It’s Sunday night, and once again your teen has put off a big school project—due tomorrow—until the last minute. If frantic trips to the library or the office supply store are all too familiar, you’re likely dealing with a procrastination problem. It is possible to help your student change, however. Here are a few ideas to help your teen overcome procrastination:
Break down large or complex projects into manageable tasks. The idea of a looming paper or project can overwhelm students who can only see the many cumulative hours required to cross the finish line. Work together to break a large task into smaller subtasks and schedule those to-dos well in advance of the final due date.
Get started—and only work for manageable periods of time. Often the biggest obstacle for a student is getting going on a project. Set a small goal—such as writing two sentences for that term paper or brainstorming for five minutes on the topic of that science project. For sessions thereafter, set similar “mini” goals that will help keep your teen’s wheels turning.
Define the most important tasks for each day or study session. Making a short list of things to accomplish for each study session can help keep your student focused and prevent him or her from feeling overwhelmed, which can easily lead to procrastination. This will also help your teen learn to prioritize.
Set goals and rewards. Try incentivizing your teen to work toward small milestones and involve him or her in selecting the rewards. Remember to hold him or her to the standards you put into place. While a reward system can help ignite your teen, long term, your student must be intrinsically motivated. The greatest reward for not procrastinating should be the satisfaction of completing work on time and the relief that accompanies not waiting until the last minute to do something.
Practice using a calendar. All students need an organizational system, and using a planner effectively will help your teen stay on task. Show your teen how you use your own calendar or planner to record appointments and deadlines. Then, sit down together with his or her planner to record daily homework time and extracurricular activities, subtasks for big projects, study sessions for upcoming tests and more.
If all else fails, let your student fail. Though it may be hard to do, allowing your teen to experience the negative outcomes of procrastinating may be the best way for him or her to learn a valuable lesson—and become more responsible. Let your student suffer the consequences of his or her own actions so he or she can identify the bad patterns that result from his or her behavior.
Procrastination can be a self-fulfilling cycle—and a difficult problem to solve. However, with persistence and patience, your efforts will pay off. Encourage your teen to take ownership for his or her own successes and failures and establish good study habits and watch him or her become a more responsible student and person.