelling on or perfecting relatively unimportant tasks, and they tend to take on too much.

Perfectionists usually assume the answer to their struggles is to work harder. In turn, they sacrifice leisure and fun activities. Good and strict time management is one way to overcome perfectionism and procrastination. It usually involves a number of skills, such as being able to set the right goals, prioritise, and make decisions well.

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Chapter 9:
Coping Statements for Perfectionism and Procrastination

As we have learnt, perfectionistic thinking can lead to procrastination. Perfectionism thoughts are unhelpful and often biased by negative thinking styles. Perfectionism thoughts are self-critical and focused on weaknesses. They constantly push a perfectionist to even higher standards, leading to demotivation, feeling flat and thoughts about not being good enough. It can help significantly to have helpful or “coping“statements to challenge some of those critical thoughts. When you notice that you are becoming overcome by critical self-talk, pause and challenge them with helpful coping statements. Examples of helpful coping statements could include:

  • “I always feel better once I make a start.”
  • “I feel less stressed when I get going with a task I’ve been putting off.”
  • “If I keep delaying this, I’ll just feel worse.”

Have a go at coming up with your own coping statements. Your coping statements will help to pick you up when your mind is trying to put you down. Read over your coping statements whenever you feel the urge to procrastinate.

We hope you have found this article helpful, breaking down the relationship between perfectionism and procrastination. Please send us any comments or suggestions, or queries that you have. We do have an entire six-week course on perfectionism which you can find on our courses page. In the course we get into the details, break down perfectionism and have an entire week of focusing on procrastination and perfectionism. We focus in on how to overcome perfectionism and procrastination together. We hope that you check out our course, and let us know what you think.