I still remember the stinging tone the man used when his wife shared that she felt perfectionistic tendencies led to her low self-esteem. “You’re not a perfectionist! Perfectionists actually get things done.”
Ouch. As a therapist and coach, I often see people in their worst moments saying the most hateful things. But this particular turn of phrase left me with lots of thoughts about what a perfectionist really is. And furthermore, how could perfectionism possibly be a negative trait when it comes to work? What does this have to do with productivity? Plus, you can’t really study productivity without also spending time understanding procrastination, right? #LifelongLearner #PsychologyNerd
Perfectionism as procrastination
My theory is that some perfectionists actually use their endless tweak-and-fiddle habits as a means of procrastination. What do I mean?
Years ago when I still worked in a corporate setting, my frustration mounted as a colleague in the next cubicle spent the better part of an 8-hour shift clicking through all of the fonts in Microsoft Word trying to choose the best one for a poster that would read, “Closed Labor Day.” Talk about meaningless busywork! Fast forward a decade…
Some days I find myself veering towards “correctly” entering our homeschool grades or instructional topics into the Trello board where I store our progress portfolio. In fact, I cringe to admit that sometimes I might spend an hour on that Trello board…when my time would be better used digging into multiplication facts with my kiddos.
Does the habit of hopping into a busywork task feel more appealing to you than performing some of the less rewarding bits of home education? Furthermore, does this busywork leave you feeling depleted, frustrated, and irritable with interruptions? Guilty. 🙋♀️
Homeschool hack #1
One of my favorite tools for maintaining progress is to use the Pomodoro Method. It’s really quite simple: When you sit down to a task, make a written note of what it is you’re working to accomplish. Set a timer for 25 minutes and get busy. When the timer ends, take a moment to jot down the very next task you’ll need to attack, then take a 5-minute (mandatory) break. After your break, you’ll use your written note to repeat the process.
Why is the Pomodoro Method so effective for perfectionists and procrastinators? I think it’s because the act of writing our intention is powerful for our focus, and the addition of a timer helps us catch ourselves more quickly if we’ve wandered down the rabbit hole of distraction. (i.e., “Why am I looking up hammocks on Pinterest?! This block was supposed to be reserved for writing a blog post about beekeeping!!”)
Procrastination as a protective mechanism
The pull to remain in homeostasis is strong! It’s literally what our bodies are made to do with temperature, blood sugar, and respirations. This pull toward sameness can also cause us to lean into just a few more chapters of that juicy novel, a couple more Netflix episodes, and staying just a tad longer under the covers. Nevermind that our lesson plans for the week sit incomplete on the table nearby.
Please hear me: There should be absolutely NO guilt in taking a rest when you need it. The flexibility of home education is what draws many of us in. That said, sometimes procrastination becomes habitual and we need a coping skill to overcome it.
Homeschool hack #2
If garnering the mental or physical energy you need to start a task just feels too daunting, consider a 10-minute burst. Set a timer for 10 minutes and simply start anywhere on the troublesome task you’ve been avoiding. At the end of 10 minutes, you have permission to walk away from the task guilt-free until your next 10-minute burst…but many times, getting over the hump of just starting will energize you enough to keep going. 🙌
The trouble with perfectionism and comparison
“Why should I even drag out the chalk pastels today? It’s just going to end up a total mess and it never looks like the instructional video!” Sound familiar?
Now that homeschooling plays out all over Instagram with filters and fakey props, comparison is more prevalent than ever. The psychological damage of constantly scrolling highly-edited images wears on us. And don’t get me started on podcasts! How many of them leave you feeling like a big ol’ failure when you hear the “easy” ways to incorporate 12 different vegetables a day into your kids’ diet…but you’re listening while stirring the third pot of mac and cheese this week?
The feeling that we’ll never measure up can lead some of us to never even start. We give up before we even get a chance to begin―because that surely feels better than the actual vulnerability of dragging ourselves through the Pinterest instructions for spinach muffins only to find out that ours taste like lawnmower clippings.
Homeschool hack #3
Social and other media can poison our minds more quickly than we realize. Might I humbly suggest that you take a 5-day fast from these, just to see what happens? This may sound extreme to some of you, particularly ones who do business on social media, but it can be done! Even business owners can plan and schedule their content for 5 days ahead in order to allow for some time offline.
After your fast, resist the urge to jump back in full force. Instead, carefully consider your feed. What accounts make you feel inspired and happy? Which ones make you feel ashamed, guilty, and anxious? This gives you a good idea of which accounts to unfollow. The fantastic thing about social media is that we can curate it to show us only what we truly want!
While working diligently to perform tasks to the best of your ability is certainly a positive trait, any one of us can be tripped up by perfectionism and procrastination. Using a few simple behavioral shifts with psychological impact can make the difference between an afternoon spent in needless busywork and an afternoon of meaningful engagement in learning.