Procrastination And Perfectionism - Two Sides Of The Same Coin?
Late nights at the office are the worst. I feel like if I were better at managing my time, or if I could stop obsessing over the insignificant details of my projects, the late night conundrum would never plague me again. Fortunately for us, help is on the way: in the form of procrastination guru Jullien Gordon. Jullien is a PurposeFinder and Motivational Speaker who recently published a book on confronting perfectionism and procrastination. In Good Excuse Goals, Jullien defines procrastination and perfectionism as two sides of the same coin. Procrastination is the under-commitment of time and energy to a task. Perfectionism is the over-commitment of time and energy to a task.
Confused about how this perspective can help you, Miss In-the-Office-at-Midnight-And-Seriously-Considering-a-Cupcake-Run? Let’s do a word problem: you have a report to write. You know that writing an excellent report will take you 10 hours. A procrastinator will start the paper with 6 hours left until the deadline, causing her to cram and rush through the writing process. A perfectionist will commit 15 hours to writing the paper, using the extra time to (over) analyze and (over) edit the report, so much that it may take away from the quality of her work.
Neither are ideal options. So what are we to do to fix this dilemma? How can we avoid procrastinating and stop perfecting to become better at getting things done? Julien offers a few great tips:
Positive Peer Pressure
That’s right. Peer pressure will help you get it done.
Jullien makes a great point: people are more comfortable disappointing themselves than they are disappointing other people. It sounds counterintuitive – we don’t usually think of peer pressure as a good thing. But build yourself a circle of accountability and you can bet you’ll be doubling up on your desire to finish projects on time and finish them well.
So how does a PYP build a circle of accountability? Before you start on your report, send an email and let your co-workers know that you they should expect the completed first draft of the report in their inboxes by close of business today. Determining an appropriate deadline for the first draft is a good start to setting goals. Getting other people involved to commit to the deadline is an even better way to move towards achieving goals. This type of transparency will also make your project a little more social and will help you feel less like you’re emailing memos into a black hole, never to see them again.
For a procrastinator, this is a huge step to getting started early. You don’t want to let other people down – or look like a complete slacker – so you now have a real incentive to get a head start.
Get Feedback Along the Way
For a perfectionist, it is an important step to get feedback along the way to make sure that your final product matches the expectations of the people receiving it. Sometimes you get caught up in details that no one else notices (guilty!). Getting feedback from your co-workers will help you make sure that your report is excellent in the eyes of the receiver, as well.
Once you get the first draft out of the way, you are 80% of the way towards achieving your goal. You can spend the final 20% of your time on the report focused on refining the report into a great final product.
The First Domino
Now that you are on the hook to finish your report, where do you start?
Think of another example: who hasn’t spent many a lazy Sunday dreaming of a visit to an exotic destination? Getting your act together and actually going on the vacation is much easier said than done. After the Google search to plan the best sites to visit, determine the right hotels, and estimate the cost, we analyze vacation days from work, make a spreadsheet to budget the trip… Big decisions require a lot of work, and it’s easy to either put off thinking about logistics or alternatively to consider every little detail before actually setting the wheels in motion. Jullien had some advice for anyone like me.
Just buy the plane ticket, already!
Buying the ticket takes less than 15 minutes. After that, you are on the hook to make everything else fall into place. Jullien calls this tool to overcoming procrastination and perfectionism focusing on the “first domino.” If you pick the easiest, most impactful domino to knock out, it sets the rest of the tasks in motion. Tackle the lowest hanging fruit and you are on your way towards accomplishing your goal.
The tricky part is realizing that the first domino probably isn’t the chronological first step. You’d think you want to know all the details before buying your plane ticket for vacation. But knowing all of the details is an excuse not to plan your vacation. For comparison, think about how effective you already are when you apply the first domino trick to reading your email. If you read every single email chronologically, you’d never get to the important ones. Instead, when you see an email in your inbox from your boss, you’ll probably skip over the LivingSocial deal and the daily news headlines to open and respond to it.
So take a moment to figure out the first domino for the report and go for it. Writing the introduction first might be tough, but finishing that tough middle paragraph makes wrapping up the rest of the report a breeze.
We all experience the effects of procrastination and perfectionism in the workplace. Especially if you’re new to your firm, you can be under a lot of pressure both to figure things out all on your own and to juggle multiple projects simultaneously. But with your newfound strategies to prioritize low-hanging fruit and to work with a circle of peers who hold you accountable for the project, you should be right on track to a decent night’s cupcake-run-free sleep after a project done well.
Originally published on Forbes.