Different Perspectives on Productivity and Perfectionism

Different Perspectives on Productivity and Perfectionism

The idea for this journal entry came about when a podcast from the Rediscovering Aotearoa series, a Tim Urban Ted Talk and a video from Aussie Youtuber, Struthless, blended together in my mind. The messages in each one held complementary and opposing ideas about productivity, perfection and rest. Overlapping but also contradicting each other inside my brain. 

Then of course, I had my monthly phone call with Danni to talk about this post. We talked about this complex topic and our personal experiences with trying to juggle work, achieving goals and balance - some similar, some differing. Here is the outcome, hope you enjoy…

Danni and I share common ground in both having that strive for perfection, wanting to be the best. We talked about having big expectations for ourselves and setting the bar super high. At university, we both placed a lot worth in our grades. We talked about that extreme disappointment and dissatisfaction after receiving anything lower than an A. But when we did get that A, it didn’t feel that good... because that an A was the bare minimum we expected of ourselves.  

Underneath this perfectionism are some pretty unhealthy habits. This is where Danni and I start to diverge. Danni is definitely more of a ‘grind, grind, grind’ sort of person, whereas I’m more of a procrastinator. We unpacked both in our phone call.

I find it hard to get started on things without a deadline sitting under my bum like a bomb. As you could imagine (or maybe you’ve experienced it for yourself) this causes an explosion of stress, panic, and avoidable long, late nights. Why do we this to ourselves?

In these moments of stress, I often think of a specific Ted Talk my geography teacher played one time in year 11. In the video, speaker Tim Urban comically explains how he tried to complete a one-year thesis in three days. In his humorous way, he explains there’s a ‘instant gratification monkey’ ‘a rational decision maker’ and a ‘panic monster’ inside our brains. He states that for procrastinators, instant gratification is what they chase until the deadline is close and the panic sets in.

However, as Tim points out, the time spent doing these easy and fun activities, “aren’t actually fun because its completely unearned and the air is filled with guilt, dread, anxiety and self-hatred.” Harsh but true.

A video I recently watched from Aussie Illustrator and Youtuber, Campbell Walker (or his YouTube name Struthless) decoded this behaviour pattern in a way that resonated with me. Campbell explained that it feels safer to have an idea sitting pretty inside your head, than ruining it with action.

He explained this concept in terms of drawing: before putting pen to paper, the idea and the drawing looks perfect inside his head. But as soon as he starts sketching, this perfect idea can be tarnished by imperfect lines and bad shading. When that perfect idea doesn’t become a perfect drawing it feels like a failure.

In Campbell’s words, “it’s a lot more comforting to just not start.” Thus, a fear of imperfection or failure sometimes sit underneath the ‘I’ll do it later’ attitude.   

Campbell states that a good way around this is the ‘70% rule.’ He says its when starting a project, tell yourself, you don’t have to put in 100% just 70. This lowers the bar and that pressure to be perfect. This kind of mindset has been helpful for my attitude towards the gym and exercise. Before, I would avoid exercise, because I didn't feel like a massive workout. Months would stretch by, never going for a walk or to the gym. Whereas now, I tell myself just to do what I can (or 70%).

Interestingly, both Tim in the Ted Talk and Campbell talked about procrastination on a broader scale. Tim stated how some things in our life don’t have deadlines. There’s no ‘panic monster’ to kick us into gear and get us started. Sometimes we can just let life pass us by.  

"I think we're all procrastinating something right now," he said. 

In conversation with this, Campbell touched on the Jerzy Gregorek quote, “Easy choices, hard life. Hard choices, easy life.” Ultimately, making those hard choices now and working hard now leads to an easier (or more fulfilled) life. 

On the other hand, there's Danni. I’ve always admired Danni’s work ethic. However, during our phone call, she opened up a bit more and explained the constant need to cross things off the to do list, to keep climbing and grinding. With this mindset, successes are not always celebrated and achievements are reduced to an item to cross off the to-do list.

“It reminds me of a hamster running round on a wheel,” I’d said during our phone call.

Danni admitted that the hamster wheel grind had caused her to feel depleted and unsatisfied recently. In conversation with others, they’d emphasized to her the importance of “marinating” in our accomplishments. Appreciating our successes and taking time for breaks. To rest and replenish. Otherwise, our bodies get burnt out as Danni was experiencing.

Interestingly, the things Danni was talking about heavily related to the podcast I’d listened to from Re: News about Health. In the podcast, educator Heeni Hoterene talks about The Maramataka (Moon Calendar) and how the moon and seasons have dedicated times for mahi and for rest. The Maramataka balances these out.  

“You’re not even allowed to rest these days,” Heeni says.

Journalist, Anna Harcout reflected on this in the podcast, “something that I thought was really cool about the Maramataka, the moon calendar, is having that built in recognition of the importance of rest and that you absolutely can’t be productive all the time.”

“In this modern day age, its all about maximising everything, going hard, go hard or go home, you must be beautiful, you must never die, you must be straight A’s, you must work, you must have money and its actually something that’s not natural or attainable,” Heeni says.

We hoped you enjoyed reading about our personal experiences and different ideas on procrastination, work and rest. Links to items discussed:

Tim Urban Ted Talk: Inside the Mind of the Master Procrastinator

Re: News Podcast: Rediscovering Aotearoa: Hauroa | Health

Campbell Walker (Struthless) video: Advice for Perfectionists and Procrastinators: The 70% Rule

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