How to overcome the evils of perfectionism and procrastination

It’s easy to keep motivated at work when you have the incentive of a future promotion, or a demanding boss breathing down your neck. But how do you stay productive when you’re working from home, freelancing or running your own business?

As much as we may be determined to succeed, the twin evils of perfectionism and procrastination are all-too-often there to trip us up and eat into our precious child-free work hours – with little to show for our efforts at the end of the day.

To help you maximise your work time, Yvette Ankrah, director of Ankrah Associates – a company that supports female-led small businesses to achieve their business dreams – shares her steps for overcoming perfectionism and procrastination.

Are you a perfectionist?

It’s been pretty hectic at home recently. My husband has been studying for an MBA for the last two and a half years, and I’ve noticed that, as he approached his deadline, instead of proofing his paper he kept re-writing it. Even the title was changed repeatedly until the last minute!

I had to remind him of the deadline and to just let it go. While it’s certainly very important to have standards, and complete projects to the best of your ability, you need to know when good enough is just that – good enough.

The simple fact is that perfectionism wastes time and stops you moving forward. And who is to say exactly when something is ‘perfect’? You could rework a project endlessly and never feel satisfied enough to deliver it.

So if you find yourself almost getting to the end of a task, but getting caught up in finishing the final details (and maybe never even actually delivering it!) you too may be trapped by your perfectionism.

How do you overcome perfectionism?

So how do you stop perfectionism from being a block in your path to success? Try following these three simple steps:

1) Know your purpose – set realistic goals

What is it you are trying to do? Have you set yourself a SMART goal?  Once you have a good idea of what you are trying to achieve you know when you can stop.

2) Good enough is okay – know when to stop

Once you’re clear about your goal, be strict with yourself and stop when you’ve achieved it. If you find yourself reworking something over and over again, stop and review your goal again. Be confident that you have accomplished what you set out to do, and be happy to leave it at that. You can always set yourself new goals to start working towards for your next project.

3) Make mistakes – they’re great learning tools

Don’t shy away from mistakes. When you liberate yourself from the constraints of  always being right, you give yourself the freedom to experiment, and discover new, potentially more successful solutions for problems. So if you do make an error, don’t dwell on the negative – instead focus on what you can take from the experience to ensure future success.

Are you a procrastinator?

If perfectionism had a sister, she would be procrastination. There are so many delicious distractions around today – Facebook, email, Twitter… even housework can suddenly seem appealing when faced with a blank computer screen.

When I began my PhD, my husband could tell my level of productivity by the dinner menu. A great day hitting targets equalled a takeaway. A slow day meant a three-course gourmet meal!

In order to overcome procrastination it’s important to understand why you do it. Are you bored? Tired? Overwhelmed? Or simply stuck? When you know why you’re not making progress, you can find ways to move past your blocks and learn alternative ways of managing the task. This can range from outsourcing to completely changing how you tackle your tasks.

How do you overcome procrastination?

Time is too precious to waste – especially when you’re juggling the demands of motherhood with your work, freelance career or business. Instead of wasting precious time, you can learn to use it more wisely and even create more time. All you need to do is follow another three simple steps:

1) Set boundaries – they’re great for managing time

One of the biggest procrastination issues is letting tasks bleed into each other. Email is one good example. How often have you stopped at a tricky point in a project and ‘just checked your emails’, only to find yourself still replying to non-urgent messages half an hour later – and using up your precious work time?

Instead, set clear boundaries for tasks and stick to them. Give yourself specific times for jobs like checking emails, and decide exactly how long you are allowed for them. Disable pop ups that alert you to new messages (remember to switch your phone to silent too) and use auto responders so people know when you will respond. Use the same strategy for Facebook and Twitter etc too. If you do need to keep on top of social media often, allocate a five minute slot every hour or half hour, and make sure you stick to it.

2) Batch tasks – get more done ‘in one go’

Every time we switch between tasks, we lose warm up time – the time it takes for our brain to switch off from one job and get up to speed on another. So it makes sense to group similar tasks together, and do them in one go when your brain is all fired up. You’ll probably find you can achieve a lot more, more quickly.

So look at the jobs you need to do over the next week, and work out what jobs can be done in one go, instead of spread in random times over the week. For example, set aside a morning or afternoon for admin and finance. Send out all your invoices and chase payments.

Put aside another half or full day for more creative tasks, like writing blogs and scheduling your tweets and updates for the week. With a clear structured timetable you can play to your brain’s strengths and enjoy the satisfaction of ticking a week’s task off the list each day.

3) Incentivise yourself – look forward to a nice reward

If you’re dreading tackling a particularly unpleasant task or a series of tasks, promise yourself an incentive for finishing it. It can be a simple as a cup of tea and ten minutes on Facebook, or the lure of a chilled glass of white wine at the end of the day. The prospect of a nice treat will give you that extra push to get started on the project, and keep you in track until it’s done.

Apply these tactics and you can soon look forward to that satisfying feeling of a well-spent, productive day every day – and reap the rewards of your work. (If you need a little more structured help, you can try this quick but highly effective technique to overcome procrastination.)

Yvette Ankrah is the director of Ankrah Associates, a company that supports female-led small businesses to achieve their business dreams. She also runs the Harlow and Epping Mumpreneurs Networking Club.