"I couldn't be more stressed out. My division's annual status report is due tomorrow, and I'm sure I will be up all night writing it. I doubt it will be any good. I should have started days ago, but I just couldn't put any words on paper. What's wrong with me? "
You are describing one of the most common reasons for procrastination: perfectionism, says Jerry Minchinton, author of Wising Up: How to Stop Making Such a Mess of Your Life.
Your own words reveal this. You've barely started to write and you've already handed down a verdict: Not good enough.
It's not surprising you're finding it hard to get moving. You've created a world with only two possible outcomes: perfect or pathetic, success or failure.
To get at your underlying attitude, answer these questions:
- Is perfection necessary?
- Is it attainable, considering your resources, time or options?
- Do you fear criticism?
- Do you expect tasks to be easy or without obstacles?
Success is not based on perfection any more than hard work implies no mistakes.
Try these approaches for getting past your fears and stop procrastinating:
Reconsider perfectionism: Perfection is important in brain surgery, rocket science and little else. In most cases, mistakes can be rectified.
Don't make perfection a goal unto itself: The purpose of your annual report is to help your boss stay informed about your division. Your goal isn't to make it perfect, but to make it readable, useful and informative.
Embrace mistakes, failures and imperfections: Incorporate mistakes and failures into your game plan. Mistakes are a great teacher. Expect them. Analyze them. Seek criticism from others. Ask your boss to comment on the report when you are done. Then take notes and tuck them away for the next status report.
Work in manageable steps: Set small, realistic near-term goals. You shouldn't be editing while you are slapping down your first draft. Try one activity at a time. Brainstorming. Outlining. Writing. Polishing. Your goals shouldn't jumble these different tasks.
Ironically, by working methodically, you will not only overcome procrastination, but also move a step closer to perfection, even though it was never asked of you.