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  • Paralyzing perfectionism

    Hi,

    Im new to these forums and in a way I suppose I am new to GTD. I read the book in 2009 and ever since I have attempted to implement GTD, so I am familiar with the principles and concept, albeit in a superficial way perhaps.

    I am trying to develop a better me, as the one currently typing is not where he wants to be in life, but that is a different matter. I am not sure if you can help, but I assume a lot of you (most, if not all?) are far more advanced and experienced when it comes to this issue and have probably faced it yourself.

    I am truly stuck taking action and after learning about GTD, goalsetting and so on, I am overwhelmed and take far less action than I previously did. I "suffer" from a severe case of perfectionism and so every little action, thought or idea needs to be filed, organized in an optimal system where I just press play and every little part gets connected and interconnected to every other part, goal and project.

    So basically I just spend my days either staying as far away from planning and "organizing" as I can, or I fiddle around with Onenote, Outlook, Mindmeister and read a bunch online about how others have set up their system. Hell, right now there are five bags (small) of garbage in my doorway that have been there for two days because I am not sure how to track and record the fact that I just went and threw it out

    Outlook works well for me as it syncs with my phone so I have all my tasks there. Stuff at the "runway" like pay this bill, go pick up X, talk to Y etc works fine, but when it comes to doing a mindsweep, processing and organizing projects, it just stops and I feel completely lost.

    Here is an example of where I freeze up. One of my goals at the moment is to "become more confident" or "I am a confident person!" something like that. Then I start to think and complicate things...where should I actually put those words down? Do I put them on a onenote page? Do I add it in Outlook under a "goal" category, do I create a onenote section for each of my "areas of focus" and put it in there, do I just track it by itself on a separate projects list - but wait, If I do this, then how can I track that some action I did belonged to that project which in turn belonged to that goal? (the project is not yet defined..). Ok, so this never gets done and started on. If I had just decided on something, then the next problem is....time to do a brainstorming, but the exact same questions arise. Do I add a date so that I can later look back and track where I got the idea from? Do I put it in my journal? Do I copy and keep it in two places?...bah!

    And finally, when it comes to mindsweeps I don't know where and how to track them, nor the items that comes out of a mindsweep and I always feel like I am starting over with the same "things on my mind" every time I sit down

    I love Onenote or perhaps I love the potential of Onenote and I just recently discovered Mindjet, but these two don't speak well with each other. Outlook is a keeper for sure, since my phone is with me all the time and works very well for capture.

    Ok, thanks in advance if anyone has any input or advice. I know you have probably dealt with stuff like this several times from newbies like me but please bare with me!

    Thank you
    John

  • #2
    The Little Book of Contentment.

    Originally posted by John View Post
    I am trying to develop a better me, as the one currently typing is not where he wants to be in life, but that is a different matter.
    The Little Book of Contentment may help you. It's free and short.

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by TesTeq View Post
      The Little Book of Contentment may help you. It's free and short.
      It seems like a nice little book and might help. If you, John, really cannot throw out your trash because you need to record that action, then your issues may lie beyond GTD. However, you might try just doing next actions until your next scheduled weekly review (on your calendar, right?). If a project arises, you can put it on your project list for review. No goal-setting, no record-keeping. If a next action is too big, find the next physical action and do that. Top-down procrastination can be overcome by bottom-up action.

      Comment


      • #4
        Progress, not Perfection

        Repeat after me... "Progress, not perfection..."! It's a helpful little reminder. You ask where you can put an affirmation like "I am more confident..." There are different ways for you to see a reminder like this on a periodic basis...
        • Put it as an untimed event on your calendar
        • If you have a tickler file, print it out and put it in a random date. When you receive it, read it & then re-trace it...
        • Put sticky notes all over your "world" - dashboard, bathroom mirror, etc. - this one's a little self-disclosing if you live with someone else!

        I think you may want to look at some higher levels and determine why something is or isn't a priority (not the "ABC" kind of priority, but the kind that underpins your projects and actions)... For instance, are you wanting to track whether you took the trash out because you have a personal initiative to become de-cluttered, more organised, etc.?

        Perfectionism is, to my mind, a catch-all for a lot of things that boil down to "I can't get myself off the dime." There's usually something deeper if you're willing to dig for it, rather than just labeling it perfectionism. (Just my two cents - I'm not a therapist!!!)

        Comment


        • #5
          P.s.

          Originally posted by John View Post
          Hi,

          Here is an example of where I freeze up. One of my goals at the moment is to "become more confident" or "I am a confident person!" something like that. Then I start to think and complicate things...where should I actually put those words down? Do I put them on a onenote page? Do I add it in Outlook under a "goal" category, do I create a onenote section for each of my "areas of focus" and put it in there, do I just track it by itself on a separate projects list - but wait, If I do this, then how can I track that some action I did belonged to that project which in turn belonged to that goal? (the project is not yet defined..). Ok, so this never gets done and started on. If I had just decided on something, then the next problem is....time to do a brainstorming, but the exact same questions arise. Do I add a date so that I can later look back and track where I got the idea from? Do I put it in my journal? Do I copy and keep it in two places?...bah!
          Short answer: Weekly Review (it's the default answer David always gives, and it's a good one!). It's a lot easier and less time-consuming to do a thorough review of all your goals, projects, and actions every 7-10 days than it is to constantly tweak your system expecting it to connect all the dots for you...

          Comment


          • #6
            Progress not perfection ...

            Great advise CJ! I'm putting that little phrase in my toolbox.

            I think it's very easy as a perfectionist to lose perspective ... we're so busy with control. And so creating projects and actually writing out the outcome was always helpful for me. At one point I got the skill of project titles and next action titles that actually reflect the outcomes pretty well, but I would still bullet point list project outcomes that had any degree of ambiguity. And so then, when I start spending more time, or mulling over one little decision, I would pull myself out by referring to the outcome.

            So my advice... - be a perfectionist about making progress towards the outcome, rather than perfectionist about the one action item you happen to be working on right then.

            Comment


            • #7
              Here are some ideas. I hope you don't get bogged down trying to figure
              out how to list them in your systems.

              Ah, you seem to start with the same things on your mind each time you
              do a mindsweep? That could be a key. You can make a very simple system --
              perhaps a piece of paper stuck to your fridge with a magnet -- with very short
              (e.g. up to 5 words each) mentions of only a few (e.g. up to 3) of the things that
              usually come to you in a mindsweep. Then you can choose just one (or a very
              few) of these things and think about what physical actions you can take to
              make progress on it today. Try to phrase your list in terms of achievable,
              identifiable goals. For example, instead of "become more confident" you can
              write "phone Steve" or "put away 3 things consecutively in a smooth, energetic manner"
              or whatever fits your image of "more confident" (choose something only a
              little more confident than you are now, so that it's achievable!!) and then when
              you've done that, you can check it off as done and put up a new action.

              You don't need to track and record the fact that you put the garbage out.
              You don't need to write down what you're going to do before you do it, either.
              Just do it. In only some cases, things need to be written down as reminders,
              which is where GTD comes in. The reason you don't need to write down
              "put the garbage out" is that you see the physical garbage itself, which is
              its own reminder. Unless that doesn't work for you. I try to have as little
              as possible written in my systems, and as much as possible either done
              as soon as it comes up (so I don't have to write it down) or arranged so
              I'll see the related physical objects at the right time to remind me, or
              something.

              You can get a coach, either a professional coach or a family member or friend.
              With the coach you can try to choose a small number of things to work on
              and also discuss how your organizing systems work, and each week try to
              improve your systems a bit. You can also use this forum for coaching.

              You can use affirmations to explicitly reject perfectionism.
              The affirmations themselves don't have to be perfect!
              Some may be more effective than others, but good ones can
              work even if they have flaws!

              You can think about why you're a perfectionist, possibly exploring
              this with a therapist.

              You can purposely do things imperfectly, to get yourself feeling more
              comfortable with imperfection. When I used to play the cello, once our
              teacher told us all to drop our bows on the floor. He said that was so
              we wouldn't be afraid of dropping our bows, so that after that we
              wouldn't hold them so tightly all the time.

              You can get physical exercise. A good workout raises dopamine and
              helps you concentrate better for the next four hours.

              You can do things to reduce anxiety, such as increasing calcium and
              omega-3 fatty acids in your diet. Long-chain essential fatty acids, as
              in fish, are particularly good for the brain.

              You can give yourself very quick little rewards whenever you do a
              physical action that's a step towards your goals. Things like just stopping
              and smiling for a second, looking at the results of your work,
              or physically reaching around and
              patting yourself on the back, don't take much time but can help
              you feel good about having gotten something done. This can help
              condition you to actually do the actions rather than just putting
              them into systems.

              When I catch myself thinking stuff like "maybe I shouldn't have done that",
              I purposely think like this: "I decided to do X and not Y, and therefore I get
              the advantages of doing X, and I don't get the advantages of doing Y, and
              I get the disadvantages of doing X, and I don't get the disadvantages of doing Y."
              or just "I decided to do X." This works for me. It's a way of affirming that I
              have the right and the responsibility to decide things, that decisions don't have
              to be perfect, that there may not be a unique perfect answer, that I don't
              necessarily have all possible information or infinite time to think through all
              implications, that it's usually good to make decisions even if they're not perfect, etc.

              You can make signs or pictures that mean "I don't need to be perfect" and post
              them up around your home or office. Just an imperfect picture could mean
              that to you -- it doesn't have to be obvious to other people what it means.
              Try not to spend too much time finding the perfect picture that means that!

              You can set yourself tasks like "I'm going to do 3 things in the next 5 minutes.
              They don't have to be done well; they just have to be useful." They could be
              things like putting a dirty dish into the sink or moving the garbage a few
              feet closer to the door. You could try this with or without deciding what the
              actions are before the 5 minutes starts. Congratulate yourself when done.
              The idea is to focus attention on doing rather than planning,
              and increase acceptance of small, imperfect or incomplete actions.

              Remember the two-minute rule. Taking the time to write something into a system
              should be done only when the advantages of recording it are worth the time
              it takes to write it, review it, and eventually erase it. If you can accomplish
              more by just doing things and never recording them in systems, then maybe
              it's better to never record things in systems.

              You can use systems to record only the most important things --
              things like "go to job interview at 9AM". You can leave out things that
              you usually remember to do anyway or that don't have very bad
              consequences if you forget. For example, I don't need to write
              "bring lunch to work" because if I forget, I can buy a lunch;
              and anyway I usually remember. Also, if I want to bring something
              to work (unless it needs to be refrigerated) I just put in into my
              backpack immediately, so I don't need to think about it in the morning.
              Try to have a system that has only a few things in it, all important
              things, so that it's easy and quick to look over your system.

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by TesTeq View Post
                The Little Book of Contentment may help you. It's free and short.
                Thank you!!

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by mcogilvie View Post
                  It seems like a nice little book and might help. If you, John, really cannot throw out your trash because you need to record that action, then your issues may lie beyond GTD. However, you might try just doing next actions until your next scheduled weekly review (on your calendar, right?). If a project arises, you can put it on your project list for review. No goal-setting, no record-keeping. If a next action is too big, find the next physical action and do that. Top-down procrastination can be overcome by bottom-up action.
                  Thank you!

                  I will just do..not plan, but do. Like one of the nice people who answered said below, I can just explicitly decide to not have it be perfect and its ok!

                  Well, I exaggerated a bit about the trash and I will throw it out, its just an example of something small that has taken way too long and way too much mental work because of the idea that I have to/had to use a perfect system

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by CJSullivan View Post
                    Repeat after me... "Progress, not perfection..."! It's a helpful little reminder. You ask where you can put an affirmation like "I am more confident..." There are different ways for you to see a reminder like this on a periodic basis...
                    • Put it as an untimed event on your calendar
                    • If you have a tickler file, print it out and put it in a random date. When you receive it, read it & then re-trace it...
                    • Put sticky notes all over your "world" - dashboard, bathroom mirror, etc. - this one's a little self-disclosing if you live with someone else!

                    I think you may want to look at some higher levels and determine why something is or isn't a priority (not the "ABC" kind of priority, but the kind that underpins your projects and actions)... For instance, are you wanting to track whether you took the trash out because you have a personal initiative to become de-cluttered, more organised, etc.?

                    Perfectionism is, to my mind, a catch-all for a lot of things that boil down to "I can't get myself off the dime." There's usually something deeper if you're willing to dig for it, rather than just labeling it perfectionism. (Just my two cents - I'm not a therapist!!!)
                    Thank you for this! I really do need to ask myself those questions and realize how silly some of my blockers for action are...my "perfectionism"/procrastionation/inability to do things stems mostly from the idea that the system I use must be perfect and above all that everything in my life should be in this system. So, unless my system can capture, and track it, then I am not allowed to do anyting...so absurd! Clearly (after reading your and others' answers and thinking a little bit, even role-playing with myself as the therapist and the patient ) it should be the other way around. My system should not be the boss of me..lol

                    I suppose one of the issues has been that some of the things on my mind are too fuzzy and not a project, so there really is no next action or doable thing on "become more confident" If I have that goal/idea/affirmation I first have to define some actual projects that are defined in terms of what "done" looks like,

                    I wholeheartedly agree that perfectionism could be a mislabel and I do have other issues that are stopping me from doing stuff. In this case it is more about the system I use...perhaps OCD would be more accurate than perfectionism?...

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by CJSullivan View Post
                      Short answer: Weekly Review (it's the default answer David always gives, and it's a good one!). It's a lot easier and less time-consuming to do a thorough review of all your goals, projects, and actions every 7-10 days than it is to constantly tweak your system expecting it to connect all the dots for you...
                      Thank you!

                      I must say that this idea is a big relief for me. I can just do stuff, work on projects and not having to worry about how (and why) I organize the material, because in 7 days I will organize the week that had gone by...I feel a bit embarrassed now after reading your and others' replies...seems so basic but I guess I needed to wrap my head around it...

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by cwoodgold View Post
                        Here are some ideas. I hope you don't get bogged down trying to figure
                        out how to list them in your systems.

                        Ah, you seem to start with the same things on your mind each time you
                        do a mindsweep? That could be a key. You can make a very simple system --
                        perhaps a piece of paper stuck to your fridge with a magnet -- with very short
                        (e.g. up to 5 words each) mentions of only a few (e.g. up to 3) of the things that
                        usually come to you in a mindsweep. Then you can choose just one (or a very
                        few) of these things and think about what physical actions you can take to
                        make progress on it today. Try to phrase your list in terms of achievable,
                        identifiable goals. For example, instead of "become more confident" you can
                        write "phone Steve" or "put away 3 things consecutively in a smooth, energetic manner"
                        or whatever fits your image of "more confident" (choose something only a
                        little more confident than you are now, so that it's achievable!!) and then when
                        you've done that, you can check it off as done and put up a new action.

                        You don't need to track and record the fact that you put the garbage out.
                        You don't need to write down what you're going to do before you do it, either.
                        Just do it. In only some cases, things need to be written down as reminders,
                        which is where GTD comes in. The reason you don't need to write down
                        "put the garbage out" is that you see the physical garbage itself, which is
                        its own reminder. Unless that doesn't work for you. I try to have as little
                        as possible written in my systems, and as much as possible either done
                        as soon as it comes up (so I don't have to write it down) or arranged so
                        I'll see the related physical objects at the right time to remind me, or
                        something.

                        You can get a coach, either a professional coach or a family member or friend.
                        With the coach you can try to choose a small number of things to work on
                        and also discuss how your organizing systems work, and each week try to
                        improve your systems a bit. You can also use this forum for coaching.

                        You can use affirmations to explicitly reject perfectionism.
                        The affirmations themselves don't have to be perfect!
                        Some may be more effective than others, but good ones can
                        work even if they have flaws!

                        You can think about why you're a perfectionist, possibly exploring
                        this with a therapist.

                        You can purposely do things imperfectly, to get yourself feeling more
                        comfortable with imperfection. When I used to play the cello, once our
                        teacher told us all to drop our bows on the floor. He said that was so
                        we wouldn't be afraid of dropping our bows, so that after that we
                        wouldn't hold them so tightly all the time.

                        You can get physical exercise. A good workout raises dopamine and
                        helps you concentrate better for the next four hours.

                        You can do things to reduce anxiety, such as increasing calcium and
                        omega-3 fatty acids in your diet. Long-chain essential fatty acids, as
                        in fish, are particularly good for the brain.

                        You can give yourself very quick little rewards whenever you do a
                        physical action that's a step towards your goals. Things like just stopping
                        and smiling for a second, looking at the results of your work,
                        or physically reaching around and
                        patting yourself on the back, don't take much time but can help
                        you feel good about having gotten something done. This can help
                        condition you to actually do the actions rather than just putting
                        them into systems.

                        When I catch myself thinking stuff like "maybe I shouldn't have done that",
                        I purposely think like this: "I decided to do X and not Y, and therefore I get
                        the advantages of doing X, and I don't get the advantages of doing Y, and
                        I get the disadvantages of doing X, and I don't get the disadvantages of doing Y."
                        or just "I decided to do X." This works for me. It's a way of affirming that I
                        have the right and the responsibility to decide things, that decisions don't have
                        to be perfect, that there may not be a unique perfect answer, that I don't
                        necessarily have all possible information or infinite time to think through all
                        implications, that it's usually good to make decisions even if they're not perfect, etc.

                        You can make signs or pictures that mean "I don't need to be perfect" and post
                        them up around your home or office. Just an imperfect picture could mean
                        that to you -- it doesn't have to be obvious to other people what it means.
                        Try not to spend too much time finding the perfect picture that means that!

                        You can set yourself tasks like "I'm going to do 3 things in the next 5 minutes.
                        They don't have to be done well; they just have to be useful." They could be
                        things like putting a dirty dish into the sink or moving the garbage a few
                        feet closer to the door. You could try this with or without deciding what the
                        actions are before the 5 minutes starts. Congratulate yourself when done.
                        The idea is to focus attention on doing rather than planning,
                        and increase acceptance of small, imperfect or incomplete actions.

                        Remember the two-minute rule. Taking the time to write something into a system
                        should be done only when the advantages of recording it are worth the time
                        it takes to write it, review it, and eventually erase it. If you can accomplish
                        more by just doing things and never recording them in systems, then maybe
                        it's better to never record things in systems.

                        You can use systems to record only the most important things --
                        things like "go to job interview at 9AM". You can leave out things that
                        you usually remember to do anyway or that don't have very bad
                        consequences if you forget. For example, I don't need to write
                        "bring lunch to work" because if I forget, I can buy a lunch;
                        and anyway I usually remember. Also, if I want to bring something
                        to work (unless it needs to be refrigerated) I just put in into my
                        backpack immediately, so I don't need to think about it in the morning.
                        Try to have a system that has only a few things in it, all important
                        things, so that it's easy and quick to look over your system.
                        I am so greatful for this answer! Thank you for taking the time!

                        I love all the ideas you write here and especially that I can just explicitly decide to not have it be perfect. If I know something needs to be done, I can see it in front of me, it takes me five minutes, why not just DO IT? Like I have said to someone else, I had this notion that everything needed to go into a system, that was perfect and unless my system could handle the information in a superb way, I was not allowed to act....how absurd, right? I might find other beliefs and deep-rooted causes, but for now, just the realization that I am NOT taking action because I think I need a complex system....I just need two lists containing the stuff I am currently working on. I will change my diet a bit to see if that helps, I love the story about your violin teacher too.....anyways..I am just greatful and really did not expect to find such a long and good response.

                        It goes on my fridge along with my new, clean and simple list.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          The more I do the more confident I am.

                          Originally posted by John View Post
                          One of my goals at the moment is to "become more confident" or "I am a confident person!" something like that.
                          My goals must be measurable. I don't know how I could measure "confidence".

                          My confidence is a function of all Projects and Next Actions that I have successfully done. Successfully - not necessarily perfectly.

                          The more I do the more confident I am.

                          Practice, practice, practice!

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by TesTeq View Post
                            My goals must be measurable. I don't know how I could measure "confidence".

                            My confidence is a function of all Projects and Next Actions that I have successfully done. Successfully - not necessarily perfectly.

                            The more I do the more confident I am.

                            Practice, practice, practice!

                            I absolutely agree and now I understand better what a project should be, so I have decided to just keep my quest for confidence as an idea/goal in my head (though I have dug deeper and defined a vision(?) for what "done" could look like and then try to find reading material and activities that can be defined as projects. After posting on this forum and receiving all your great feedback, my productivity has increased by 1000000000000000% (rounding up)

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              By George, I think He's Got It!

                              Good luck, John - you've obviously got lots of food for thought here, but I think you've got the gist! That's why these forums are great for helping you "get your head around" stuff!

                              Comment

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