Home All Procrastination or Perfectionism – Pay the Price!

Procrastination or Perfectionism – Pay the Price!

written by Sulynn January 28, 2007

Sulynn, MAPP '06, lives with her daughter in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. She provides consulting and coaching services, leading her own company, Human Capital Perspectives. Sulynn is also the founder of the Asian Center for Applied Positive Psychology (ACAPP). Full bio.

Sulynn's articles are here.



I had a month to write this article. I thought about what to write. A fortnight ago I checked to see what others wrote. Three days ago I sat down to write. The brief said anything from one to ten paragraphs. Now how difficult can that be? My head is often swimming with thoughts, ideas and arguments. What a cinch!

Let me share with you what happened next. I spent 8 hours writing and deleting over and over. The themes change, the titles follow. Then the copy needs to be edited to sync with the new title. Oops! The paragraph looks too long, let me see what is superfluous. Hmm this sounds really self-centred, first impressions count. Okay delete all but the first paragraph and the last, and flesh out the middle. Groan! This is so hard. Why did I agree to write? What was I thinking? Oh no! 6 hours gone. Was I working in Csikszentmihalyi flow or was I wasting time fussing? Margaret Greenberg would tell me to get it out the door. But I am not done yet! Yawn … gosh it’s 2 am. Eastern time is 13 hours behind so I can go to bed and look at this from a fresh perspective tomorrow while I am waiting for the kid at rehearsals. 

I woke up this morning and it’s my birthday. Phone calls and messages took up time. I will have two hours at the office. I must do the Pos-Psych piece. Wait – the stuff I wrote last night is so depressing. This is a webpage on positive psychology. It’s a Sunday morning and my special day! Let me think of a fresh topic with some zing. Great! Park the car, walk up and focus. Don’t do anything else or I’ll get distracted. Get the thumb drive out and plug it onto the laptop. Print a hard copy for review. Drat! I have not installed the new printer yet. Where is that installation CD? Ok, let’s install this thingamagic and we are in business. Why is the document not printing? Check the settings. Try again. No? Switch off and then on again? Yep it worked. Good, here it comes. Urghh two pages of depressing narratives.

I read through and made some edits. Oh no! Time to go to the civic hall for my kid’s concert. What? Two hours already? Gotta ago. Stuff the two pages into my bag for further editing in the afternoon while waiting for the kid. Sounds like a plan. The hall lights are too dim. Never mind, there’s time to edit the paper afterwards. Oh, I have not been to this mall for a year or more, might as well take a leisurely walk around.

And so … the hours whittled away until an hour ago. Now I sit here falling asleep trying to write 1 to 10 paragraphs. I made a commitment which I must honor. So I am sharing with you the struggles of a procrastinator-perfectionist – who pays the price every time.

The last minute approaches…

One self-report profile tells me I have a tendency to spend as long as possible gathering information, changing styles, exploring possibilities and generally waiting to see what happens before commiting to an outcome or decision. A friend once said of me that ‘if not for the last minute’ nothing would get done. That’s so true. Great ideas, well thought out plans, well stocked resources, lots of zest and yet ….

I wonder how many are like me – agonizing over every thing-to-do or get done. How do you manage? How did you change? Are you like me all the time or selectively? I feel like Jekyll and Hyde! My clients and work mates see me as super efficient, a stickler for punctuality and a tiiresome perfectionist. At home I am the opposite. 

In our studies at MAPP, we learned about the stages of change, the paradox of choice, the importance of knowing what we have control over, resilience, perseverance, gratitude and hope. I certainly hope you will bear with me. I am grateful that you have read thus far. I will definitely be back next month, and plan to be more lucid. Start writing the next article early and not change the topic midstream. In fact I have already decided to write about ‘strengths and talents’ in 10-12 years-old. Watch this space!


 
Reference

Choong, S. & Britton, K. H. (2006). Character strengths and type: Exploration of covariation. International Coaching Psychology Review, 2 (1), 9-23.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience.. New York: Harper Perennial.

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10 comments

Senia January 28, 2007 - 12:15 pm

Happy BIRTHDAY to you!!!!!!
Great article – totally can see you in that space – a space we’ve all visited, some more regularly, and the point it – it doesn’t matter in the long run – you can make your way out of it for next time. Have a great birthday year!!! S.

Reply
Kathryn Britton January 28, 2007 - 6:08 pm

Sulynn,

You gave me the gift of a big laugh. How did we ever finish a capstone project together? But … things do happen, last minutes do arrive, and it will soon be in print.

It’s for me to mention the upside of your Myers-Briggs Perceiving “P” preference . When some of us with the Judging “J” preference get our minds set on something, sometimes we just don’t want to see when something better comes along. So somewhere between us is Aristotle’s expert mean, the perfect point between deficit & excess.

Happy Birthday!
K

Reply
David J. Pollay January 28, 2007 - 8:57 pm

Hi Sulynn,

Happy Birthday to you! Thanks for a fast-paced laugh!

Sulynn, you’re also modest because you are able to do so many things in your life, and do them well. We know that there is not a lot of idle time in your life!

Have a wonderful week!

Warm Regards,

David

Reply
Sulynn Choong January 29, 2007 - 8:08 am

Haha! I was waiting to see how positive psychology would work here. Thanks guys! you are undoubtedly ‘1st Class’ MAPP alumni. Love ya.

Reply
Dana Arakawa January 29, 2007 - 10:22 am

Hi Sulynn!! Happy Belated Birthday! I loved reading your article and found it a refreshing way to introduce an interesting topic…and a great reminder that so many things are learned in the process, which is just as important, if not more so, than the outcome. Hope you had a wonderful bday 🙂 Love, Dana

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Editor S.M. January 29, 2007 - 8:27 pm

Master-Reality.ru website has translated this article into Russian.
Here it is:
http://www.master-reality.ru/main.php?script=news&action=shownews&id=22

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Dave Shearon January 30, 2007 - 8:33 am

Greetings, Sulynn, and happy birthday! You and me both, babe! We share the “gather more info” approach. In fact, when my positive psychology portfolio was a set of songs that help me “pull the trigger” and get things done!

Reply
Margaret January 30, 2007 - 9:33 am

Sulynn — I thoroughly enjoyed reading your post — I could just picture YOU in my mind’s eye! Although I would have advised you to just “Get-It-Out-the-Door”, I must admit, I haven’t always subscribed to that approach. For many years I labored over getting papers, proposals, reports, etc. “out the door”. What changed for me was having children. I suddenly (or maybe not so suddenly) realized that I wanted to spend more time with my girls, than in front of my computer. Now they are grown and off to college, and I have more time to spend in front of my computer.

I believe “Get-It-Out-the-Door” is a sub-strength of Persistence, meaning, finishing what one starts. However, Get-It-Out-the-Door implies something more. Many people finish what they start, but they often take a lifetime to do it and often their works are only recognized posthumously, such as French painter Paul Gauguin.

Wherever people have work to finish or a product to get out, there is a tension between making it better and getting it done (Becker, 1986). People with the sub-strength “Get-It-Out-the-Door” are able to strike a balance between producing high quality work and knowing when things are good enough. A “Get-It-Out-the-Door” person knows when to say, “It’s ready. I could work on this for another five hours (or five years), but I’m proud of the state it is in now and I’m ready to get it out the door.”

Sulynn, it sounds like you have enough content to write your blogs for the next year! Love, Margaret

Reply
Sulynn Choong January 30, 2007 - 10:39 am

Hi Margaret. No way! I don’t want posthumous recognition. The trouble is when people who procrastinate are perfectionists have young kids and aim to meet deadlines 🙂 At some point, ‘getting it out the door’ becomes the jewel in the crown – forget quality or ‘satisficing’ (Barry Schwartz, in The Paradox of Choice, 2004). Think commitment, duty and accountability – bite the bullet and hit the SEND button. Thankfully there is no grading coz evaluation apprehension makes it even more stressful

Usually – I am with Dave Shearon here – setting up a positive portfolio type work space and time works. However moving between 2 or 3 computers in different locations in snatches of time really throws a spanner in the works. I believe each of us has a preferred mode of learning and doing; unfortunately the world we work in does not always defer to our preferences.

Dana, great catch – we always learn as we go. Those of us who write without learning may be missing out on the wonder of the ever evolving self which incidently is THE outcome – not the article nor the readers’ reception.

My birthday would have been better if I had hit SEND the night before. That’s the price I paid. Work first play later is harder on self-control than play first sleep later. Jon Haidt’s Elephant reigns and the Rider either suffers passively or plays along.

C’est la vie!
Sulynn

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