Here are seven procrastination tips to get your student (and perhaps you) moving towards completion of the task at hand.
1. Set Better Deadlines
Every great procrastinator loves a good deadline, and that’s because they know exactly how long they can push something off before they actually have to do it.
It builds up some type of false reassurance and feeling that “Hey, I’m doing the right thing!” because their paper isn’t due until Friday, so spending their Wednesday with friends only makes sense.
But then here comes Thursday night and it’s back to that familiar feeling of “Why did I wait so long.” Not to mention that things never go as planned when you’re up against a deadline, right? Headaches decide it’s the perfect time to party, or perhaps cars decide to just stop working altogether, etc.
Either way, procrastinators need to set better deadlines. Meaning, the actual stated deadline is no longer when something is due, and should be merely looked at as the time to deliver the thing your student has said was actually due a few days ago.
So, encourage students to build in buffer time. That could be a day in advance for something smaller like your everyday homework assignment, or even a few days for larger projects. The scenario should probably dictate the new deadline, but either way, students should be operating on a padded schedule and not one where the teacher’s deadline is also the student’s deadline.
2. Install Deadline Accountability
This will be quick but needs to be said given the above—none of this deadline talk really even matters if not taken seriously. Meaning, there needs to be real commitment to complete something by this new stated deadline, and importantly, there needs to be accountability if those deadlines are continually missed.
3. Get Organized Ahead of Time
Sometimes task mountain seems so much taller than it actually is because all of the little sub-tasks are accumulating at the foundation. For a student, those things can include figuring out when an assignment is actually due, which requires searching for the due date, which takes a lot longer if they don’t know exactly where to look, which can get thrown off track if they have to look online somewhere for the answer, and so on.
So, it’s easy to see just how easily not being organized can turn into something not being done. Instead, if dates are known or can easily be found, your student is off to the races. The same thing goes for knowing where materials are, headphones, etc. Anything that has to do with the physical nature of sitting down and completing a task should be taken into consideration and “organized” beforehand.
4. Eliminate Distractions
If your student has made it to this point, that’s cause for celebration! But, the work isn’t done yet, and far from it.
In fact, you could argue that eliminating distractions is one of the most recommended tips, but also one of the most difficult to put into practice. And yes, while I’m mostly referring to the physical distractions that can be found at arm's length on your teen’s desk as they struggle to complete their assignments or study - phone, video games, etc., - there is more to this on the mental side of things as well.
And really, the mental distractions can almost be more debilitating than the physical. For me personally, it’s the thought of, yes I know I have seven different things to do right now, but the minute I start doing one, I’m still thinking about another. Thus, nothing gets done because I’m jumping from one “distraction” to the next.
One obvious cure is focus; get locked in. Put on some music to try and drown out the voice in your head that’s nagging you to stop what you’re doing because something else is better or more important.
But sometimes, that just doesn’t work, and no matter how hard your student tries, it feels like they're always doing the wrong things or “wasting” time on the wrong task...
Which brings us to the need to prioritize. Where the above gets really bad is when students try to dive into that thing or task at the bottom of the list of importance. So, they might feel good doing something, anything, but after a few minutes their brain is already reminding them there is something bigger waiting just ahead.
But also, because they started at the bottom, that “bigger” thing might only be a jump to the rung above, which means they still have a handful of other rungs just waiting for them as you keep reminding themselves to climb and climb, and climb.
But what if they started at the top? Now those teeny tiny distractions have their volume turned down so low they can barely hear them, or better yet, are successful at tuning them out altogether thanks to their now amazing ability to focus.
6. Know when to stop or take a break
So now that your student is at the point of focusing and prioritizing, what's the next challenge? Well, one might be knowing when to stop studying or stop doing whatever it is they’re currently working on.
Wait, how does stopping improve procrastination? Because we all lose focus over time. Just look at the recommended length of a meeting in order to hold everyone’s attention and to get the most out of it. Same goes for school work and studying.
Not to mention, think about what those long meetings lead to…first, distractions start getting louder and louder, but then you also start to really despise meetings if things get really bad.
So, encourage your student to stop or take a break when appropriate. Even though more work might eventually get done by “powering through,” it’s easy to see why quality might start to decline after a certain point.
7. Reward the positive to see more positive
This doesn’t mean you as the parent or educator need to reward your student, but make sure that they themselves go out of their way to take a reward of some sort after completing an assignment or session. And while “study for 30, watch Netflix for 30” can be a slippery slope, there are plenty of other ways to implement a personal or external reward system.
Not to mention that rewards can be tiered, with some given after completing a section during study time, another for completed assignments, and another for a good grade on those things they didn’t procrastinate with.
As with any goal, it’s not only grabbing that reward when it's all said and done, but it’s also having something to look forward to. When procrastinating and finally getting to work on things at the 11th hour, there might not be much to look forward to besides sleep and then freedom from a looming deadline.
Instead, with better deadlines, organization, and much of what has already been said above, students can use their time a lot better, which leaves a lot more room for taking breaks, rewarding, and more.
Just seeing the word “procrastination” can make you feel guilty, right? It’s probably because we’ve all been there, and continue to revisit it no matter our age or circumstances. Kids procrastinate, adults procrastinate—we all do it, yet, few go the extra step to make a change.
Well, except you! I mean, you’ve made it to this blog post, and in doing so, are actually clearing many of the hurdles of procrastination without even realizing it.
For instance, you’re putting off something else that could be more enjoyable to take the time to search for tips and answers. So, you can easily say you’re prioritizing getting help over the act of putting it off!
So, let’s keep things going!