Almost everyone (even you!) procrastinates about something. People even claim that they do their best work under the stress of the last minute. Procrastination is a workable and even adaptive strategy when tasks require just a few steps, only basic skills, when the stakes are low, and when the need for depth of processing is little. Those elements describe elementary level assignments.
Fast forward to middle or high school, however, and you’ll find that expectations are increased for multiple steps, more sophisticated skills, self-resourced information, higher stakes (grades/referral to desirable class levels), and deeper information processing, with connections. The “A” student of elementary school may start to look disorganized, disabled, and disengaged. If the student has had extended time included as a 504 or IEP accommodation, that time may become a double-edged sword. Extended time may lead to assignment build-up instead of assignment accomplishment.
The trick to dealing with procrastination is this: Make that last minute happen sooner, and start planning steps right away. Ideally, the beginning of school is a great time to begin good habits. However, sometimes the new year comes with a soft startup as teachers get to know their classes. The most important advice is this: Structure beats chaos every time, so don’t wait, no matter what time of year it is when you read this. (Need help? I’ve got that.)
Here are three kinds of structure that parents can introduce to help manage procrastination:
Structure homework time: Don’t over-schedule, get home late, and then expect quality work from your student. Make and stick to a schedule/calendars and share with other family members. Google Calendar or iCal are great for this. Assign the time and kind of work that will happen, as well as the fun things.
For bigger projects, work backwards: Don’t bribe for performance–ever. Instead, plan something fun for the day before the project is due. Schedule it. It’s not a bribe–It’s an activity that pushes the last minute back a day. Break up the project tasks into chunks and assign them in the calendar on the days between now and then. Enjoy the fun!
Reinforce effective strategies: Keep a list of the strategies that you have seen work for your student posted in a conspicuous place, and use specific praise when they use them. “All done? Chunking the project steps over three days is so effective for you.”
Remember that you are modeling work habits, not just expecting them. Just get started!
I would also like to add that besides time management skills, it would be useful to introspect and understand why we’re procrastinating in the first place. Once we dig deeper and understand what we are trying to accomplish by procrastinating, we can consciously work on coming up with a better plan.
I agree with “Change a thought, change an action”. It would be nice to think that introspection would help us to become less likely to procrastinate. But people are not very good at action following introspection. That’s why behavior change is hard. Beyond that, the Confirmation Bias keeps reinforcing the old behaviors and excuses. If a person is high in self regulation, and intrinsically motivated, introspection can be part of the success plan. If you need to get something done today, though, go with strategies.