Executive Function Strategies Blog

5 Strategies to Conquer the Pitfalls of Procrastination


Procrastination is an age-old struggle, dating to well before the clichéd advice of Benjamin Franklin: “Never put Conquer_the_pitfalls_of_procrastinationoff until tomorrow what you can do today.” And while none of us can refute that Ben was a pretty smart guy, I, myself, have always found it easier to identify with Gone With the Wind heroine Scarlett O’Hara, as she laments “I can’t think about that right now. If I do, I’ll go crazy. I'll think about that tomorrow.”

Why does your child procrastinate?

Few of us are unfamiliar with that nagging desire to put something off. Perhaps the task is unpleasant, perhaps it is difficult or time consuming. Bottom line - we just don’t want to do it. Our students in academic coaching are no different – when they come to us they are tired of falling victim to delaying a task until they enter crisis mode, time after time. So when your child is on the computer, watching TV, or outside playing soccer the night before that big math exam, it’s important to set aside your frustration at his or her delay tactics and ask a simple question: Why?

Understanding the motivation behind procrastination is often our best tool to combatting it. At times it can stem from perfectionism, where your child may be so anxious about failing at a task, it is easier not to do it at all. Other times, they may feel overwhelmed by a larger project and cannot figure out where to start. Result: they don’t. And then there is the constant and readily available nature of today’s distractions - social media, cell phones, Netflix. They can get the best of even those with above-average will power.

So how can you help your child to succeed in putting procrastination out to pasture? Try these strategies to guide your student into escaping the pitfalls of procrastination for good.

1: Transform the deadline mindset

The word “deadline” seems to instill a feeling of dread in a large number of students we coach. Heck, even the word conjures an image of rows of zombies in the school cafeteria (or is that an undeadline?). It’s a race against the clock, a stressful count-down, a horrible weight hanging over one’s head. But encourage your child to look at deadlines in a different light. A deadline can be viewed as a helpful tool – they force you to make decisions and push forward, rather than dwelling on a specific aspect of a project for days. Talk to your child about reframing his or her thoughts – don’t think of that upcoming due-date as a burden, but rather look forward to it as a time when your work will be finished! In fact, calling it a finish line might help your child adopt a different mindset that emphasizes accomplishment instead of looming misery.

2: Make a 5-minute goal

It is no secret that the hardest part about a task is starting it. That initial step often takes far more effort than step two or step three. So make that first goal manageable - and set a time frame. Does your child have a chemistry worksheet? Encourage him to get out his notes and locate the relevant material he’ll need.  Stuck on an English essay? Try a 5 minute brainstorm. For some students, jumping that initial hurdle gives them the momentum they need to keep going. Many students work long past the 5 minute ding on the timer, once they dive in and really engage with the material.

3: Chunk it

For long-term projects or studying for a final test, the amount of work can be daunting for anyone. Help your child break big projects down into manageable chunks. An hour of work often seems much more doable than 7 hours. But chunking is an art form, so work with your child to make sure these “chunks” are realistic and specific. Breaking a project into 20 parts may be overwhelming – who can keep track of that much? However, only 2 or 3 parts may not provide enough structure to keep your child on track. Depending on the size of the project, about 5-10 chunks with specific outcomes (such as "complete 10 notecards") are ideal.  Encouraging your child to do this right when they receive an assignment can help with long-term planning. Set interim deadlines (or finish lines) for smaller portions of the project. And for the initial planning session? Make it a 5-minute goal to get the ball rolling!

4: Get creative

Everyone gets stuck. More often than not, the frustration that comes with not knowing how to proceed can cause anyone to go into “shutdown” mode. Why should I attempt something if I have no idea how? One of our biggest mistakes is that we tend to look at assignments linearly. Is your child completely stuck on the introduction of that history paper? Encourage him to skip it and move to the next part. Who says you can’t write the body paragraphs first? In academic coaching, we know that approaching a project from a different angle can at times cast it in an entirely different light and leave students feeling refreshed and ready to move forward.  

5: Treat yourself

Don’t discount the power of a reward. Sometimes something as simple as a 10-minute reprieve from the weeknight iPad embargo is sufficient to motivate any child. Other times, it may be a chapter in their favorite book, or a walk to the local ice-cream parlor. Talk to your child about what motivates her and set realistic rewards she can work towards.

Tangling with the pitfalls of procrastination can be frustrating for any parent. But before you pull out your hair (or your child’s!) talk to him about simple steps to make getting started easier. Talk to your kid today. Don't procrastinate!

Does your child need expert help to break the procrastination habit, or learn how to manage time more effectively? Click below to find out how academic coaching can help.

Executive Function Skills Assessment to find out if Executive Function coaching is a good fit for a student.

photo credit: autumn leaves play via photopin (license)


Caitlin Keane, MS, CCC-SLP, is an Executive Function coach and a certified Speech Language Pathologist with experience working with elementary, middle and high school students in school, clinic, and home settings. She specializes in helping students to become self-advocates and take an active role in their education. A graduate of Boston University (MS, Speech-Language Pathology) and Georgetown University (BA, Linguistics/French), she also has experience as a classroom English teacher in France. A strong supporter and contributor to the arts, she also helped found a small theater company in New York City and served on their board as Executive Stage Manager, putting her organization and planning skills to consistent use. Through her various experiences, she has developed a holistic and compassionate approach to coaching, and believes that all students are capable of finding success when they feel supported and are taught specific skills with which they can thrive. 

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