How to avoid procrastinating over school work

This would have to be one of the most common challenges my students face and need assistance with.  The urge for students to put things off can be strong, especially when there are so many more exciting or interesting things they can be doing.

procrastinate now and panic laterGetting your child started on homework or undertaking study/revision can be a real challenge at times.  I’d be extremely rich if I got a $1 for every time parents asked their child ‘Did you start  your homework yet?” only for them to say ‘I will do it later’ or ‘I’ve got plenty of time to do it’ and they say ‘Don’t worry mum I will get it done’.

Am I right in that this is a regular conversation that goes on in most homes?  It can then often continue to the point where a child puts off their homework only to then create stress and angst at the last minute, for the whole household, when they realise they have to now get a task done and they have pretty much run out of time?

It is estimated that between 70-90% of students procrastinate and that this can rob them of their time and affect them to complete the required school work to the best of their ability.  This figure is probably even higher in students who have executive function or learning challenges.

Types of Procrastination

It is important to first understand what procrastination is and the two types of procrastinators.

Procrastination is primarily avoiding to do something and there are two types — functional and dysfunctional.

Functional procrastinators manage to get their work done and don’t seem to stress about putting things off.  Let’s say your daughter has a geography assignment due next Monday.  She doesn’t start on it until 9 p.m. on the Sunday night, but she completes it, even though she has to stay up a little late.  This is functional procrastination.

On the other hand, your son was given two weeks to write an essay for english that is due on March 17, and he doesn’t start it until late on the 15th.  He needs to write the plan, do the research, create an outline, and so on.  Although he manages to get it in on time, the work is not up to the expected standard, he’s stressed, and as a parent you are furious about having had to see another last-minute effort for a piece of work. This is known as dysfunctional procrastination.  Your son knew what he needed to do, but couldn’t actually make himself do it.  This form of procrastination often produces both lower marks and stress (for everyone)!

Why do students procrastinate?

boy on phone procrastinatingResearch shows that procrastinators, students and adults alike, believe that they must be in a good mood to tackle an uninteresting task, such as homework.  When they consider what they will do next — homework or play video games — video games often wins.  The more enjoyable the activity it will always win over the homework task because they believe it will improve their mood.  Unfortunately this approach very rarely ever works, and, in the end, students are left disappointed as all they do is leave less time to complete the task.

Reasons students procrastinate can include:

  • not knowing where to start
  • thinking they have more time than they usually do
  • not understanding the task at hand
  • poor study routines or habits
  • get distracted
  • lack of interest
  • fear of failing or have perfectionist tendencies.

Tips to avoid procrastinating over school work

In order to do something about procrastination a student needs to:

  • be aware of when it is happening;
  • be able to identify how it affects them; and
  • the behaviours/habits that cause it or bring it on.

Let me share with you 5 tips for students to avoid procrastinating over school work:

  1. see it and feel it – students need to think about what will happen if they do procrastinate and what is the likely outcome will be and then decide if they want to go through that experience again?  In order to manage it they need to be aware of their own ‘self talk’ and know when it is happening.
  2. have a plan – students need to ask themselves questions –
    –  what do I need to do?
    –  what is the plan of attack?
    –  how am I going to approach this work?
    –  do I understand everything I need to do?
    –  do I have everything I need to get the task done?
  3. start with one task at a time – it can be useful to lower the ‘barrier of entry’  so to speak and just start small ie answer the first question or make a start for a short amount of time ie 5-10 minutes.  Most students actually find it they can just get started then they can keep going.
  4. break tasks down – by doing this, the overall task which might have seemed to big and challenging is no longer seen that way.  Students can then focus on the work at hand rather than looking to the end result and being overwhelmed before they even make a start.
  5. remove distractions – being aware of the things that can or do distract a student and removing them or removing themselves to another space can make a difference and help them to get started.

Unfortunately for most student they cannot stop procrastination completely but they can have tools and strategies to serve around it when it appears!

For more advice or to learn more about how I can assist your child with both school and life please do get in touch.