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  • Vanessa Anstee

How to get under the skin of those procrastination habits

There are lots of brilliant tools and books to help us with our productivity. Recently, I’ve been working with a number of wonderful humans who know exactly what they “should” be doing and have systems in place, but they can’t figure out why they’re just not following through.


They come to coaching with the same frustration often expressed slightly differently:


“I can’t focus and get the things done that I need to. I end up working overtime just to get through the list and as soon as I get it done, the list has grown again.”
“I’m working 50 hours and only paid for 37.5 hours and no one appreciates it.”
“I don’t know what’s wrong with me, I’m just not able to focus because I procrastinate.”

These expressions of frustrations have one thing in common: an unconscious sabotaging pattern, and as their coach the first thing I’m curious about is what’s driving this behaviour.


My intention is to help them get conscious and connected to their procrastination story and to do that I ask a lot of simple questions around a framework.


1. How do you know you're procrastinating?

I want them to describe the behaviour in detail, what happens, when, how they do their version of procrastination.

2. How do you show up to work?

I want to know about their quality of sleep, how they wake up, what they do once they're awake, how and what they eat and how they get themselves ready to work. This gives me a sense of their physical energy and resilience.


3. What thoughts drive your procrastination habit?

We explore how they are with themselves before, during and after they procrastinate. We discover hidden limiting beliefs e.g. “I tell myself I should be more disciplined but I don’t believe I’m someone that can follow through.”


4. What result do you want and why does that matter?

I want to know their bigger why and I keep drilling until we get to something that feels really resonant or alive for them e.g. “I live and work in this area and I want this business to be one that I am proud of because it really serves my local community well.”


5. What emotion drives the procrastination?

We explore the range they experience during a day and the impact of those emotions. We talk about the physiology of those emotions, the hormones they produce and the impact of that on their stress reactions and productivity.


Once they have insight into the bigger picture of what’s driving their behaviour a light switch goes on. They understand how their emotion is impacting their efforts, the quality of their thinking and how they're managing themselves and taking care of their needs. It's this insight that helps them to take charge and approach the to do list very differently. They stop treating themselves like a doing machine and start being more human.


Let’s use an example. Sarah had no idea why she couldn’t seem to get the monthly reporting done. She knew how to do it but each time she sat down to do it she would get distracted by team members coming in and asking questions. The impact of this was that she always did it at the last minute and often at home in her own time. She was frustrated that she wasn’t being paid for the extra time and that she seemed unable to do her work in the 37 hours she was paid for.


When Sarah explored the emotions she felt during her day, she saw that she periodically experienced a depleting emotion of boredom. She would start her day feeling excited about what was possible to achieve but by 11.30am she was bored and so when a distraction came along like a colleague with a query, she jumped on it. Answering that colleague’s query gave her a short-term feeling of satisfaction and worthiness but it stopped her doing the report. Not judging the boredom as good or bad, Sarah was able to honestly explore what her boredom needed. She described a need to feel connected. Normally she judged the boredom and told herself a story that she had always been a procrastinator. Unconsciously she was reaffirming that limiting belief to herself.


Sarah now had a fresh insight which we put into a simple equation:


event + reaction = outcome


When Sarah had to do the monthly report, she felt bored and then marginalised that feeling by following distractions. The distractions soothed her boredom by helping her to feel connected and valuable but prevented her from doing the report.


The key to moving out of this pattern was Sarah seeing it and then connecting to her bigger why. The task of report writing wasn’t motivating to her. She needed to see the impact of that report on the business, the potential it gave her to influence the senior stakeholders to make necessary changes that would enhance their reputation in the community.


The other aspect to this was Sarah accepting and taking charge of her need for connection and to feel valuable. This enabled her to identify new ways to structure her day to meet her need for connection and reframe the task in hand so that she connected to the outcome she wanted to see instead of just seeing it as another task on the to-do list.


Is the way you're working not working for you and you want to get under the skin of it and get out of the fog? My dilemma coaching service will give you the clarity and insight you need to take charge and focus on the things that will make the biggest difference for you.

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