Spread the love

Why do something now when you can put it off until later?

Procrastination:  the overachiever’s Achilles heel.

Dr. Jeff Kaplan

Everybody is unique and reasons vary for why someone consistently procrastinates on tasks s/he doesn’t want to do.  That said, I have come to recognize a common thread in overachiever’s who procrastinate – their desire for perfection.

Who among us have not put off a task for as long as possible and, when you finally have no choice but to sit down and do it, you’re on a roll within just a few minutes, saying to yourself, “This isn’t so bad!”

So why does this happen?   As an overachiever, you have built up an image of yourself that you now fight to keep.  And yet, there’s a freedom that comes with not having anything to lose.  Getting unstuck from procrastination lies somewhere between your unrealistic, perfectionistic expectations and letting go of all concern about others’ opinions of you.  

5 Techniques for overcoming procrastination:

  1. On your “thing to do list” for the day, commit to spending 10-15 minutes on the task, even if you think it’ll take 1-2 hours to complete.  Like the 10-minute workout rule, this is enough to get you ‘in it’.  You’re likely to want to continue working on the task but, even if you aren’t or do not have time, making progress on the mountain climb shifts the negative association that you have with the task into a positive one (leveraging your overachiever-ness).  You may need to adjust the 10-15-minute time frame if the task is likely to take much longer than an hour or two.

  2. Divide the task into small chunks.  Commit to taking on the first small chunk and reward yourself after its completion.  The reward can be as simple as a healthy treat or 10-minute call to a good friend.  It’s only important that the reward feel good.

  3. Set a specific time on your calendar to work on the task and have a set reward ready to go once you’ve reached the end of the time.  It is important to reward yourself for the time spent and not based on how much you’ve chipped away at the task.  The former will build a reservoir of positive emotions associated with spending time on tasks you wish to avoid (reversing the procrastination trap); whereas the latter will feed into it (needing it to be perfect before you’re allowed to feel good about it).

  4. Reframe the task at hand.  When I was working on my dissertation back in the mid-1990’s, I would think of the dissertation as “a small paper,” even though it was the largest “paper” that I had worked on and one that felt daunting at the time.  Oddly enough, though, the constant mental reference of this as a small paper was enough to help me break through the perfectionistic expectations that leads to procrastination.

  5. My favorite approach to helping overachievers overcome procrastination is to do a values-reset.  You shift your focus on the “value of perfectionism” to a higher-order value that has deeper meaning in your life.  Here’s a simple set of questions to ask yourself to help get clarity of your values and regain perspective.

Here’s a simple set of questions to ask yourself to help get clarity of your values and regain perspective.

  • What most brings me happiness, joy, peace of mind, and/or self-discovery?
  • Where do I ultimately want to be in my career and life?
  • What’s my goal with regard to this task and how does this fit in with my future vision?
  • What’s the need of the entity (person, business unit, company, etc.) for whom I’m doing this task?
  • What’s the path of least resistance approach to achieving the needs of the entity while honoring my most important values?
  • Finally, am I missing anything?  For example, if I put 80% (instead of 120%) effort on this particular task, is there any real consequence to my career or future?  If so, then how can I still make doing this task easy while minimizing unintended negative consequences?

Bottom line, continue to aspire for excellence but gift yourself the emotional freedom that comes with letting go of the need to be perfect.

By the way, I would have written this blog post a month ago but, truth be told, I kept procrastinating.