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Published November 05 2011

Swift: Perfectionism + procrastination = Perfectionation

My clever friend “Lois” has coined a term.

It’s called “perfectionation.”

It’s the process of setting such ambitious goals for a certain task that you begin to dread tackling the project. As a result, you put it off. Or, if you prefer, you “perfectionate.”

I frequently do this. It is never enough to host a dinner party. I also need to make everything from scratch, buy new china, repaint the living room and have the dogs reupholstered to match.

At about 11 p.m. the night before the party, I find myself still scrubbing walls and sobbing hysterically. By 2 a.m., I decide the only solution is to call all the guests and tell them I’ve come down with a teensy case of diphtheria.

This, my friends, is perfectionating at its worst.

I have spent years looking for the root cause of my procrastination. Some say the tendency to put off obligations is a passive-aggressive stunt – a way to show the bean-counters and taskmasters of the world that “you’re not the boss of me!”

Some are eternal optimists who always underestimate the amount of time a task will take.

And, yes, some are truly perfectionists, paralyzed by unrealistic expectations.

Granted, I am likely affected by all these factors to a certain degree.

But, as always, I have my own theories.

I think we procrastinate because it feels good.

Think about it. Few things feel more perfect than that precise moment in which you decide to put something off. For a few brief, shimmering moments, you are liberated from the clock. You have briefly regained control of your life – if only in a fleeting, self-defeating kind of way.

“No,” you tell yourself. “I will not prepare for that upcoming IRS audit. Instead, I will choose to ‘seize the day’ by watching that ‘Three’s Company’ marathon, inventorying my foot-care products and cleaning my keys with a Q-Tip.”

If procrastination is wrong, why does it feel so right?

Another important point about procrastination is that it’s productive. Not so much in accomplishing the tasks you’re avoiding, but in accomplishing other stuff while avoiding the tasks.

Indeed, I get more things done around the house when I’m trying to delay work projects. If it weren’t for the presence of a weekly column looming over my head, I probably would have never learned how to vacuum the siding on our house or alphabetize the cheeses in our meat drawer. I would have never installed a carbon-monoxide detector in the dog house, picked all the cat hair off the living room carpet with a tweezers, taught myself how to make a Baked Alaska, or completed that seven-day online course in conversational Portuguese.

“Olá, meu nome é Anónimo. Onde está a mais próximo resto sala?”

It’s weird, because everyone I know seems to procrastinate – at least to a certain degree. If truth be told, only the hardest-charging and most militant of the Type A’s really want to do the work we’ve been assigned to do.

Perhaps, when you get down to it, procrastination, or its step-sister perfectionation, is an incredibly natural urge, which we’ve been taught to resist.

If we didn’t resist, bridges wouldn’t be built, term papers wouldn’t get done and important legal documents wouldn’t be filed on time. Most importantly, guilt wouldn’t be instilled.

Oh well. Guess I’ll just have to keep rebelling in my own tiny, insignificant ways.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a Baked Alaska in the oven.

“Adeus!”

Inforum searchword: Tammy Swift

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Tammy Swift at (701) 241-5525

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