September 5, 2019

Perfectionist Procrastination

Mental Health & Wellbeing

Recently, I have found myself having a lot of conversations with people about how much they struggle with procrastination. Many of them worry that it speaks to a moral failing or a deeper lack of motivation when they procrastinate.

I often find myself procrastinating on the simplest of tasks for reasons that do not seem readily immediate to me. Often, I find myself working right up to a deadline and wishing that I had taken the time to be more proactive with my work. It ends up being more stressful to procrastinate than if I had slowly worked on the assigned task over time.

This has led me to wonder- If procrastination is so stressful, why do we procrastinate? Here are some of the reasons I’ve discovered over time:

Conflicting Priorities

We all have urgent tasks that creep up throughout the day and prevent us from being able to focus on the things that are most important uses of our time. Email, social media, texts, work calls, unplanned meetings, errands, and the needs of others often interfere with our ability to get more important things done. In these situations, we need to take a look at whatever is stealing our time, and determine when would be a better time to attend to these tasks.

If you have an urgent project coming up, estimate how many hours that you think it will take you to complete the project. Schedule the times when you will work on the project in your calendar. If you notice that you do not have enough time to complete the project between your other obligations, determine which non-essential tasks will have to be postponed to make room for the more important task. It is important to note that we often treat eating, sleeping, or relaxation as non-essential tasks, but these things can actually be the things that improve our productivity the most.


Once you have evaluated your priorities and created room to work on important tasks, you may find that it is still a challenge to accomplish these tasks. When this happens, it’s possible that fear is preventing you from moving forward. It is difficult to finish tasks when you think that you will not be able to do the task perfectly or you do not feel like you know what you are doing.

In these situations, you can choose to evaluate your expectations for the task. How do you determine when you have done enough to satisfy the expectations others have for you? Who can you talk to so that you can receive clarity on the task? If you are afraid of approaching that person, what can you do to feel more confident in the questions you need to ask?

Believing You’re Procrastinating When You’re Not

For many perfectionists, there is this struggle to accomplish a task in the right way. They believe that they must make progress on a project in a certain way or they are not actually working on the project adequately. This means that they probably feel like failures when they look at a project, start gathering their thoughts, and then stop taking action on the project until the pressure of the deadline looms and they have no choice but to resume the task at hand.

In this situation, these perfectionists are not actually procrastinating. Instead, as they focus on other tasks, they begin to mull over the problem in their mind, think about solutions, and begin to outline how they will present their final product. Once the pressure of the deadline comes closer, they are able to move into the final stages of the project more efficiently because they have subconsciously taken the time to prepare for it.

While this may not look like the traditional form of task management we are taught as children, it is still a way of working and making progress toward a goal. For this reason, people who work like this can remove the guilt they place on themselves for being, “lazy,” or, “unmotivated,” with their work.

What happens when you can’t accomplish a task?

When you don’t accomplish a task, this requires some examination as well. You may find that the task was not that important to begin with. You might also find that there were other things that you wanted to focus on for yourself. This often happens with the goals that we set for ourselves because we felt like we should, instead of pursuing the things we are truly passionate about.

If you find that you often struggle to accomplish tasks or that fear constantly holds you back from doing what you want, a therapist can help you overcome these problems. A lack of motivation is often not your fault and it’s useful to have the support of someone else in order to help you regain your sense of accomplishment. Call today to begin reclaiming your motivation and confidence in yourself!

Written by therapist Elise Champanhet

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