The good news is that for many, procrastination can be eliminated or reduced.
Countless books and articles have been written about the topic. There’s even a national week in tribute to this common challenge: procrastination. And as most parents will attest, procrastination seems to be an epidemic in high school- and college-age students. Some figures have put the behavior as being prevalent in 85 to 95 percent of students.
The good news is that for many, procrastination can be eliminated or reduced. Here are six steps to inspire and achieve results.
Understand the source. Teen- through college-age students are still developing the part of the brain that governs rational thought. The frontal lobes, which help humans make decisions, don’t fully mature or connect until the mid-20s or so. However, the limbic system, the part of the brain that governs emotions is working overtime. It’s the limbic system that can make students feel overwhelmed or overconfident about the time needed to complete a project. Bottom line, procrastination isn’t typically about being lazy and it can be overcome.
Identify the crutches. Maybe not scientific, but it’s no surprise that in a recent study mentioned in the Huffington Post, students self-identified watching television and checking social media as the two most common deterrents from school work. Parents can keep that in mind as they help students set aside an area devoted to homework. Limit distractions and keep useful supplies nearby. Then repeat as needed, “the bedroom is for sleeping (really does encourage better sleep habits) and the TV room for entertaining.”
The tomato principle can work. The founder of what is commonly referred to as the Pomodoro Principle, used a tomato-shaped timer to establish work/rest periods. Simply put, 25 minutes of work is followed by a five-minute break. A great deal can be accomplished in short focused periods of time. Adapt the strategy as needed – 20 minutes works too and the microwave timer is easy to program. The breaks are essential to refresh the body and mind.
Learn to prioritize. A simple A, B, C, then 1, 2, 3 method can bring clarity to any planner. Mark the tasks as A (most important to accomplish) to C and then within each category, decide which is first, second, and third. Work through assignments in that order, fully recognizing that the Cs may become the next day’s A tasks. If that’s still overwhelming, finish the 25-minute work time with a list of what was accomplished. The feeling of accomplishment can fuel the next study/work session.
You eat an elephant in small bites. This common analogy for managing a giant project (however you define that) suggests dividing the task into manageable chunks. For instance, block five minutes to brainstorm ideas instead of staring at a blank screen wondering where to begin. Many times procrastination is due to the self-talk that retorts, “Where do I start?” But if a student can break down the evening’s homework into bite-sized slots of times, suddenly the impossible is getting done.
A little reward can go a long way. The truth is that a mound of homework can be taxing and dreary. But building in small rewards after reaching certain goals can keep a student motivated. So after the timer goes off, check in with friends on Instagram. After writing the concluding paragraph, play with the dog. And when the realization hits that the entire draft is complete, there is nothing like physical activity to recharge a student’s spirit.
Need more ideas? Check in with an experienced parent for additional tips. Ask the student to pair up with a study buddy known for organizational skills. Have the student pick his own planner. Ask a teacher’s help for managing assignments. Check out an “anti-procrastination” mobile app (refer to PCWorld for a review of useful apps). Number one on your list: keep the communication flowing between parent and student. Talk about what worries the student. Aiming for perfection is often code for fear of failure. Listen first, then dispense advice. Model the behavior. Revisit what’s not working. Celebrate successes – today.