Published by Kathy Paauw
Organizing & Productivity Consultant
Certified Life Coach
March 2000
  Issue 3

Fear Not! -- The Perfectionist's Credo

A few months ago one of my online newsletter subscribers requested that I write an article about fear and how it holds us back. My first thought regarding this request was, "I don't have expertise on the subject of fear. How could I write about that?"

Before I go any further, I have a confession to make. I am writing this article in the middle of National Procrastination Week! I had intended to publish this newsletter by the first day of this week. Because I procrastinated, it will barely reach you before the end of the week. When I sat down to think about what was holding me back from writing it, I realized that it was my perfectionism - fear of not doing it perfectly! So I guess I am an expert on the subject after all!

I remember some sage wisdom from my friend and colleague, Harold Taylor. Harold is a time management consultant and author of Making Time Work for You. He recently said, "You can do an adequate job in about ten percent of the time it takes to do a perfect job. Is the extra time really justified? Remember, most of us are paid to get results, not to be perfect." What I hear Harold saying is that it serves us well to pick and choose when we strive to do something perfectly, and then give ourselves permission to do a good enough job with everything else.

I also remember hearing Oprah suggest keeping a Worry Log -- a place to write down all of your worries and fears with a date next to each entry. Then you can check back monthly to see what percentage of your worries and fears actually came true. A Worry Log provides a great reality check for those consumed by fear. After doing this for a period of weeks or months, perhaps you will choose to spend less energy and thought on your worries and fears once you recognize that most of them will never come true.

By choosing to become fear-less (giving less emphasis to your fears), you'll have more time to focus on the activities and relationships that are most important to you. In other words, you can choose to stop the negative thinking patters and re-educate your mind to think more positively and focus on what you want.

I believe there are two main obstacles that hold people back from getting what they really want from their personal and professional lives - fear and lack of focus. In my February newsletter I offered suggestions about how to get more focused. This month I offer tips to help you get unstuck by overcoming fear. Use the acronym FEAR to help you remember these four steps:

FOCUS: What is most important to you? What does the end result look like? What steps are required to get you there?

EXPLORE: What are you resisting? What warning signals are present when you resist? What is the ultimate fear behind these warning signals? What's the worst thing that could happen? Even if the worst thing did happen, could you live with it?

ASSESS: What are your options? What action do you choose to take? What's next for you? What support could you get to help you?

RESPOND: This is where the rubber meets the road - where you choose to say "yes" to the action you have chosen for yourself. If you are not ready to act, repeat this process until you are ready to move forward.

Renowned psychotherapist Susan Jeffers has written a book, Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, which shows readers how to get what they want in spite of their self-sabotaging fears, turning passivity into assertiveness. The book offers suggestions about how to risk a little every day, how to turn every decision into a "no-lose" situation, and how to stop negative thinking patterns that say "I can't" and begin thinking more positively. 

Although National Procrastination Week will probably be history by the time you read this, procrastination is a timeless issue for most of us. For me, procrastination is a result of my perfectionistic tendencies - I am reluctant to start or finish a task because I don't want anything to be less than perfect. What are your inner conflicts that produce the procrastination pattern? 

In Linda Sapadin's book, It's About Time: The Six Styles of Procrastination and How to Overcome Them, she tells us that chronic procrastinators are not lazy; they simply need to cultivate a more natural and fluid transition from mental activity to physical activity, while allowing an appropriate amount of time and energy to complete the task. My review of this book provides a brief description of each of the six styles of procrastination: (1) perfectionist; (2) dreamer; (3) worrier; (4) defier; (5) crisis-maker; (6) over-doer. Read the book if you want to gain some comprehensive insight and solutions for each of these styles.

And now, as I prepare to send this newsletter to publication on the Web, I say to myself: "It's not perfect, and it's good enough!"


1. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time! Break larger projects into manageable "bites" and create a timeline for yourself to accomplish these smaller tasks.

2. Remember that each project expands to the time allotted to it, so set a limit for yourself: I am going to return all my phone calls in one hour. I will file papers for 30 minutes. I will spend 15 minutes picking up around the house. Set a timer. You will be amazed how much you can get done when you focus your time.

3. Check your self-talk. Do you frequently say, "I gotta…," "I should…," or "I have to…"? Replace this self-talk with "I choose to…" and recognize that you are at choice about what you do. If you don't choose to do it, don't do it!

4. Eat a live toad first thing in the morning, and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day. Tackle that "toad" -- the task you have been putting off, the one that is hanging over your head -- because it will lift an immense load and you will feel much more productive.

5. Train yourself to trim the F.A.T. When papers come into your office or home, give yourself these three choices: File, Act, Toss. (Note that "I'll just put it here for now" is not one of the choices.)

6. Relieve yourself of the stress caused by all of the clutter in your home and office by setting up some systems to manage the paper in your life. A good filing system and a tickler file system are essential elements. For instructions on setting up an effective tickler system, click here.

7. Make a weekly appointment with yourself to plan your coming week. During your planning session, schedule important activities and tasks so you have a concrete plan for following through with your intentions.

8. When planning your time, include both urgent (time-sensitive) and non-urgent but important activities in your plan. An example of an urgent activity might be a meeting or a project with an upcoming deadline. A non-urgent activity might be exercise or relationship-building - something important but not time-sensitive or deadline-driven.

9. Make appointments with yourself to get administrative work done, such as paying bills or catching up with your reading. Treat this time as you would an appointment with someone else.

10. Take 15 minutes at the end of each day to put things away and look at the calendar for the next day. Gather what you need ahead of time so you will be prepared for tomorrow.

  • Select one idea from the list above, and make a commitment to yourself to create a new habit by making it a part of your daily routine.
  • Start a Worry Log and check it monthly. What percent of your fears actually come true? 
  • When you are aware that fear is holding you back, follow the four-step FEAR process to help
    get you unstuck.

Quotes of the Month

"You will never find time for anything. You must make it."
-Charles Buxton

"You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take."
-Wayne Gretzky

"Killing time murders opportunities"

Organizing Tool of the Month

In honor of Clutter Awareness Week (March 27-31) and Organize Your Home Office Day (March 28), I recommend that you Zap your junk mail! This company provides a kit that will give you everything you need to get off of junk mail and phone solicitation lists.

I couldn't pass up the opportunity to share this cute story I ran across. It made me chuckle. I hope you like it!

Thy Name is Clutter

It arose one morning from the bowels of my desk, a formless mass that spread and covered itself over anything I was looking for. "Who are you?" I asked.

"I am Clutter," the mass answered, "and I am here to confound your life. I am the things you refuse to throw out though you haven't used them in six years, the miscellaneous papers, phone numbers, business cards, and chatckas you accumulate and don't put away. I am the inevitable manifestation of your sloppiness. I am Clutter."

I grabbed Clutter and moved it from one end of the desk to the other. Clutter chortled. That's my favorite pastime. Moving from one end of the desk to the other. "What do you want?" I asked.

"To frustrate you. I will resist all attempts to remove me, reduce me, or otherwise eliminate me. It's my purpose to hide whatever important piece of paper you need, whichever phone number you must call."

"I'm throwing you out," I stormed. Clutter shook his untidy mass sadly, as in pity.

"Not without looking me through me to see if there's anything you really need," Clutter answered. "The odds are slim, but you won't take that chance. And while you're sorting through me, I'll re-form in another pile."

"But you'll be smaller, more manageable."

"Not really. You'll decide to keep 90% of me, as you always do. And soon, new papers, numbers, documents will gather, making me more obstructive than ever."

"You won't ruin my life, Clutter! I'll start a filing system! Put bits of you where you belong." Clutter gazed at me contemptuously.

"The last time you tried that, you created my cousins, Chaos and Disorder. It'll never work."

Clutter had me and I knew it. Attempts in the past to file things alphabetically had only created 26 piles of mess instead of one. I was desperate, so I decided to bluff. "I'll take a time management course," I threatened.

Clutter quite rightly ignored my remark. I wasn't dealing with an idiot, after all. "Then I'll buy a computer and store you on my floppy disks!"

"And within a month your disk-filing system will be in total disarray, plus you'll have another pile of papers waiting to be entered onto disks. Face it, you can't win.

Exasperated, I ran to the closet. "I'm getting some air."

Clutter had been to the closet before me. Shoes were scattered, shirts were unhung, clumps of pants and underwear lay strewn next to towels and a lawn chair. Socks congealed in small piles, looking like the waste product of some nylon-eating monster. Cliff notes from A Tale of Two Cities lay atop the heater.

"Clutter," I yelled. "You have crippled my productivity for the last time. No longer will I be late, no more will I miss appointments, never again shall I be overwhelmed by your size and withdraw into reading old magazines. I am going out to the store to buy a paper shredder."

I looked around for a long moment. "Now where did I leave my keys?"

Clutter burped.

~~Author Unknown~~

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This article is by Kathy Paauw of Paauwerfully Organized. Kathy's web site is a comprehensive resource devoted to helping busy professionals and small business owners de-clutter their schedules, spaces, and minds so they can focus on what's most important. Kathy is an organizing & productivity consultant, certified business & personal coach, and speaker. Contact her here. For free resources and valuable productivity tools visit .

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Warm regards,

Kathy Paauw, Paauwerfully Organized

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