I actually planned to write this article yesterday but then I received an email from a client and had to answer it right away. After sending off the email I realized my coffee mug was empty so I had to get that refilled of course. Can't function without coffee. The coffee in the pot was lukewarm which got me thinking about those fancy Nespresso machines. Each cup made to order so I guess you always get a hot cup of coffee. Sitting back down at my computer I opened up Amazon (just out of curiosity) and started checking out the prices and reviews. $200 for the machine and 80 cents a capsule!!?? Maybe next quarter... Closing the Amazon window I noticed that it was almost noon, time for lunch.
Does any of the above sound familiar? According to a study by Dr. Piers Steel, one of the leading researchers on procrastination, 80-95% of college students procrastinate... which means that 5 to 20% of college students lie to survey takers. Everyone procrastinates. The difference is whether the procrastination is chronic or not and whether it is affecting one's job or life.
I touched on this subject in my last article about study habits. There has been some buzz in the last few years about the benefits of putting things off thanks to Frank Partnoy's book, Wait: The Art and Science of Delay . He points out the possible benefits for business people and entrepreneurs of waiting until the last minute to make decisions. While there are some interesting (and appealing) ideas there, the need for students to get things done remains high. Kids who get their work done ahead of time are more likely to get better grades in school. They have more time to review, are less likely to rush through the work, and may even have a window of time when they can confirm with a teacher that they are answering the questions correctly. Better grades in high school means acceptance to a better college which increases our kid's chances of finding a job. I know what you are saying now, "Sure, we all know putting things off is bad but what can we do about it? My spouse and I still procrastinate ourselves and apart from screaming at our kids and taking away their video games, how can we teach them to do their work first and postpone playtime?"
The first and most important point is for all of us to remember that procrastinating is normal. Self-regulation is related to the actual physical development of young brains and often we just need to wait (that word again) for them to grow up. So, cut them some slack, they may actually be trying really hard to follow our instructions (if not our bad example). Here are some additional steps we can take to encourage the right habits.
For younger kids, phrasing chores in more concrete terms can help. Dr. Sean McCrea found in his study that asking your daughter to pick up her legos was more effective than telling her to clean her room. This reminds me of the rules for goal setting; break a larger goal into smaller more achievable ones. Setting mini goals of either time or content can help for both toddlers and teenagers. Encourage your son to concentrate on first writing 100 words of his 450 word essay without getting up rather than yelling at him to finish it.
Remove distractions. This is good advice for all ages. It is much more difficult these days with the internet and smart phones but we can still try to make the environment more conducive to getting work done. Start with turning everything off that is not connected to the homework. TV, phone, Wifi (no email, skype, youtube, etc). Interestingly, I would have thought that working near a window would increase the chances of getting distracted. While that be true, studies of office workers showed that sitting by a window actually increased productivity.
Finally, set a good example. If you have something that needs to be done, let your kids know what it is and how important it is. Tell them how you would much rather be doing something else but that this is your job much like being a good student is their job. They watch us all the time, even (especially?) the teenagers, so give them the right model to copy.
By the way, for those readers who are counting, this is article 100.