July 23, 2021

Quick, don’t think about it, just answer: Procrastination or Perfectionism? Which one best describes you?

Was it easy for you to choose one over the other? Did the answer come to you immediately? If you have a little time to think about it, would you say that you could see yourself in either category?

That wouldn’t be unusual, because in reality, procrastination and perfectionism are linked. In fact, they have a direct bearing on each other. Either one of them can be a barrier to positive forward movement.

But put them together, and they become a formidable duo that makes achieving success nearly impossible.

Fortunately, recognizing the signs of both and learning how to combat them is not as difficult as you may think. Let’s take a look at how they work together and what you can do to break the cycle.


People often joke about someone being a perfectionist, and (truth be told) nearly everyone has those quirky things that need to be “just right.” Maybe your bed needs to be made and the pillows lined up exactly the way you want. Or the dishes need to be put in the dishwasher the correct way.

Perfectionism can manifest itself in little ways like those, and I wouldn’t be too concerned with those types of things. But, when the drive for everything to be perfect gets in the way of everything else? Yes, that’s when you need to do a self-evaluation.

Signs of perfectionism include (but aren’t limited to): setting high and/or impossible standards, being overly critical of yourself and others, not allowing others to do simple tasks because you want them “done right,” you get defensive about feedback, and procrastination.

Yep, there it is. And here is the connection.


Simply put, procrastination is delaying or putting off something. We procrastinate for all different reasons. Chores we hate to do and conversations we don’t want to have are two common examples. And I’ll say again, these minor incidents don’t warrant too much examination.

However, procrastination on a larger scale is one of the most telling signs of a perfectionist. The cycle goes something like this:

  • You set an unreasonably high goal
  • You won’t let anyone help you because it has to be done “right”
  • Feedback from others is ignored
  • You realize that you can’t achieve the goal
  • You don’t want to let people down
  • You pick something more achievable (and less threatening to your success)
  • You repeat these steps waiting for perfection to be achieved…

…which never happens

You have successfully procrastinated your way out of success. In looking at that cycle, it’s easy to see how one feeds into the other in a continuous loop. So, now the question is: “How do I break these links and work towards success?”

Here are a few things to consider.

Lower your expectations.

It doesn’t mean that you have to settle for less. But instead of a wide, overarching goal that seems like it will take forever, think of something that could be more easily achieved.

Break it into smaller pieces.

The easiest way to do this is to evaluate the goal and see where it can be split into smaller, more manageable projects or steps. If there are different areas that need to be addressed, see if you can group them.

Most importantly, write everything out or create a picture board – find a way to keep everything organized where you can visually see your progress.

Track your time.

You don’t have to give yourself impossible timeframes to work on things. But effectively managing your time can help you focus on the tasks at hand instead of wasting time worrying about what isn’t getting done.

For example, give yourself 30 minutes to work on something. Try to do it in a space where you won’t be interrupted. See how far you get in that 30-minute timeframe. Then, make adjustments and try it again the next day.

Work on deflecting distractions

If you have kids, this could be especially tough. But kids get it more than you think. If they’re old enough to understand, explain to them that you need just a bit of time to work on something. If they have something to keep them occupied for 30 minutes, they (hopefully) won’t be bothering you.

(Side note: blaming your kids for you not getting something done is a classic procrastination ploy).

Once you have them set up, focus on your task at hand. If you think of something else to do, write it down and return your focus. Don’t use it as an excuse to not get things done.

Give yourself grace.

You will most likely always be your biggest critic. This is especially true if you are a perfectionist. As I mentioned above, one of the key traits of a perfectionist is being overly self-critical. It’s another never-ending cycle.

Learning to allow yourself to make mistakes, correct them, and move on might seem challenging, but I think if you can learn to give yourself grace, even in the smallest ways, you will start to see changes in other behaviors as well.

Keep working on it.

This obviously isn’t a comprehensive list, and every person’s situation is different. What I have given you is some food for thought and a few things you can try to get yourself out of that cycle.

Temper your expectations, manage your time, and be nicer to yourself (including self-care). These are manageable steps to start breaking that procrastination/perfectionism cycle. Your journey to success can start here.

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