Herding Fish

coaching for artists and makers

Procrastination and Perfectionism

8 May 2022

I sometimes think my top skill might be procrastination. I certainly have considerable experience with many of its various forms and with its favourite partner in crime – perfectionism. And once those two take up residence in your head, there’s all kinds of trouble brewing.

Creatives are resourceful, ingenious, problem solvers who generally have more ideas than we can ever actually complete. We bend ourselves into all kinds of shapes to satisfy funders, galleries, employers, Instagram. In the self-employed multi-stranded freelancer soup we run out of time most days. It can feel like we’re only one spilled coffee away from overwhelm.

One of the key skills in creative practice is knowing what to say NO to. As James Clear points out: Not doing something will always be faster than doing it. He also makes the point that saying YES to something potentially cancels the possibility of accepting something more exciting next week. Pretty much everything takes longer than we imagine. So when we commit to doing anything, we have to want it enough to be ok with whatever else might come along that it will have left us with no time for. We have to know what we’re really about.

Necessity may well be the mother of invention, but limited resources are also deeply confining. Mistakes eat up time and materials, and the financial cost can be hard to justify. Inaction also costs though. Week and months roll by. Plans get written and re-written and avoidance of The Thing becomes The Thing. As we spin our wheels in procrastination and walk ourselves through the perfectionist plan one more time, the risk of disaster feels less, but at what cost?

Procrastination and perfectionism may do a great job of protecting you from risk. But what would happen if you dive in and do it anyway? It might go a bit wrong and it might well take longer than you thought – but you have to start somewhere. In reality there are no mistakes of course, and some of our best creative work happens when we’re actually trying to do something else. So as spring rolls into full bloom, I invite you to look at those places where procrastination and perfectionism have set up camp and ask if you can afford to let them stay there.