The following is a guest post from Casey Slide.
Last week I found myself with a few extra minutes, so I thought I’d use the time wisely and clean the spare bathroom. I gathered my supplies, put my hair up in a ponytail, and checked on the napping baby to make sure he wasn’t stirring. All systems go – or so I thought.
As I walked into the bathroom, I took a quick survey of all that needed to be done, and realized I just didn’t have enough time or energy to get the job done perfectly. So rather than dig in and find my strength, I bailed.
It wasn’t that I was procrastinating, and it wasn’t that I was incapable. Somehow, though, I’d instantly determined that the job couldn’t be done to my standards, and it would therefore be a wasted effort.
I admit it: I am a perfectionist. And because of that, far too many things in my life go undone.
I’m not alone. Too many women are hindered by their perfectionism, especially when it comes to keeping a home, which many of us believe defines who we are as women, moms, and spouses.
If our house isn’t tiptop, we must not be either. And ironically, it’s the idea of being the absolute best at taking care of our homes, our children, and our work that can keep us from accomplishing those very things.
So how can a perfectionist get past the idea of being perfect and simply get something done?
1. Get Real
Whenever I’m on the verge of freaking out because something isn’t perfect, I stop, take a deep breath, and order myself to get real. I zoom out from the task I’m performing, and get a scope of the big picture instead of obsessing over that one thing I could be doing better.
If you’ve tackled a task – whether it’s cleaning the bathroom, cooking a meal, or donating old clothes to Goodwill – simply pat yourself on the back. It’s done, you did it, and that’s enough.
2. Understand the “Why” Behind Your Actions
In addition to having a mantra like “get real,” it’s helpful to ask yourself the reason you’re doing something. Is this job going to have a profound effect on you and your loved ones? Is it about keeping up appearances, like having a perfectly manicured lawn? Or is it for your own self-satisfaction like, for instance, warming yourself with a quilt you made by hand?
Having a grasp on why you’re anxious about getting motivated can be the best motivation of all.
3. Decide Which Things Do Need to Be Perfect
Sometimes it really does feel good to complete a task to the best of your abilities. It’s good for you to feel both a sense of accomplishment and self-worth. Perfectionists, though, take on too much of a burden by insisting that everything be mistake proof.
Instead, pick the one or two tasks most important to you. Focus on perfecting those skills, and then lighten up about the rest, accepting that they simply can’t be perfect. Without that self-imposed responsibility, you can approach them much more casually.
After you’ve decided what needs to be perfect in order to feel a sense of balance in your life, take the time to put everything else in order. Talk to your spouse and your children for their take on what matters most to them, and write out a list ranking your priorities.
Once you have a structure for allocating your energy, you can spend less time thinking about all those responsibilities lingering down the road and simply focus on what’s coming up next.
5. Set Time Limits
When you make that list of priorities, designate in advance how long you plan to spend on each task. When it’s in black and white, it’s easier to restrain yourself from spending a ridiculous amount of time on that tiny aspect of a task that stands no chance of improving.
Download a chore chart from the Web if you need help organizing, and, most importantly, stick to your time limits. Your chore chart can be helpful with the kids as well, if you happen to have passed down that perfectionist gene.
6. Don’t Over-schedule
Are you a Yes Girl? Perfectionism takes many forms, and the inability to say no to any potential commitment gets me every time. Can you serve on three committees at both of your kids’ schools? Sure. Can you bring a homemade dessert to the bake sale and a main dish to the teacher appreciation luncheon? Of course.
This kind of attitude can stretch you so thin, and ratchet up your stress level so high, you’re likely to snap. The simplest advice is, learn to say no. Don’t be mean, just be honest. Practice it, and then practice it some more, until you free yourself from commitment addiction and feel the power of your own life again.
7. Don’t Compare Yourself to Others
In my mind, just about every mom appears to be the perfect mother – except me. That perfect mother gets everything done on time, her house is immaculate, and her kids are always on their best behavior. My house, on the other hand, looks like a tornado just twisted through it, dinner was overcooked, and my kids are throwing tantrums yet again.
When you feel like this, see number one above, and get real. How do you know those other moms don’t have help cleaning or taking care of their kids? Nobody is perfect, and if you could be a fly on the wall of that perfect mother’s home, you’d see that. Every mom struggles trying to be all things to all people. Tackle your own tasks, take care of your own kids, and stop worrying about what others are doing or thinking.
8. Seek Help
The saying is true: It takes a village to raise kids. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help before depression sets in. Offer to assist friends with errands, and they can do the same for you. Babysit for each other while you devote time to your projects. There’s power in numbers and in feeling the strength of a solid support network.
Consider hiring a housekeeper even once a month if it’s in your budget. Or if it’s cooking that nightly dinner that overwhelms you, start a sandwich night or weekly pizza party. Trust me, the kids are going to be just fine with that.
9. Realize It’s Not All or Nothing
Anything worth doing takes time. If you’re redecorating a room and you’re not getting it “perfect,” remind yourself that accomplishing tasks is not do-or-die. It’s okay to do something partway and then finish it later.
Often, taking that break can help put things in perspective and give you fresh ideas you wouldn’t have thought of before because you were frustrated or overwhelmed. Take a step back, flip through a magazine, go for a run, and reassess. And if you happen to abandon your project completely, accept that it’s for a reason and that life goes on.
The first step to not feeling stifled by your own intentions is to give yourself a break and take some credit for what you do every day. Appreciating your accomplishments can help put things in perspective and get you to put one foot in front of the other instead of trying to jump straight to the finish line.
Make lists, plan ahead, and just breathe from time to time, and you’re going to be checking off more tasks than you ever thought you could.
How do you overcome perfectionism and procrastination?
Casey Slide is a stay-at-home mom and writer for the popular personal finance blog, Money Crashers. She writes about topics related to budgeting, lifestyle, and green living.