Promotion & tenure tips: Perfection and procrastination

“I want to be clear that perfection is an impossible goal and should never be a true pursuit in life.”

Serena Williams

When I was a Department Chair, one of my favorite activities was assisting faculty members to reach their goals. While assisting, I often encountered Professor Perfection and her twin sister Professor Procrastination. Yes, they were twins. I am sure you have met either twin at some point on your professional journey. We often don’t recognize that they are twins, we simply assume they are two women we happen to know. I beg to differ and here is why.

Perfection and procrastination are borne from the same mother — Feel less than. She reminds us each day that in order to be that “woman”, we must be perfect in all that we do, i.e. teaching, mentoring, research, scholarly writing, and service. We must go over and beyond our white counterparts so that they will find value in our work and not look at us as “less than”. As Professor Perfection, we take on an inordinate amount of tasks only to become overwhelmed. Instead of focusing on the task at hand, we succumb to over synthesizing a problem, over-editing a draft publication, or over-committing our time. The “over” feeds our fear such that we can not complete the task perfectly, thus, we put it off as long as possible. Enter Professor Procrastination. Although she may present as lazy, she is not. She simply has a low tolerance for frustration and failure. She would rather sidestep the discomfort of a higher challenge through the diversion of procrastination.

The P&T journey and sheer desire to move through the academic ranks opens the door for these two ladies. They enter, sit down, spout lies, and ultimately wreak havoc on our professional psyche. They consistently use the tools of comparison (to our white and/or male counterparts) and clothe us in lack of self-confidence, discouragement, imposter syndrome, and mental exhaustion to keep us in this non-functional cycle.

Alas, it is springtime! We have sprung forward in daylight savings, so let’s spring forward to break the cycle of perfection-procrastination. Just as we set our clocks forward to get more daylight, let’s collectively move forward to reclaim the valuable time we wasted beating ourselves up mentally by putting tasks off that we actually signed up to do. Here are some tips to help break this cycle:

  1. Shift Perceptions: Determine the value of the task. How does it fit into your legacy build?
  2. Be aware of unrealistic expectations: Whatever tasks you feel compelled to do perfectly (and thus are procrastinating on), consider the worst-case scenario, the best-case scenario, and the realistic scenario for completing the task. Go with Realistic – Always.
  3. Remove the word “perfection” from your vocabulary. Most people are so self-absorbed they won’t notice a grammatical error. They will, however, notice a missed deadline.
  4. Make a commitment to become aware of the thinking that causes you to procrastinate. When the feeling of procrastination hits you, take time to journal. Although a distraction, it will help you to determine what specific settings trigger the desire for procrastination.
  5. Understand the difference between excellence and perfection. Excellence is grounded in learning and developing confidence. Perfection cultivates negative feelings from perceived mistakes made, regardless of the excellence of performance.

That being said, let’s say goodbye to Professor Perfection and Professor Procrastination and welcome into our lives Professor I am Enough! She will help you tackle your tasks, meet your deadline, and take back control of your time.


OBN #17 Perfection & Procrastination | graphic via

Pamela Leggett-Robinson

Pamela Leggett-Robinson is the CEO and Executive Director for PLR Consulting in Atlanta, GA. PLR Consulting is a boutique Program Development, Management, and Evaluation firm that works with organizations and institutions that seek to address multi-faceted obstacles confronting historically and presently marginalized groups in STEM environments and optimize current STEM...