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You’re Not a Perfectionist, You’re a Procrastinator

by | Feb 19, 2024 | Life Hacks

Perfectionism is a lie just like wealth equality.

Writer David Perell says “Perfectionism isn’t real. Really, it’s a mask for procrastination.” I agree. When I hear someone say they’re a perfectionist it upsets me. So much wasted potential.

In a fast-moving world, taking too much time to be perfect will trap you.

As someone who spent a decade making music and only releasing a few songs, here’s how you beat perfectionism.

Perfectionism is an illusion that’ll burn your dreams to the ground

I met a strange writer today. They wanted to write every day. They gave up after five days.

“I just can’t maintain habits.”

Before this conversation he’d not shown up to two Zoom calls with me or responded to my emails. When we finally spoke he revealed he wanted his writing to be perfect. If it’s not, he was worried it might ruin his reputation.

That could lead him to get fired. And once he has a career gap on his resume, he may never get hired again. See the illusion?

Perfectionism makes us think our whole world is going to end. In writing, it means we write heaps but never finish a draft. In simple terms, perfectionism is when we don’t know when to finish.

We just keep making it better. But done gets greater results than better.

Perfectionism is just a form of procrastination. We tell ourselves we’re Michelangelo carving a man out of stone and we need to make sure his peni$ is perfectly shaped.

But really, we’re probably a nobody and no one is paying attention that closely. Our work is probably not going to turn into the Eiffel Tower. The fictional story we wrote is probably not going to be the next Harry Potter.

Perfectionism makes us think we’re some fake celebrity.

Some people talk about perfectionism like it’s a positive personality trait. “Like, I’m just a perfectionist, babe. Deal with it.” Author Ankur Warikoo has a great comeback for these people:

“I am a perfectionist” is not a virtue. It is a cage!

Here’s how to quit procrastination forever.

10 reps is better than 10 steps

(Zach Pogrob)

The gym mindset destroys procrastination.

So go work out and make your boobs the best they can be, seriously. The information age sold us the lie that all we need is “These 10 Quick Steps.” What we actually need is to do 10 reps.

Action leads to better insight than second-hand information — a form of herpes — ever will.

Perfectionism is often an elaborate form of procrastination — Justin Welsh

Overthinking is also procrastination in disguise

When we overthink action everything gets harder.

Eventually we can’t decide so we do nothing. If the decision continues to be impossible, we’ll repeat doing nothing for 40 years and call it a career with a salary and health insurance.

Newsletter writer Sherry has a great thought on overthinking:

Overthinking kills dreams more than failure does. Decisions are the unit economics of life — choosing one thing is simultaneously the rejection of all other things. If you never act, you’ll end up with nothing but expired imaginations. You can’t just “think about it”.

More thinking rarely solves problems. An imperfect decision makes more sense. That’s what lets you move on and avoid procrastination.

Deciding also creates focus. With focus we can direct our attention to the most valuable tasks and stop getting distracted with bulls*t.

Don’t let your dreams expire and die, and go to the grave with you.

The cost of procrastination is the life you could’ve lived. — Aaron Will

The two biggest seductions that are more tempting than p*rn

Procrastinators love to learn more.

They are a Harvard University wet dream. They mistakenly think more information is the answer. But we’re drowning in information.

If all we needed was more information we’d all be Elon Musks, driving Lambos, and buying birdy apps for billions of dollars. We need more action, failures, and rejections to truly learn anything.

The other big seduction procrastinators fall for is planning. They think they need a strategy doc with 69 slides that’ll impress their boss and get them an A+ in corporate wank talk. Nope.

A better option is to have a rough outline.

Why? Because plans get pissed on by random events and even black swans like Coroni-rona bat viruses.

Imperfect action always beats perfect inaction.

“I’ll do it tomorrow.”

Even worse is “I’ll do it later.”

Later doesn’t even have a deadline. How lazy is that?! Author Shane Parrish says, “Telling yourself you’ll do it tomorrow is how dreams die.”

There’s a further downside. The more times you delay action to a fictitious point in the future, the more negative momentum you create.

Imagine walking along the footpath eating a chocolate and mango gelato and there’s a 50-foot snowball creeping up behind you. That’s what delaying action feels like.

The longer you wait to take action the harder it gets. Eventually it becomes so impossible to start that you never do. The next day you wake up with runny poos and don’t know what to do.

When it’s life or death you take action regardless of whether you’re the best (or ready)

The greatest wake-up call I ever got was a cancer scare.

It’s easy to procrastinate when you think you have time to and death feels like it’s a million miles away. But when death feels like it’s two weeks away, everything changes.

Two years ago a 30 year old singer named Nightbirde went on that TV show America’s Got Talent. She always wanted to be a singer but never made much progress. She walked onto the stage full of hope with a big smile.

No one in the audience knew her secret.

During question time she revealed she had been battling cancer for many years. It’d recently returned and showed up in her lungs, spine, and liver. But she said she was okay.

She then sang her heart out. The audience lost their minds. She got a standing ovation. The video blew up on Youtube. After the audition she revealed to the judges that she didn’t just have cancer. No.

“I have a 2% chance of survival. But that’s not 0%.”

Let those words sink in. They made me cry when I heard them for the first time. The level of wisdom Nightbirde got from her cancer battle is hard to imagine. She went on to have a short career for a few months.

Then she died.

Her story puts everything into perspective. Procrastination doesn’t exist when you know how easy it is to wake up and die tomorrow.

It all boils down to this

Entrepreneur Naval Ravikant said this:

When you’re serious, you just do it.

All this talk of perfectionism and procrastination is nothing but a giant excuse. You either want your f*cking goal or you don’t. Stop lying to yourself with made-up illnesses and fantasies of not enough time.

If you’re serious about a goal or dream, you just get on with it because you’re obsessed with it. That’s what is missed.

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