Might you be a procrastinator?

Might you be a procrastinator?

Not getting done what you need to do? Too busy to do the important things?

The subject of procrastination often surfaces in coaching conversations – when people are just not getting done what they need to do. This case study might help you raise your awareness and possible steps towards breaking a procrastinating habit.

Last year, John arrived 10 mins late to our coaching session as he had been working frantically on a document he had to present to his nursery trustees that evening. He was angry with himself for leaving it so late and also really sorry he had kept me waiting. I let him settle and offered him a drink, which he accepted. As he sipped his tea, I asked him what had happened? Where did it go wrong?

John put his head in his hands and confessed. He knew what was wrong. He rattled off a range of interruptions that had thrown him off course. Re-reading emails; making coffee for the whole team; over-preparing for something less important; taking interruptions from staff throughout the day.

I gave an inward smile, recognising that my own behaviours often mirrored what he was describing. It was a golden opportunity to explore my own situation, once John and I had worked on his.

Procrastination is something we can all fall into. It can sometimes get confused with laziness. Procrastination is an active process in that you choose to do something else (easier or more enjoyable) instead of the task that needs to be prioritised. Laziness suggests inaction, an unwillingness to do something, or apathy. Giving in to procrastination can affect our productivity and induce feelings of guilt or shame.

John had just about finished his report but was exhausted, with little energy to carry himself forward to the evening presentation. I asked him if he recognised this pattern of behaviour in his life. He did. He gave an example of writing his MA dissertation in a week, as he never ‘got around to it’. He was disappointed with getting just a pass and also recognised how much learning from his research he had missed by cramming the writing up at the end. It was good to know that John knew himself well. Recognising procrastination is the first step to tackling it. John and I spent our session together and came up with three steps to help him. If you are prone to procrastination, they might help you too.

Step 1 – Raise your own awareness

You might be procrastinating if you do some of the following:

Fill your day with low priority tasks; leave an item on your to-do list even though it is important; re-read emails without making a decision on what to do with them; start a high priority task and then go off and make coffee; do things for other people instead of your own tasks; you wait to be in the ‘right mood’ to do something.

Step 2 – Work out why you are procrastinating

Are you avoiding a particular task because it is boring or testing? If so, take steps to get it done so you can move on to more enjoyable aspects of your role. Poor organisational skills can lead to procrastination. Organised people use to-do lists and create effective schedules to help them map out a timeline. Even if you are organised, you can feel overwhelmed, doubt your own abilities and worry about failing so you do something you are good at instead. Procrastinators are often also ‘perfectionists’ in that they would rather avoid a task than not do it to their self-imposed high standards. Or maybe you can’t decide what to do and put off taking any action in case it’s the wrong choice.

Step 3 – Adopt some new strategies

Procrastination is a habit, a pattern of behaviour laid down over many years, so it is not going to disappear easily. Through our coaching sessions, John came up with a great list of things to try. Here are some top tips he can pass on:

1. Forgive yourself for your procrastinating behaviour in the past – self-forgiveness can help you feel more positive about yourself.

2. Commit to what you have to do – with a focus on the DOING and not the AVOIDANCE

3. Invest in a whiteboard or sticky note system to keep yourself on track. John also found prioritising his work through an urgent/important quadrant list helped him focus on important and urgent tasks, even if they were a challenge.

4. Give yourself a motivational message and stick it up in front of where you work.

5. Hide your phone so you are not tempted to check messages or emails on a whim. Ban social media for a bit.

6. Promise yourself a treat if you complete the task on time – for John it was a walk in the forest with a coffee and cake at the end. Notice how good it feels to finish things.

7. Have a friend or colleague who will check up on you – a bit of friendly accountability works wonders.

8. Change your language from ‘I have to/need to’ which implies you have no choice. Adopt ‘I choose to/want to’ instead – that subtle difference suggests you are in control and own your own work.

9. “Eat that frog” (Tracy, 2013) a metaphor to help you realise that the best time to do an unpleasant or difficult task (e.g. eating a live frog) is usually first thing in the morning – then you can enjoy the rest of your day.

 

References:

  • Covey, S (2004) 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Simon & Schuster, UK
  • Mind tools: How to stop procrastinating: overcoming the habit of delaying important tasks (accessed online 25/1/21)
  • Tracy, B (2013) Eat That Frog! 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time. Yellow Kite Publishers

About the author:

Ruth Mercer is a coach and consultant, with a career background in early education. Ruth is committed to creating a positive learning environment for staff, children and families. She has a successful track record of 1:1 coaching for leaders and group coaching across the maintained and PVI sector. She supports leaders and managers in developing a coaching approach in their settings through bespoke consultancy and introductory training on coaching and mentoring for all staff.

Virtual course forthcoming: Onwards and Upwards – Becoming an Effective Leader in the EYFS (6 half-day sessions over 6 months). Suitable for EYFS leads in school, nursery school teachers and reception teachers. Please email for further details, to book a space or request a bespoke option for your school/setting.

Contact: ruthmercercoaching@gmail.com

Website: www.ruthmercercoaching.com

International Day of Happiness

International Day of Happiness

“Success is getting what you want. Happiness is wanting what you get.” – Dale Carnegie

Do you know what makes you happy? Is it your family and friends? Your new phone or your garden? Perhaps it’s pampering your pets, creating a culinary masterpiece or simply seeing the smile on someone else’s face when you go out of your way to do something special for them?

March 20th is the UN’s International Day of Happiness, when people all over the world will connect together to celebrate happiness and join the call for happiness to be given greater priority in organisations, countries and the world as a whole.

Since the dawn of the 21st century, it seems the world has faced crisis after crisis: 9/11, the war on terror, the financial crash, and most recently, a global pandemic affecting the lives of everyone on the planet. Some might say there is little to be happy about.

And yet in 2011, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution which recognised happiness as a “fundamental human goal” and called for “a more inclusive, equitable and balanced approach to economic growth that promotes the happiness and wellbeing of all peoples”. It recognised the part that we all play in promoting a happier world, and that injustice, inequality, and the pursuit of economic growth at the expense of human happiness, is neither desirable nor sustainable. The resolution was initiated by Bhutan, a country which has recognised the value of national happiness over national income since the early 1970s and has a formal measure for ‘Gross National Happiness’ which it has preferred over Gross National Product (GNP) for years.

International Happiness Day is promoted by the charity, Action for Happiness, and supported by many other partner organisations in the UK and around the world. This year, the focus for the day is on 3 simple steps which we can all take in these difficult times to increase our happiness and that of those around us. They are:

1. Keep calm – remember to breathe and focus on what really matters, not things that are out of your control

2. Stay wise – make positive choices which help others

3. Be kind – reach out to others at this time and stay connected however you can, especially to those who may be in greatest need

You can download a ‘Coping Calendar’ from their website which gives 30 simple, free ideas to help get everyone through the current crisis; from phoning a loved one, to having a tech-free day, and you can sign up to receive future calendars too.

So how happy are we?

In 2011, the UN also began measuring happiness in the World Happiness Report, an index based on several measures of wellbeing and quality of life including GDP, life expectancy, social support and people’s perception of their freedom to make life choices. Scandinavian countries fair well, with Finland, Denmark, Iceland, Norway and Sweden all in the top 7! The bottom 5 countries, ranked by their citizens for their happiness, are the Central African Republic, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, South Sudan and Afghanistan.

Interestingly, and perhaps going somewhat against commonly-held current beliefs, data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reports that the UK has improved in its measures of life satisfaction each year since 2011, and that these percentage changes over time are significant for all UK countries. This might not be how it ‘feels’ at the moment, especially with reports of increased numbers of calls to mental health charities during lockdown, but ‘officially’ we are getting happier.

How to be happier yourself

To help everyone raise their level of personal happiness, Action for Happiness are promoting their “Ten keys to happier living” and they have put these into the mnemonic Great Dream, which stands for:

Giving – do things for others

Relating – connect with people and communities

Exercising – take care of your body

Awareness – live mindfully

Trying out – keep learning new things

Direction – have goals to look forward to

Resilience – find ways to bounce back from adversity

Emotions – always look for the positives

Acceptance – be comfortable with who you are

Meaning – be part of something bigger than you

Most self-help groups and happiness gurus will agree that to change something in your life, you must either change your thoughts, or change your actions, which can lead to different, more positive results. On the website, you can sign up to a short, email-based course, and download some free resources to help introduce happiness topics to children.

How to promote happiness in your setting

Promoting wellbeing in your setting should be something that you are doing regularly, with both your pupils and your staff. After all, Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’ states that we cannot be happy if our basic needs are not met. Action for Happiness have also created a ‘Keys to Happier Living Toolkit’ costing £80 for unlimited access for a year, which they describe as “an engaging, accessible and evidence-based programme to promote the emotional wellbeing and resilience of children aged 5–11”. There are two versions, aimed at KS1 and KS2, and although they are not aimed directly at nursery-aged children, there are a lot of ideas that can be adapted to suit the early years cohort.

Here are some ideas to promote happiness in your setting:

  • Celebrate on March 20th in person or virtually
  • Run a survey to find out what really makes your staff and children happy
  • Increase the physical activity within the setting even by 10 – 15 minutes a day
  • Practice more mindfulness – how about a staff yoga class?
  • Have a ‘wear something that makes you smile day’ – be prepared for onesies, jeans or shoulder pads!
  • Make a list of things to be grateful for
  • Encourage everyone in the setting to do something for someone else
  • Remember that connecting to something bigger gives people meaning – it could be with people in your room, your setting, your country or the world!

There are 51 actions to help you be happier on the Action for Happiness website, from ‘getting more sleep’ to ‘getting to know your neighbours better’ so there are plenty to choose from to get you started.

And whatever you do, have fun!

National Old Stuff Day

National Old Stuff Day

Tuesday 2nd March is National Old Stuff Day, a great opportunity to educate your little ones on how to be greener, more energy conscious and reduce the amount of waste that we generate. It’s not really known how Old Stuff Day started, but it’s been on the calendar for a few years now – long enough perhaps to be considered ‘vintage’ (30+ years) but maybe not, antique (100+ years!)

National Old Stuff Day can also mean different things: on the one hand, it can mean celebrating ‘old things’ such as vinyl record players, vintage clothing or forgotten art, and on the other, it can be about getting rid of the ‘old’ things that we no longer need in responsible ways, so that we can let some exciting ‘new stuff’ in. Either way, you can use the day to make some changes for the better. And if you do it, you can help your children do it too!

If you think about the word ‘stuff’, it really has a very broad and general meaning. One dictionary defines it as: “matter, material, articles, or activities of a specified or indeterminate kind that are being referred to, indicated, or implied.” So, ‘anything’ really. And if you chose to go really broad with the definition, you could use the day to either attract MORE of the stuff you want, or choose to have LESS of the stuff you don’t want!

We’ve defined 2 areas where you could apply this ‘more’ or ‘less’ approach.

1. PHYSICAL OLD THINGS

  • Declutter

There’s an old adage that says: “if you don’t love it, use it or have room for it, then you need to get rid of it”. The Eastern philosophy of Feng Shui, which is about arranging the items in your home and workspaces to promote the flow of energy, would support this, and decluttering spaces is fundamental to the practice. Even if you have no belief in the flow of universal energy, we can all relate to the negative feelings that build up when we sit looking at piles of clutter. They somehow make us feel guilty, lazy, and ‘stuck in a rut’ in more ways than one. So here are a few green and energy-conscious ways of getting rid of your clutter.

  • Organise a ‘Bring and Buy’ sale

There was a time when ‘Bring and Buy’ or ‘jumble’ sales were all the rage – perhaps these have now become a ‘vintage’ item in their own right, but however you think of them, they can be a lifeline to many who are on a limited income and a great way to pass things on so they can continue to be loved by others. You could organise your own in your setting depending on the lockdown rules, donating any unsold items to charity.

  • Upcycle

Many things such as furniture can be upcycled for a small amount of money and time but can deliver a great return on your effort. Think about giving wooden furniture a new coat of paint, or stripping the paint off and varnishing them to let the beauty of the wood shine through. Chairs can be easily given a new lease of life by changing the upholstery on the seat or arms and this technique can be used on wooden floors and doors too.

  • Create something new

Many things can also be transformed into new items to save money and the environment – old bottles become candlesticks, cutlery becomes jewellery and plastic bottles make great bird feeders that are easy and fun to make with children! Remember too that many items can make interesting and unique additions to your outdoor space. How about using an old washing-up bowl to plant bulbs in, or recycling your old wood and cardboard boxes into a bug house? If you have some old coat hangers, you could make some interesting and unique garden mobiles.

Clothing can easily be recycled – old dresses become crop tops, cushion covers or scrap material for fancy dress costumes. T-shirts make good dusters and if you have lost a sock in the wash, who says you can’t start a trend and wear odd socks any time you like? You could just cut them up into squares and add them to your craft box too. It’s a sustainable solution that will save energy and reduce waste.

Children should be encouraged into good habits with their belongings too, and you can start to educate them early about issues such as recycling and reusing objects. You may be surprised at what their young imaginations will come up with if you ask them!

Ultimately, you can donate things to charity shops or freecycle websites too but check on the restrictions in your area before setting off, as some chains are only accepting 2 bags per person, whilst others are already inundated due to lockdown. However, many council-run recycling centres also have shops where you can donate items to be resold, and one person’s junk is another person’s treasure, after all.

2. OLD HABITS AND HOBBIES

If you want to create some new habits or hobbies, consider playing an instrument, learning a language or having a go at a different sport. Lockdown has created a plethora of new educational things to do, all from the comfort of your own home, or setting, so there’s no shortage of ideas out there. Or how about doing something completely different and unusual when lockdown finishes such as:

  • Learn how to make fire from scratch
  • Book an archery or Segway session
  • Set yourself a walking-backward challenge – possibly for charity
  • Ask the children what new things they would like to do and try that

Promoting good habits in children is important as once learned, they will serve the children well for the rest of their lives. Think about things like improving oral hygiene, or helping them to exercise more, helping the planet or encouraging wildlife in the garden, or just regularly giving something back by helping those less fortunate.

And if you’re looking to give up some old habits that you feel are holding you back, then now is the time to start; be it smoking, drinking, or eating things that are not helping your body, Old Stuff Day would be as good a time as any to commit to making the change.

Sensory safety

Sensory safety

In my last article, I wrote about children who bite in response to feeling stressed or anxious. I spoke about how, for children who experience sensory differences, the environment can sometimes be a trigger. Finding sensory ways for the environment you work in to signal safety to people can be helpful for everyone within it, not just those who have particular struggles.

Here are some sensory adaptations you can consider making. I am not saying that you should make them all, but exploring these ideas may help you to find something that is right for you and for the children you support. A calmer workspace is good for adult stress levels. Children learn far more when they are calm than when they are excited or anxious.

  • Install natural tone roller blinds at the top of display boards and draw them down to give you a visual break from the clutter of brightly decorated boards
  • Use padded display boards to create quieter areas. The padding of the boards will absorb sound, soft furnishings will do the same: could you add curtains, cushions, blankets to your setting?
  • Open the windows. It is important to feel warm and cosy of course, but even in the winter having the windows open a crack can allow fresh air to circulate. Not only is this a good strategy for keeping germs at bay, it will allow the scent landscape in the room to be constantly refreshed. Perfumes, soap, cleaning products, food, shampoos, and nappies all release odours. Smell is our only sense processed by the limbic brain which means it is particularly easy to overwhelm someone who is sensitive. Think about how you would feel in your environment if you were a little queasy, would you prefer fresh air or the warm fug of food mixed with soap and other people’s perfumes?
  • Add texture to your environment. Think about what children touch in your setting, is it predominately smooth surfaces? Plastic worktops, plastic toys, painted walls? All of these things offer very little feedback. Something that offers strong tactile feedback tells someone at a sensory level that they are here and present, and that feeling of ‘presentness’ is a little bit of mindfulness. Being your embodied self in the here and now is the opposite of being your in-your-head self worrying about the future or troubled by the past. Can you add texture? Hessian covers or cushions? Even sandpaper stuck to a texture board?
  • Is there somewhere you can press yourself into? Our instinct when we feel scared is to hideaway. Think of the safety of a secure embrace. Things like hammocks or fabric chair seats that stretch around us and press against us can be the next best thing to a big hug. Hideaways, like egg chairs, or little dens are also great for people who need to escape for a moment. As an adult, it is likely that you use the toilet cubicle in the same fashion! That small plain space away from it all is a little oasis of calm
  • Play white noise sounds. White noise is innately calming to us, it is why parents hush their babies by creating white noise orally “Shhh shh”. It is a reminder of the noises from the womb where we were safely sheltered. You can get white noise apps on your phone. Or think of natural white noise sounds – the rustling of leaves, the breath of the ocean slowly lapping on the shoreline. You will be able to find these sounds online. The BBC have released their whole sound archive for public use, there are some wonderful finds in there: http://bbcsfx.acropolis.org.uk/
  • Rock. We are soothed by the vestibular sensation of a gentle back and forth. You may already have swings and rockers in your setting. These are great for people who have the motor skills to use them. Think of ways you can provide the same sensations for people who do not have those skills. And think of ways you can access them yourself, perhaps you need a rocking chair for the storyteller?
  • Space. A landscape full of toys and things to do can feel to a child like a desk piled high with papers feels to an office worker. As Maria Montessori said “Play is the work of the child” make sure there is space just to be without pressure to do or engage. Everyone needs a break from work every once in a while

I am writing this at a desk strewn with half-made origami wonders from my 6-year-old, books, baby toys, and coloured pencils! I am off to try and practice what I preach. It is so much easier to think about these things than to do these things. I wish you all the best in creating a calm environment for yourself and the children you support.

About the author:

Joanna Grace is an international Sensory Engagement and Inclusion Specialist, trainer, author, TEDx speaker and founder of The Sensory Projects.

Consistently rated as “outstanding” by Ofsted, Joanna has taught in mainstream and special-school settings, connecting with pupils of all ages and abilities. To inform her work, Joanna draws on her own experience from her private and professional life as well as taking in all the information she can from the research archives. Joanna’s private life includes family members with disabilities and neurodivergent conditions and time spent as a registered foster carer for children with profound disabilities.

Joanna has published four practitioner books: “Multiple Multisensory Rooms: Myth Busting the Magic”“Sensory Stories for Children and Teens”“Sensory-Being for Sensory Beings” and “Sharing Sensory Stories and Conversations with People with Dementia”. and two inclusive sensory story children’s books: “Voyage to Arghan” and “Ernest and I”There is new book coming out soon called ‘”The Subtle Spectrum” and her son has recently become the UK’s youngest published author with his book, My Mummy is Autistic.

Joanna is a big fan of social media and is always happy to connect with people via Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Clingy children

Clingy children

Lockdown has changed so much for children. They see very few of the familiar adults and friends who usually inhabit their small world. Much-loved activities are no longer available. Playgrounds are restricted and libraries are shut. And most importantly, children may hear, see or sense anxiety all around them – at home and on television.

In this intensely difficult time, how can we best support children who are feeling insecure and apprehensive?

Emotions are contagious

The answer begins with us. Fearful adults can spread anxiety, making children more prone to clinginess. Feelings that spread like wildfire are caused by a very real phenomenon – emotional contagion – where we literally ‘catch’ another person’s feelings without realising it.

Everyone experiences emotional contagion on a daily basis. Some of us are more ‘contagious’ than others. It is likely that children who are more susceptible to emotional contagion will be clingy.

To support these children best, we must establish how susceptible they are to the emotional atmosphere around them. To do this, we can carry out the following emotional contagion quiz.

Emotional Contagion Quiz

For each question, use the following score system:

ALWAYS  3 | SOMETIMES  2 | NEVER  1

Add up the scores.

The higher the score, the more susceptible the child is to emotional contagion.

Scores over 20 mean the child is highly susceptible.

What next?

What does a child do when they feel insecure? They seek out someone they trust and cling on for dear life! Developmentally, such ‘clinginess’ is healthy and sound. The act of seeking and the feeling of trust are the basis for all good relationships. In order for a child to have the confidence to seek us out for comfort, we need to put into place a variety of effective approaches that reduce anxiety and build up confidence.

Boosting confidence in clingy children

1. Using the physical environment to support feelings

Warm, inviting environments can reduce anxiety and restore calm, leaving a child free to enjoy their learning. We need to be intentional about the different areas in our setting so that children know where to let off steam, where to calm down or where to be comforted. Talk often and intentionally to the children about the feelings each area will support. “Going outside helps us feel more energetic!” “Being in the quiet den helps us calm down when we feel cross.”

In this way, children can learn to access an area according to their emotional need at the time.

2. Using the emotional environment to support feelings

Clinginess decreases when children feel safe and secure. Practitioners set the emotional tone of the setting. By creating a warm, safe and trusting emotional environment for children to learn, we create potential for anxious children to explore and interact with others.

3. Creating an emotional language vocabulary

How do we learn a new language? We learn it by being exposed to it day after day. In the same way, children need to be exposed to emotion words. “Who’s happy to go outside?”, “I’m so excited about our new playground!”, “I’m a bit worried.” Introduce new words and use them often. Help children understand what they mean, so that they have a word for every feeling they experience. This helps build children’s emotional literacy and resilience.

4. Using transitions to support feelings

Be aware that transition times are likely to be emotionally challenging and that a day that is clearly signposted builds children’s confidence. Visual timetables are proven to help children feel more secure and confident, simply because children know what is happening next. Display timetables clearly, encouraging anxious children to refer to them throughout the day.

5. Giving clingy children a new start

Some children may have intensified and prolonged bouts of clinginess, especially during stressful times of change or upheaval. Our role as practitioners is to remain consistent, steady and dependable, creating a safe and secure place for children to be restored to full ‘learning capacity’ once again.

Lockdown is difficult for all of us but particularly for our youngest citizens. Anxiety is rife and clinginess has increased. But the answer is always simple – connection! Environments that encourage connection, strong emotional communication and familiar routines hold the potential to transform clingy children into more confident ones.

It takes time and energy to support Intense clinginess, something we may feel extremely short-changed on. But the benefits are many and impact the trajectory of children’s lives. We can give clingy children a spring in their steps and a renewed love for learning.

Now that is what I call a result!

About the author:

Helen is a mother of 4 and a committed and experienced early years consultant. She is Education Director at Arc Pathway, a sensitive profiling and next steps early years platform for teachers and parents. She has a wealth of experience in teaching, both in the primary sector and early years, co-founding and running her own pre-school in 2005. Helen has written books for the early years sector, including Developing Empathy in the Early Years” (winner of the Nursery World Awards Professional Book Category 2018) and Building a Resilient Workforce in the Early Years” (Early Years Alliance 2019). She regularly writes for early years publications such as Nursery World. 

Helen can be contacted via LinkedIn.

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