Overcoming Procrastination

“Procrastination is the foundation of all disasters.” (Pandora Poikilos)

Why do you put things off? Do you ever find yourself saying any of the following when you know you should be working on an A or B task?

  • "This task is difficult."
  • "I don’t have time now."
  • "This task is unpleasant/boring/tedious/messy."
  • "I’m not in the mood."
  • "I don’t have all the information I need to do it."
  • "I’m overwhelmed."
  • "My terms of reference aren’t clear."
  • "I’m interrupted too often."
  • "I don’t have the energy now."
  • "I’m not organised enough."
  • "It isn’t actually due for a while..."

    Let’s face it: most of us procrastinate sometimes. When it becomes a frequent habit, however, it starts to get in the way of productivity, goal fulfilment, and the maintenance and enhancement of your reputation, to say nothing of your relationships! Thus it makes sense to develop the skill of standing back from yourself and honestly acknowledging when you are procrastinating – and then figuring out why. It is helpful to identify the activities that you prefer to do to the tasks that you should do and are avoiding. What are they? Are there certain “favourites” that repeatedly see you put off your important tasks?

    For example, some people say that they will just check their emails before they start on their A task. But there are several notifications from the social media sites on which they are active, and by the time they read and respond to all the new posts, the leftover bits of time (that started as a decent chunk) for the project are seriously compromised. Perhaps you are just going to “tidy up the office” before beginning – and you get caught up in complicated re-arranging. Or maybe you think you will think better if you have already gone for your daily run? Of course, going for a daily run is a good thing to do in terms of keeping you fit, and it is likely to be important, but couldn’t you do the run when you are taking a break from your project?

    Possibly you are motivated by urgency. Some people feel like they do their best work under pressure, so they wait until the last possible moment – when the task is at emergency level – and then put in a heroic effort. There is bad news and good news about procrastination.

    Putting things off: the bad news

    People are not often recognised or promoted for putting out fires; they stay at their current level because there will always be fires. The ones who can solve the problems that caused the fires are more likely to be promoted, so that they can solve more hot problems. The other bad news is that habitual procrastination has been linked to heart disease, headaches, digestive issues, colds and flus, and insomnia (Crew, 2015). This is a double whammy, because when a person isn’t feeling well, it is doubly difficult to change an entrenched habit. There is good news, though.

    Procrastination’s good news

    If you are guilty here, don’t despair. The good news is that taking control back from procrastination is not a complicated process.

    1. The Number One rule to heal procrastination pain is to work on avoided tasks in the morning, or whenever your “power hour” (the time of the day you are most productive) tends to occur. Most people have more energy then and can focus better earlier in the day. We repeat: DON’T put out the “urgent but not important” fires first! Do your A’s first (Zeigler, 2005)!

    2. Break up major projects into smaller tasks, which can be individually scheduled. Once you get going on some, momentum will tend to build to carry you through to completion (Tracy, 2010).

    3. Program your subconscious mind to help. Repeat with energy and enthusiasm – as often as necessary – “Do it now, do it now, do it now!” Remind yourself of the importance of the project, the need to stay on your schedule, and the appeal of the rewards you have planned to give yourself for doing this. Eventually your subconscious mind will get the message and gather up the energy for you to complete the project: on time.

    4. Stop being an adrenalin junkie. The point is not to discourage you from hard work. Rather, it is to urge you to plan and schedule in the needed tasks in a timely fashion rather than intentionally working under pressure. Even if you feel you are brilliant in adversity, the fact that you created the adversity through procrastinating may not go down well with those around you (or worse, above you!) (Zeigler, 2005).


    Crew, B. (2015). Procrastination can lead to heart problems, study suggests. Science Alert. Retrieved on 18 January, 2016, from: hyperlink.

    Tracy, B. (2010). No excuses! The power of self-discipline. New York: MJF Books.

    Zeigler, K. (2005). Getting organized at work: 24 lessons to set goals, establish priorities, and manage your time. New York: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0-07-145779-8.

    Life Coaching Institute Newsletter - Coaching Inspirations - Edition 313, 9 May 2019

  • Getting the best out of the Enneagram

    Mary Bast and Clarence Thomson provide an excellent section on the ethical use of the Enneagram in their book “Out of the Box: Coaching with the Enneagram”.

    The Enneagram is not intended to put people into boxes. In fact, understanding the influence of our Enneagram type is the first step in getting out of the box of unconscious habitual behaviour.

    Remember, we are not our personality type. We are far more than that. The Enneagram just helps us to identify a potential set of influences that may impact on us. It really is just about using the knowledge of your own type and the types of others and being the watcher in the now moments of our lives.

    The underlying premise is that if we are self-aware and are managing ourselves well we have the opportunity to be better leaders, colleagues and role models and improve the relationships most important to us.

    The following points can help us to get the best use out of the Enneagram:

    * Just because we relate mostly to a certain type, that does not mean that we will always operate in a predictable way. The influence of the type will vary in relation to levels of self-awareness and our ability to manage the habitual responses of type.

    * We should not make assumptions about how a person of a certain type will behave, as that may not always be the case depending on the variables noted above

    * Understanding of type is not an excuse for behaviour. (“I do that because I am a five.”)

    * We are influenced by both our Enneagram personality as well as our experiences, culture and environment.

    * Our Enneagram type does not change – what changes is our response to the push of the personality through increased self-awareness.

    * There is no better or worse Enneagram type – they all bring amazing gifts that we need in the world and the workplace, and these gifts outweigh the challenges.

    * When we know what the challenging parts of our personality are we can consciously choose our responses rather than allowing a habitual response or pattern to prevail.

    * The knowledge just helps us to understand what the motivations and influences are for each type and what the behaviours might be at the stress and the security point. It provides a foundation for greater tolerance and understanding and more authentic conversations.

    Veronica Lunn - 23rd May 2019

    The Enneagram as a tool for self-discovery: Waking up to our own Stories

    The Enneagram describes nine different stories, or ways that we might operate when we are on automatic pilot. There is no better or worst personality type: they are just nine different filters to the outside world.

    Each personality has its own unique defence mechanism. Each of us believes that our strategy for survival is the right one. These strategies feel right. Sometimes, though, they lead us and others astray. The Enneagram provides a framework to guide and support a personal shift away from the survival strategy to an understanding of the other positions and more conscious behaviour.

    Self-awareness and Personal Mastery

    Through self-observation you can understand the relationship between you and your personality and what triggers your survival strategy. It is important to note that there are several survival strategies for each type. How dominant they are will depend on the level of self-awareness and self-management. Peter Senge argued that we need to be able to self-observe and that we need to discuss our behaviours with others. One of his Pillars of Leadership is Personal Mastery. For Senge, Personal Mastery embodies the skills we need to master ourselves as adults rather than children. This involves self-discipline as opposed to reacting compulsively. Through self-observation you can understand the relationship between you and your personality and what triggers your survival strategy. “Managers must learn to reflect on their current mental models, that is their primitive survival strategy. … If managers believe their world views are facts rather than a set of assumptions, then they will not be open to challenging their world views.” (Peter Senge. The Fifth Discipline).

    Our Enneagram Mental Maps

    Our brain wiring is individual. Thoughts, memories, skills and experiences create a web of complex chemical pathways or neurotransmitters forming our mental maps. We process information in a fraction of a second and compare it to our pre-existing maps. New data is continually compared to our existing maps. We tend to remember information that supports our beliefs far better than information that disproves them. People tend to fight hard to hold on to their view of the world. When external realities change, people’s internal realities often do not change as quickly. We see things according to our assumptions and expectations – our mental maps. Unfortunately, we often make the assumption that another person’s brain works the same as ours which often causes difficulties. It is important that we understand that the map is not necessarily the territory.

    Changing our stories

    Our inner stories use well-laid neurological tracks. They are what we rely on when we are on automatic. The art of learning is stimulating new neural connections. It takes more effort and energy in adulthood to learn things which would have come easily in early years, because of ingrained patterns that are already in place. It is even more difficult when we have to change old habits and replace them with ones that are more effective. Studies in neuroplasticity have overturned the doctrine of the unchanging brain. A brain system is made up of many neuronal pathways, or neurons that are connected to one another and work together. Secondary neural pathways can be “unmasked” and strengthened. This is the plasticity of the brain at work. The brain can re-organise its maps.Understanding the inner stories and their patterns helps us to make conscious choices about how we act, think or feel. If we are self-aware, we can recognise these patterns and choose not to allow the mental map or patterning to influence us unduly. Portia Nelson describes this process of changing the habitual response to the inner story. Waking up to our own stories through increased self-awareness can be a humbling process.

    Veronica Lunn - 8th May 2019

    Introducing the Enneagram

    The Enneagram (from the Greek words ennéa, meaning "nine" and grámma, meaning something "written" or "drawn") is a framework for better understanding of self and others. of It is principally understood and taught as a typology of nine interconnected personality types.

    The nine personality types are represented by the points of a geometric figure called an Enneagram, which indicate connections between the types. The Enneagram symbol has roots in antiquity and can be traced back at least as far as the works of Pythagoras. There has been a recurrent theme in Western mystical and philosophical tradition—the idea of nine divine forms. This idea was discussed by Plato as the Divine Forms or Platonic Solids, qualities of existence that are essential, that cannot be broken down into constituent parts. This idea was further developed in the third century of our era by the Neo-Platonic philosophers, particularly Plotinus in his central work, The Enneads.

    These ideas found their way from Greece and Asia Minor southward through Syria and eventually to Egypt. There, it was embraced by early Christian mystics known as the Desert Fathers who focused on studying the loss of the Divine Forms in ego consciousness. The particular ways in which these Divine Forms became distorted came to be known as the Seven Deadly Sins: anger, pride, envy, avarice, gluttony, lust, and sloth. Variations of the Enneagram symbol appear in the Sufi tradition. Franciscan mystic Ramon Lull also taught a philosophy and theology of nine principles in an attempt to integrate different faith traditions. The Jesuit mathematician Athanasius Kircher also has an Enneagram-like drawing that forms part of a 17th-century text.

    G. I. Gurdjieff is credited with making the Enneagram figure commonly known. He did not, however, develop the nine personality types associated with the Enneagram. These are claimed to be principally derived from the teachings of Oscar Ichazo and Claudio Naranjo. However, Naranjo's theories were certainly influenced by some earlier teachings of George Gurdjieff.

    Numerous other authors, including Helen Palmer, Don Richard Riso, Richard Rohr and Elizabeth Wagele, also began publishing widely read books on the Enneagram of Personality in the 1980s and 1990s.

    Veronica Lunn - 12 April 2019

    Using a coaching style of leadership to promote psychological safety in teams

    Just read something that really resonated with me as a professional coach. Dr Laura Delizonna’s article (High Performing Teams need Psychological Safety. HBR, August 2017) focuses on the need for psychological safety in developing high performing teams citing Google’s key findings from its extensive two-year study on team performance.

    Paul Santagata (Head of Industry at Google) concluded from the study that the highest-performing teams have one thing in common: psychological safety, which promoted risk-taking, speaking your mind and creativity - the types of behaviour that he saw resulted in the market edge. Delizonna is a highly respected Executive Coach. She explores how fragile psychological safety is.

    For example, how the amygdala (which generates the flight or fight response in the brain) is activated when a threat by a boss, colleague or worker is detected. Our evolutionary survival instinct shuts down higher-level strategic thinking and broader perspective as we respond to the provocation. The focus of coaching is often individual change and transformation. So, how can coaching work effectively with the brain? First, brain research reveals that focusing on problems or negative behaviour just reinforces those problems and behaviours. Therefore, the best coaching strategies focus on the present and future solutions. Rock and Schwartz (The Neuroscience of Leadership. Strategy and Business. May 2006) argue that brain science research tells us a lot about why change is difficult and what approaches can work best.

    Schwartz argues that our brains are built to detect changes in our environment and are more sensitive to what they perceive as negative change. Any change that constitutes a threat can trigger fear causing the brain's amygdala to stimulate a defensive emotional or impulsive response. These two areas compete with and direct brain resources away from the prefrontal region, which is known to promote and support higher intellectual functions. This pushes us to act more emotionally and more impulsively: our animal instincts start to take over. Leaders with good coaching skills can generate more solution-oriented behaviours, motivation and positive emotions such as trust, confidence, and feeling safe. A situation or environment that could be perceived as threatening (such as a difficult performance review or unwelcome change) can be diffused with the appropriate approach. Delizonna point to Barbara Fredrickson’s research (University of North Carolina) on the broaden-and-build mode of positive emotion, which allows us to solve complex problems and foster cooperative relationships.

    The finding was that we become more solution focused, open-minded, resilient, motivated, and persistent when we feel safe. Santagata said “There’s no team without trust.” Oxytocin is most well-known for its role in trust and decreasing fear. It has the effect of suppressing the activity of the amygdala which detects threats and processes fear. High levels of stress blocks oxytocin release. In a trusting relationship oxytocin is released. This is where Oxytocin levels in our brains rise, eliciting trust. This is a huge factor in team success. Leaders, like Santagata at Google, who work on creating this sense of psychological safety can expect to see higher levels of engagement and trust, increased motivation to tackle difficult problems, and better performance.

    Santagata gives us this quick formula for building psychological safety – which is predicated on the coaching style of leadership:

    • First, approach conflict as a collaborator, not an adversary. When conflicts come up, avoid triggering a fight-or-flight reaction by asking, “How could we achieve a mutually desirable outcome?”

    • Speak human-to-human, but anticipate reactions, plan countermoves, and adopt a learning mindset, where you’re truly curious to hear the other person’s point of view.

    • Ask for feedback to illuminate your own blind spots

    John Whitmore in Coaching for Performance notes that “Awareness and responsibility are better raised by asking rather than telling.” Leaders using coaching skills can generate greater trust, a sense of safety and more positive outcomes even in the most challenging situations.

    Veronica Lunn - 12 April 2019