Looking at ourselves and the world through the lens of the 21st century.

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Procrastination, Perfectionism, and Expectations


Yesterday on the podcast, you heard Christen introduce the idea of the 70% Method (or Rule) to help combat perfectionism and become more productive. Like Christen, I am a procrastinator. I can find all kinds of things to do to avoid starting or working on a project, and for many different reasons, including perfectionism. In fact, I’m writing this blog post at 12:42 A.M. and it is technically supposed to post at 9:00 A.M. That means I’m going to have to hope Amber can proofread it first thing in the morning, and I might get it posted sometime around noon. Oops….

This is not a new behavior for me. I may have mentioned my bookkeeping and taxes a time or two on the podcast; they’ve become a long-standing thorn in my side because I can never seem to get them caught up. As the tax deadline looms, panic mode sets in and I scramble as hard as I can to crunch all those numbers and get them handed over to my accountant for the tax prep part of it. Then, as soon as I get the previous year’s reports turned in, I slump into a “much-needed reprieve” from the stress – in other words, I drop it like it’s hot and move on to the next thing until tax crunch time rolls around again the next year. As time goes on, my dilly-dallying pushes me closer and closer to the deadline until…oops! Yep, I got my files turned in too late to make the extension deadline. Now what?

When Christen shared the info about the 70% Rule, she was talking about the problem of perfectionism getting in the way of starting on (or finishing) a project. It’s a valid point. As an artist and writer, I am as guilty as they come, and I often feel like I have nothing at all to say, create, or write, unless it is the perfect thing to say, create, or write. But what’s the deal with my taxes? I certainly don’t have any aspirations of perfection when I’m tallying up how much money I spent on office supplies and postage – it is what it is. So, why can’t I seem to get motivated to work on that bookkeeping throughout the year and keep that stress down to a minimum?

The answer is pain avoidance, another common reason for procrastination. Yep, those taxes are not what I want to be doing. I’d rather be doing just about anything else in this whole world than sitting down with my calculator and a whole stack of computer reports and bank statements. I look over at that ginormous box of receipts, and my monkey brain says, “Time for a snack!” Then, 10 minutes later, it suddenly remembers that I need to add mustard to the grocery list. Oh, and don’t forget to start a load of laundry! It doesn’t help that I have ADHD and have a hard time focusing on unpleasant tasks anyway. So, while the 70% rule is great for combatting perfectionism, it doesn’t solve my problem. Besides, I don’t think I want my taxes to be only 70%, no matter how quickly I complete them – the I.R.S. might frown on that.

Procrastinators, especially those of us who practice pain avoidance, are masters at coming up with reasons to evade the things they would rather not do. “I need to set up this cruise workbook…”, “the laundry needs to be folded,” and “Mercury’s in retrograde,” have all been an excuse at some time or another. Okay, maybe not “Mercury in retrograde,” but you get my point. My excuses always have something to do with time, and I’ve often claimed that I just have too much to do and not enough time to do it. That part is probably true, but it’s my own fault. I could set aside some things to focus on those taxes. Yes, the laundry will pile up, but I can still see all of that cruise group’s data on the printouts in a folder instead of a ring binder. The point is, the world won’t come to an end if I let those things slide and just get focused on the taxes for a time so that I can get them done. I just have a hard time letting go of how I think things should be. My expectation is that the laundry will be folded and put away on Monday after I wash it, and I feel like I should set up that cruise binder just as soon as I book the group so that it can serve as a handy reference tool while I add new reservations and other documents to it.

This idea of expectations came to me from Christen a few weeks ago. We were working on our One Little Word projects for October and we interviewed each other (along with another friend) on how we were progressing with our words this year. At one point, I asked the question, “What is the one thing I could let go of in my life that would make the biggest positive difference?” I was expecting answers like, “over-scheduling yourself”, “taking care of everyone else”, or “doing all the housework”, but the first answer I got was, “Let go of your expectations.” (Boy, do I wish she’d said, “Let go of doing all the housework!”) It took me by surprise, but it only took me a minute to realize she was right. I have this expectation that my day…my schedule…my life is going to be a certain way. That I will wash the laundry on Monday, and Tuesday I will run errands. I often schedule so much into my day because I feel it is expected of me to stay on top of all these things. In reality, I am so overscheduled that there is no way I could complete it all, and on top of that, it leaves no room for me to edit my plan or to work on something that is not part of that routine. The taxes and reporting part of my business happen only at certain times, so they defy my expectations of how my schedule will work. To further complicate things, I just heap on even more expectations by thinking I should be getting all these things done on my task list, but what happens is that the list is so daunting, I don’t even know where to start. My expectations are so unreasonable that I actually give up before I even begin.

Just this morning, I spoke with my therapist about the interview project and how I agreed or disagreed with some of the answers I got. And while I did agree with Christen on the issue of expectations to some extent, I did not agree with the assessment of my other friend who was part of the interview (more on that in a future blog post). It left me feeling like there was something they missed. Surely there is something I could let go of that would make my life easier. But what could I let go of that would make the biggest difference for me? As we talked it over, the only thing that came to my mind was the stress of being the responsible party for my mother, who (as I’ve mentioned before) has dementia. She currently lives in a memory care facility, but it is very expensive, and her money is dwindling fast. I’m now faced with the daunting task of moving her again, and it’s a task that I’ve put off for far too long (there’s that pain avoidance again). 

What my counselor helped me to see was that even though I can’t let go of the responsibility of moving my mother, I can break it down into smaller, more palatable chunks and then focus on it wholeheartedly until I get that chunk done. The key here is focusing on that one thing that is most important right now (remember the Eisenhower Matrix?) – what is the most urgent and important? In a way, it’s a lot like ripping off the bandaid; it only hurts for a minute and then it’s done. It also helps to keep the “why” at the forefront. Why is this task so important? 

This also plays into another percentage rule – the 80/20 rule, which states that 80% of your results come from 20% of your efforts. By using effective time management to prioritize and work on only the most vital few things, I can be more productive and it will have the biggest consequences in my life. If I can just spend 20% of my time working on those big things I’ve been avoiding, it will make a huge difference in my productivity because the most important things will be done. On top of that, I won’t have spent so much time making myself miserable by thinking about (and beating myself up over) all the things I’ve been procrastinating. That means less stress, and I like the sound of that! 

So tonight, I sat down to write this blog, having nothing to say (or so I thought), but I just started typing, and here we are at the end. Obviously, I did have something to say after all, and I’m glad I managed to prioritize this task and make myself do it. By shutting down that perfectionist in me and allowing myself to present an idea that was just 70% good, I managed to knock out two and a half pages about procrastinating, perfectionism, and expectations, and it’s only 2:48 A.M. And that, my friends, means it’s time for bed!

If you enjoyed this post, or you have more to add, please feel free to comment below or start up a conversation on our Modern Musings Facebook group: MMC Chat

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