Procrastination….quality vs quantity

I have been reading the book “Atomic Habits” by James Clear.

The following is an excerpt from the book that spoke to me about why I struggle with getting started on new projects. I have skipped some paragraphs and added a few comments, but this is the gist of the chapter.

The passage is a bit long, but I think it might speak to many of you…..


“On the first day of class, Jerry Uelsmann, a professor at the University of Florida, divided his film-photography students into two groups.

Everyone on the left side of the classroom, he explained, would be in the “quantity” group. They would be graded solely on the amount of work that they produced. On the final day of class, he would tally the number of photos submitted by each student. One hundred photos would rate an A, ninety photos a B, eighty photos a C, and so on.

Meanwhile, everyone on the right side of the room would be in the “quality” group. They would be graded only on the excellence of their work. They would only need to produce one photo during the semester, but to get an A, it had to be a nearly perfect image.

At the end of the term, he was surprised to find that all the best photos were produced by the quantity group. During the semester, these students were busy taking photos, experimenting with composition and lighting, testing out various methods in the darkroom, and learning from their mistakes. In the process of creating hundreds of photos, they honed their skills. Meanwhile, the quality group sat around speculating about perfection. In the end, they had little to show for their efforts other than unverified theories and one mediocre photo.

It is easy to get bogged down trying to find the optimal plan for change…… ……We are so focused on figuring out the best approach that we never get around to taking action. As Voltaire once wrote, “The best is the enemy of the good”.

I refer to this as the difference between being in motion and taking action. The two ideas sound similar, but they’re not the same. When you’re in motion, you’re planning and strategizing and learning. Those are all good things, but they don’t produce a result.

Action, on the other hand, is the type of behavior that will deliver an outcome. If I outline twenty ideas for articles I want to write [quilts I want to make], that’s motion. If I actually sit down and write an article [make a quilt], that’s action……..

If motion doesn’t lead to results, why do we do it? Sometimes we do it because we actually need to plan or learn more. But more often than not, we do it because motion allows us to feel like we’re making progress without running the risk of failure.…….

Motion makes you feel like you’re getting things done, But, really, you’re just preparing to get something done. When preparation becomes a form of procrastination, you need to change something. You don’t want to merely be planning. You want to be practicing”


WOW….this hit me between the eyes!! I am SO bad about putting off the things that I am not sure about…quilts that I want to make, techniques that I want to try, projects that I want to tackle!!


Does this resonate with you??

13 thoughts on “Procrastination….quality vs quantity

  1. Yes, this is spot on. When I was younger I trained to be a jeweler in NYC. I worked for a famous jewelry firm and I had to produce lots of finished items every day and every week. I learned SO MUCH so quickly. Now at 68 I try to apply that same approach. If there is a small error that does not disturb my eye, I keep going. If I required perfection, than all I would be doing is ripping out stitches and never finishing anything and far less open to experimentation.

  2. Actually, this is kinda encouraging. I can spend hours, days, weeks on prep. No actual work but I am diddling around in the right direction. phew!

  3. I have a tendency to over plan. What works for me is to write a list of my projects and what the next action step should be. That keeps me focused and the projects moving along.

  4. I have a couple of quilts that have been in Time Out that I need to make progress on, yet have done nothing for far to long. Part of that is I’m hoping to move out of our 5th wheel travel trailer yet nothing is happening on that front. For the new house I want a king sized bed, but if we don’t get one that is big enough for that we’ll have to settle for queen. So I’m dithering and making no progress. I do have lots of other UFOs I could work on but I really want to make progress on these two first.

      1. Need to get a lot more things paid for, and some others sold before we ever get a house delivered here.

  5. I had a friend (recently passed) who was an artist & he used to stress ALL THE TIME that if you wait for “motivation” or “inspiration” that you’ll never get it. You have to get up & get to work even on the days you don’t want to work, especially on the days you don’t want to work. The only way inspiration hits you is when you’re in the midst of your work. (although I find it usually hits me when I’m the shower, jus sayin)

    1. I so agree with your friend although some days I find it hard to push past the desire and into the DO!! I am working on it!!! AND, I am a shower thinker too….we even have a pad of post-it notes in the bathroom!!

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