Ask the Experts

Dear Organizing Coach: My Quest for Perfection Makes Me Perpetually Late

“Perfectionism procrastination” is a real thing — and it commonly affects children and adults with ADHD, who may try so hard to be perfect that they end up mismanaging their time. Our organizing coach offers advice for reining in these unproductive (and self-destructive) habits.

Q: “I’m always late everywhere. I have problems completing anything on time due to perfectionism and procrastination. Please guide me how to overcome these problems.” —PerfectAlways

Hi Perfect Always:

Let me first assure you that you are not alone. More than half of the population procrastinates in some form or another. We are all wired to put things off, BUT we also have the capacity to override this tendency. Here are some of my tried and true strategies.

1. Break Larger Projects Into Small Achievable Tasks

I can’t stress this point enough. Breaking down tasks into manageable parts makes working toward them less overwhelming, but it ALSO provides multiple opportunities for realizing success. With the completion of each part comes a sense of accomplishment, a feeling of “I can do it!”

So, instead of saying “I need to clean up the backyard,” break down that task into steps like

  • empty flower pots into waste bags
  • bring waste bags to side of house for garbage pickup
  • place empty flower pots and gardening tools in garage, and so on.

It is much easier to wrap your brain around completing each one of these steps, which makes it easier for you to initiate and get started.

[Quiz: How Seriously Do You Procrastinate?]

2. Assign “Due Dates” and Schedule Appointments for Each Task

If the task has a deadline, you can assign a “due date.” Work backward to figure out how much time you need to accomplish each task. Assign deadlines to complete each one and schedule them as regular “appointments” in your calendar so you know when to work on them. This step is critical. Giving your tasks the same importance as your other appointments is critical to time-management success.

3. Use a Timer

This is one of the simplest, yet most powerful tools for keeping you on track. Setting aside a predetermined amount of time to work can help you stay focused and motivated during that time period. If someone only has an hour to do what normally takes two, they are more likely to get in gear and stay there. Use a timer that actually shows time moving (I love the Time Timer), which will provide a helpful cue for visual thinkers.

4. Make Getting Started Simple

Overwhelmed? Get started on a task that is so easy and/or so small that success is virtually guaranteed. Research shows that even the worst procrastinators or perfectionists can improve by creating a very small goal to begin. One decision to make, one email to write, one piece of clothing to put away, one drawer to declutter. You get the idea. Chances are good that, once you start, you’ll keep on going.

The dread that drives procrastination is almost always exaggerated. So once you see that “it’s not that bad,” usually you’ll have the confidence to continue.

[Free Resource: 18 Ways to Get Things Done]

**If you would like more tips, check out our 1-hour “Kick Procrastination to the Curb” video, chock full of tools to get you unstuck and started. You can find it at And remember: done is better than perfect. Good luck!

Organization guru Leslie Josel, of Order Out of Chaos, will answer questions from ADDitude readers about everything from paper clutter to disaster-zone bedrooms and from mastering to-do lists to arriving on time every time.

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